Failure to Travel from TV to Comics: Rick and Morty

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Rick and Morty restored my faith in animation on television.

As a devout Simpsons fan from about 1996 to 2009, I once had a great love for television animation. After my college years without a TV, when I did return to watching television regularly, with the guidance and wisdom of Generoso, I dedicated myself to Adult Swim’s programming. At first, mostly the live action shows captured my attention. The Eric Andre Show, Loiter Squad, and Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell were early favorites. And one day, a commercial for Rick and Morty appeared after an episode of The Eric Andre Show, signaling the arrival of a new favorite.

After the first season of Rick and Morty brought hours of unbearable laughs to the Fierro home, when news of a comic book extension of the series emerged, I was ecstatic; however, a formal review would have to wait until I had amassed a few issues.

Now, I’ve collected issues 1-3 of the comic book arm of Rick and Morty, so I have enough material for a review, but unfortunately, as much as I had hoped to write a positive review this week, the Rick and Morty comics did not warrant one.

Cover for Rick and Morty Issue 1

Rick and Morty, the television show, possesses a unique frenetic energy and wild unpredictability to hypnotize its audience. Consequently, transferring Rick Sanchez’s fast, slurred speech and consistent, overly caffeinated, hyperactive manner along with Morty Smith’s stammering and constant state of unease proved to be an enormous challenge for the comic series’ writers. In addition to the difficulty of embodying Rick and Morty in print, the balance of energy, bizarreness, and occasionally sweetness of Rick and Morty’s adventures compared to the parallel ones of Jerry, Beth, and Summer Smith’s, make the television show even harder to adapt to a static medium.

The comic makes one major damning mistake; the adventure Rick and Morty go on in the comic feels uncharacteristic of their personas. In the comic book, Rick and Morty travel in space to invest in stocks that will succeed in the future, leading them to enormous prosperity. As expected, the time traveling and illicit stock trading lead the grandfather-grandson pair into trouble, and when Jerry reports the two to the time police, Rick and Morty have a much bigger adventure to experience.

Fundamental to their characters, Rick and Morty rarely go on adventures to seek great riches; they go on adventures as a consequence of Rick’s scientific tampering, which often leads to Morty needing to help Rick in some way. Occasionally, they travel for Rick to make some sort of illicit sale or trade for more resources or funds for his experiments, but the two never go on an adventure only to strike it rich. As a result, their adventures focus less on the goal and more on the twists and turns the two experience together. Thus, surprisingly, Rick and Morty, the television show, is less about a misanthropic, outcast scientist and more about a story of a grandfather and grandson getting to know each other. Sure, Rick and Morty follows a dysfunctional family, but beneath all of the aliens, the time traveling, the Meseeks, and the laser guns, lies a story about a mad scientist making reparations with a family he once abandoned.

Given this warm, fuzzy heart buried underneath Rick and Morty, all of the characters involved have a mix of paradoxical characteristics. Rick is angry yet nonchalant and weirdly loving in his own eccentric way. Morty is the hesitant and weary sidekick who somehow manages to keep his wily grandfather in check. Jerry is the anxious, failing husband who craves attention from his wife Beth and is somewhat jealous of Rick, but he continues to try his best to impress Beth and the rest of his family. Summer is the passive teenager with standard teenage issues, but she also seeks adventures and time with her grandfather Rick and her mom. And, Beth is a genius who had big dreams until she unexpectedly began her family, and though her family exists as her burden, she still greatly cares for them.

With the television show, we get to see all of the dimensions of the characters. With the comic book, we only see shells of each. The comic series could have expanded on the complex characters beloved by the fans of the show, but instead, it dilutes them and the adventures that make Rick and Morty stand out as one of the most entertaining, funny, innovative, and watchable television series out there.

More disappointing than the characters and the narrative arcs in the Rick and Morty comics is the lack of Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland’s presence in them. Consequently, the wit and humor of the comics lack the charming acidity of the show, and the jokes and conversations lack the references to pop culture and the sneering jabs at media works appropriately deemed unacceptable by Harmon and Roiland (remember the unrelenting insults toward Inception in the “Lawnmower Dog” episode?). As a result, Rick and Morty the comic feels much less vital and less relevant.

I had hoped that the Rick and Morty comic book would stave off my hunger during my wait for the return of the series for its second season, but instead, it only reminded me that sometimes TV empires should not cross over into comic books and/or vice versa. Rick and Morty had the opportunity to explore each character through small vignettes or stories as seen with the Bob’s Burgers comics or expand the television narrative into a different storytelling form like Joss Whedon’s Serenity comics, but it does does neither, failing to understand the full complexity of the narratives, settings, and characters established by the show, thus guaranteeing that it will not add any additional richness to the Rick and Morty universe. As a result, I’m more agitated by the paltry offerings of the comic version and much more ravenous for the television Rick and Morty.

If the comic series was a ploy to create a foil against the television series to lure fans into buying the comics only to allow them to articulate why Rick and Morty the television show rises above all other shows, then bravo to the mastermind who came up with the plan. Only a deviant like Rick Sanchez could come up with that outlandish, conniving plan, so perhaps after all, the creators of the comic book do understand their main character. But then again, Rick does not seem like he would love being part of a marketing/PR racket, so it looks like the comic creators have still missed the mark on understanding Rick and Morty.

Let’s leave the cryptic, insane mind of Rick Sanchez to Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland, and the Rick and Morty empire will be mighty fine on its own.

Rick and Morty (the comic series) is written by Zac Gorman with art by CJ Cannon, Ryan Hill, and Marc Ellerby and available via Oni Press. 

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