Book Review: The Adventure Zone: Murder on the Rockport Limited!

The McElroys' hit RPG podcast-turned-comic earns its exclamation mark

<i>The Adventure Zone: Murder on the Rockport Limited!</i>

There's always plenty of drama around adaptations. Nine times out of 10, we're talking book-to-film, which lends itself to worries about what'll be cut, who'll be cast, whether the people doing the adaptation will Get It, and whether anything will look like you imagined. Podcast to graphic novel? Well, that's a much rarer beast, but not one without similar fan anxieties attached. The Adventure Zone: Balance, a Dungeons & Dragons actual play podcast arc that ran for a nice 69 episodes from December 2014 to August 2017, is the brainchild of the McElroy family, of comedy advice podcast My Brother, My Brother and Me fame. Brothers Justin, Travis, and Griffin and their dad, former radio host and comic book writer Clint McElroy, are at the helm of the graphic novel adaptation of their improvised audio adventure, so any fears about loss of creative control can be assuaged. But it's still a heady task to recognizably translate characters who were defined by tone of voice onto paper, and to make story beats that were originally off-the-cuff feel intentional the second time around.

Murder on the Rockport Limited! is the second volume in The Adventure Zone graphic novel series and, unsurprisingly, benefits from having a little less to set up and more playful source material to work with. (The adventure covered in the first volume is largely based on a pre-existing D&D game, while everything after is the invention of Griffin, who was the podcast's Dungeon Master.) After accepting employment at secret world-saving organization the Bureau of Balance, wizard Taako, fighter Magnus, and cleric Merle are given their first assignment: to recover a dangerous magical item that's been locked aboard a train. What follows is Agatha Christie by way of Robin Hood: Men in Tights. Precocious boy detectives, fantasy wrestling stars, magical locked room mysteries – it's all very delicious icing on top of the cake that makes TAZ: Balance what it is: a gregarious, largely incompetent trio of adventurers who you absolutely, unavoidably fall in love with.

Of course, it's little surprise that you'd enjoy this iteration if you are a devotee of the podcast, but Murder on the Rockport Limited! cements the fact that those who read the graphic novels without that background will be getting a confident, stand-alone version of the story that succeeds on its own merits. Artist Carey Pietsch's work is more richly designed and emotionally resonant than ever, and it's especially exciting in one of the short, more serious sequences that's original to this adaptation – you can't help but look forward to how she'll handle the weightier material that arises as the series continues. No shock given its source material, this is a text-heavy graphic novel, but Pietsch keeps up an elegant, economical flow of panels that lets the jokes land with aplomb. The Rockport Limited is a ride you don't want to get off of.

The Adventure Zone: Murder on the Rockport Limited!

by Clint McElroy, Griffin McElroy, Justin McElroy, Travis McElroy, and Carey Pietsch
First Second, 240 pp., $19.99 (paper)

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More The Adventure Zone
Into <i>The Adventure Zone</i> With Griffin McElroy
Into The Adventure Zone With Griffin McElroy
Griffin McElroy tells how his brother, his brother, and he turned a game of Dungeons & Dragons into podcast magic

Rosalind Faires, Oct. 13, 2017

More podcasts
Exposing the Art of the Scam in <i>Lie, Cheat & Steal</i>
Exposing the Art of the Scam in Lie, Cheat & Steal
Comics Pat Sirois and Kath Barbadaro school you on the grift in their podcast

Robert Faires, July 27, 2018

Recommended True Crime Podcasts
Recommended True Crime Podcasts
Fill your auditory canals with nefarious activities

Robert Faires, July 27, 2018

More Arts Reviews
<i>The Teacher</i> by Michal Ben-Naftali
The Teacher
This prize-winning novel's tale of a student piecing together the hidden life of her teacher, a Holocaust survivor who killed herself, is haunting

Jay Trachtenberg, Feb. 14, 2020

<i>The Dutch House</i> by Ann Patchett
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
In her eighth novel, Ann Patchett shows that what makes a family cannot be measured by the grandness of a house

Yvette Benavides, Oct. 4, 2019

More by Rosalind Faires
<i>A Wild and Precious Life: A Memoir</i> by Edie Windsor
A Wild and Precious Life: A Memoir by Edie Windsor
The life of a same-sex marriage hero sparkles in this collaborative memoir

Jan. 10, 2020

<i>Lady in the Lake</i> by Laura Lippman
Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman
Sixties Baltimore is unveiled in this new crime novel

Jan. 3, 2020


podcasts, graphic novels, The Adventure Zone, Clint McElroy, Griffin McElroy, Justin McElroy, Travis McElroy, Carey Pietsch, Dungeons & Dragons, The Adventure Zone: Balance

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle