‘Steven Universe and the Crystal Gems:’ Trade Paperback Review

When you live with a group of “magical humanoid aliens,” it’s necessary to teach them some of the basics about life on Earth…like setting up tents, making s'mores, and telling scary stories around the campfire.  In the recently released Steven Universe and the Crystal Gems trade paperback from KaBoom!, Steven sets out to introduce Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl to the joys of outdoor vacationing and ends up getting more than he bargained for on the scary story front.

The spooky mystery involves a ghost made from glass, which I found to be a very inventive twist on the horror monster.  Throughout the story, Josceline Fenton finds clever ways to shine a light on frequent horror genre tropes (“Don’t get separated from the group!”), poke some fun at them, and engage with them in the funniest ways possible.  Fenton moves the story swiftly from crisis to crisis, while finding the time to bring in many of the faces we know and love from the TV series. 

As the Glass Ghost rampages through the forest and eventually in Beach City proper, Steven teams up with Ronaldo (Beach City’s resident conspiracy expert) to try to figure out what this troubled specter is seeking and how to stop if from encasing the town’s citizens in glass.  As with so many Steven Universe stories, the resolution to the mystery comes through a nice mixture of scientific analysis, inventive problem-solving, and compassionate risk-taking. 

The Glass Ghost is a serious challenge for the Gems and Steven, ultimately pushing Steven to really test out his Gem abilities.  He’s able to employ his magical shield and protective bubble with varying degrees of success.  This testing was the best aspect of this story and another step in Steven’s long journey to understand and master his ever-expanding set of Gem powers.  More importantly, he learns another important lesson about wielding his powers with empathy and understanding which, of course, is what sets the Crystal Gems apart from so many superheroes in today’s popular culture in the first place.

The illustration work by Christian Garland is very true to the vibrant personality and energy of the Cartoon Network show, even if I felt that it was a bit rushed in its attention to detail in some areas. On a side note, I’d like to call out Missy Pena’s variant covers for each of the four issues collected in this trade paperback, which are gorgeous, art nouveau-inspired individual portraits of Steven and the Gems that you’re going to wish you could frame and hang on your wall.  Another fun extra in this trade paperback is the double-page map of Beach City and surrounding environs which will help you keep your bearings through all of the Gems’ many shenanigans.

On all fronts, Steven Universe and the Crystal Gems is an entertaining journey that brings with it everything that is best about the Steven Universe world.  Watching Amethyst making s'mores is worth the price of admission alone! 

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