May 24, 2016

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All-Ages or Small-Ages #8 (Cloaks Volume 1 by David Henrie, Caleb Monroe and Mariano Navarro)


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?

It’s no coincidence that Cloaks is one of the first comics that I ever loved enough to write a review about it. There’s an excitement and a tremendous sense of wish fulfillment that allows you to vicariously live the simultaneous life of a super-spy and a talented magician. Cloaks follows the adventures of Adam, code-name The Kid, a magical savant who gets kidnapped and eventually recruited by the eponymously named spy organisation, Cloaks. As ever, nothing in an agency is what it seems; through a grand sequence of betrayal, tricks and slight of hand. we’re shown how Adam can turn any defeat into a victory.


As teenage protagonists so often are, there’s an innate arrogance to his actions and speech patterns that demonstrate how confident he is in his abilities. While this can so often grate on older audiences, it’s very easy to see past all of this bravado to the damaged and scared child below. Bringing in regular flashbacks and morsels of information, Monroe allows you to quickly piece together who he used to be before all of this drama began and you quickly develop a rapport. Adam is your archetypal orphan with an under-appreciated talent, but seeing everything that he’s capable of allows you to discard your misgivings; watching pure and awesome skill unfold will never stop being entertaining.

A prominent example of Adam’s skill is his ability to hold his own in a fight. Helped tremendously by Navarro’s art, this series has a dynamic structure like few other books. You can track each punch, kick and flip across the page and you truly get a sense that these events are unfolding on panel, in real time. No matter your feelings on the substance of the narrative, you’ll be able to appreciate the style of this art. Utilising faded limbs and even entire bodies to represent the stages of motion, this is a series that you’ll come away from with an unquestionable cathartic sense of adventure that will having you revved up and ready for more.


One of the best things that a series with a mystery at its core can do is make you feel smart as you read it, without having to explicitly spell it all out for you. You could very easily read this miniseries as a pre-teen, use the protagonist as a vessel of escapism and have a merry old time. I keep coming back to this miniseries as one of my favourites due to all of the little details that are included in both the narrative and the art; something that you might miss the first time through will pop out the next time around thanks to you acquiring a wider context for the situation. There’s a very minor plot point surrounding a stolen watch that appears in the very first scene, but travels between characters as a display of their power over the current situation.

This ties directly into Adam’s ongoing rivalry with the mysterious, yet equally matched, rogue agent, Evy. With her existing as his equal, or arguable better, in every imaginable way, there’s a point-of-entry character for everyone. With a duality and a comradery between the two of them, it’s taken beyond a basic love interest into something far more complex. It’s important to note that, due to her agency outside of being a dangerous love interest for the main male character, she manages to not fall into the trope of a femme fatale. Avoiding clichés like this are crucial for drawing in a more experienced audience and Evy unquestionably has her own life and motivations outside of what we see here on the page.

There's an unstable quality to Evy that puts her firmly onto the negative end of the moral spectrum. The way that Navarro draws her, she always has this rictus grin that posits that you don't have all of the information; she has the upper hand in each situation and she knows it. It adds another layer to what might otherwise be a straightforward antagonistic relationship as you're constantly attempting to second-guess who's going to come out on top. The art plays this up beautifully and prevents any of that cartoonish black-and-white morality from gaining any traction.


As a final bow to wrap up this well-crafted story, Monroe frames it all as a demonstration of the six basic magic effects: vanish, production, simulation, escape, penetration and prediction. Every time someone unveils a trick or a sleight of hand, it's accompanied by a little caption box telling you which of the cardinal rules of magic it was utilising. By providing the miniseries this ongoing motif, you gain a far better appreciation for this series as a whole and the competency involved; it all subsequently feels deliberate and astute in a way that lots of media aimed at younger audiences isn't.  

Although I was pretty much already sold on this series from its basic concept, I had no idea how fantastic it was going to be as a whole. All of its components come together to create a story that drags you in from the very first page and keeps you locked in, through all of the twists and turns, making you feel simultaneously smart and stupid. There's so much about this series to keep you entertained; it both embraces and avoids clichés with a perfect balance. The agents might only understand a fraction of what they experience, but you will wholly love everything about this miniseries.

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 check out the podcast that I co-host You Know What I Like...? on SoundCloud.