May 10, 2016

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All-Ages or Small-Ages #6 (Wander by Brian Middleton)


See all of the past entries of All-Ages or Small-Ages here.

There are a wide array of all-ages comics out there from the classic Archie comics, through the  Sonic the Hedgehog and Disney, all the way to the original properties such as Lumberjanes. You might look at one of these books and think that, as an adult, it doesn’t have much to offer you. As someone who has discovered a deep fondness for titles such as this, I’ve been surprised by how rich and complex the stories can be. All-Ages or Small-Ages? is a feature that takes a look at the books that fall under this banner and attempts to analyse whether or not their assigned label is apt; is it a book that you can read along with your children?


Wander is an independent comic that was released on Comixology towards the end of April. It's a brief 11 page introduction to the eponymously named hero, Wander, as he ventures deep into the aptly named Aerial Labyrinth in search of his estranged love. With a deliberately sketchy style and an unconventional third-person narrator, it's got all of the innovation that you would expect from a story so wholly focused on exploring the path less travelled.


The most striking effect of the narration is its ability to sell you on the fantastical nature of this story. A third-party chronicle of a situation is most prominently used when it's getting recounted to an enraptured audience; you therefore instantly view the story as one with great stature and meaning. Everything subsequently feels far more worthwhile and it's very easy to imagine this story as one that would be immensely fun to read to your child. Reading should always be a shared experience growing up and this is a perfect example of an appropriate story for that.

However, as with the famous Alice in Wonderland, an older audience can easily see past the facade to the possible interpretations beneath. With his slightly bedraggled appearance and the spectrum of creatures that he encounters, you could easily interpret this story as one made up as a parent as a bedtime story to a curious and adventurous child. It's important to distinguish that while it has the charm and innocence to draw you in, it maintains its hold on you by forcing you to hazard a guess at what all of this magical and scientific matter actually means. The beauty of it, however, is that it doesn't force you to coalesce an answer; all of the interpretations are possible and it keeps your mind buzzing.


For the first half of the issue, the layouts are a 2x2 grid, highlighting the book's suitability for a younger audience. It provides a simple structure to follow, guiding your eye through the gradually unfolding story. However, as action enters the story, Middleton demonstrates an understanding of the most appropriate page layout for the situation at hand. He switches between them with ease and never loses sight of his ability to tell a story with the simplistic nature to appease a younger audience, but the flexibility to keep in an older one.

Wander is one of those stoic protagonists who speaks only when he has to. However, his personality can easily be gleaned from how we see him act and the simple, yet very effective faces that Middleton draws. He ranges from defeated and morose to dedicated and aggressive in the space of a single page and you can easily pinpoint the type of person that he is. However, there's no question that, at his core, he's an altruistic and driven protagonist who refuses to back down in the face of adversity; despite this being a common trope, it always works well for me and I think it will for you too.


Despite the nature of the book to jump from one crisis to the next, you get brief glimpses of where the story is capable of progressing to from here. We see glimpses of what could yet come to pass in a panel telling us about the legendary mage-mechanic that built the monstrous guardian as well as the reveal on the final page. There's potential in both the past, present and future of this story and it's enough to convince anyone that this is a story worth jumping into.

With only eleven pages to tell his story in, Middleton manages to convey the agency of three characters as well as setting up the aesthetic and tone of this world. As previously mentioned, while this is a story that fits perfectly as one to read to a younger audience, it has a certain charm to it, in both the writing and the style of the art, that you can get invested at any age. It's a little bit insane, but that's part of the charm. There's currently only this introductory chapter to feast your eyes on, but I can guarantee that it will bewitch you into wanting to read more. 




Let me know if there's a comic that you think I should be checking out. I'm always on the look-out for some more hidden All-Ages gold. Contact me at mark@thegreengorcrow.com or head over to thegreengorcrow.com for a daily dose of comic reviews, interviews and more!