June 21, 2016

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All-Ages or Small-Ages #12 (Adventure Time Volume 1 by Ryan North, Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb)


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?

The TV series called Adventure Time is unquestionably all-ages. It’s gathered a dedicated and extended following of people that range from its intended young audience to the older crowd who adore its wackiness. As I personally have not seen an episode of the television show, this discussion will be purely about the first volume of the eponymously named Boom! Studios ongoing series from 2012. For the very few of you who don’t know, Adventure Time is a series that follows the human Finn and his stretchy canine companion, Jake. Travelling through the land of Ooo, they encounter a cast of strange and delightful characters that draw them into having to embark on, as the title suggests, an adventure.


As protagonists, Finn and Jake are unquestionably relateable and interesting for younger readers. They’re boisterous, bull-headed and full of self belief; they’re everything that children wish they could be. Standing up against the tyranny of whomever is attacking them, they retort back with a snarky quip and carry on with their day. For me, as a 24 year old, their attitudes began to grate from the very beginning. I applaud the decision to focus the story on the strength of their unconditional friendship, but it wasn’t enough to carry me through.

However, it's worth mentioning that the supporting cast of the series are infinitely more fascinating to me. Ranging from the prim and proper, yet scrappy, Princess Bubblegum all the way through to the dastardly Ice King, there’s so many people here to fall in love with. They have a far greater complexity to them that doesn’t have much chance to be explored in this admittedly short story. With a large range of spin-off miniseries from Boom! Studios that tie into this universe, it looks as though that could be where my focus should fall next. 

The humour in this title is of a very specific and established type. Every joke is explained to exhaustive lengths and any of the fun that originates in subtlety is subsequently sucked out of it. It speaks to the age of the intended audience as North consistently feels the need to ensure that you get the play on words or the reference that they’re making. As a result, a large proportion of the dialogue comes off as either stiff or forced. This may play out far better in the animation, and I do get the impression that it very well might, but it’s something that comes across relatively poorly as written text.


However, there is one aspect of the humour that repeatedly hit the spot for me. Scattered sporadically throughout this volume, there are sometimes mini comic strips or brief samples of text at the bottom of a page. More often than not, they make some form of self-aware joke that shows that these characters are aware of their current state in a comic. For example, one of the supporting characters, Princess Marceline, chides you for turning the page and leaving her alone to confront the Big Bad of the arc. It’s a simple styling of humour, but it’s a layer that would only really land with an older audience.

The art itself is as bright and colourful as you would expect. There are little touches here and there that never let you forget that this is a concept that originated in a children’s cartoon. The bright colours stand out from the page and maintain a distinct stylisation for each main character and extends into the supporting cast in the background. The body language that the lines manage to portray give each member of the cast their own unique stance and posture, selling this as a world that has existed previously and will continue to exist after we leave. 

Throughout the series, there’s an undeniable dynamic nature to both Finn and Jake that works very well at showing off how much this series is grounded in its wackiness. Although Finn is described as human, there’s a definite otherworldly quality to the stretchiness of his arms and flexibility of his body that ensures that you never once question the fantastical nature of this series. Despite the mixed feelings that I have to this collection of issues as a whole, I really did adore how rich and strange this world felt from beginning to end.


The content of the ongoing plot itself was somewhat lacking. It honestly wasn’t trying to be anything but a fun and weird romp through a magical land, so it’s difficult to mark it down for that too harshly. However, at the end of the day, while it succeeded at being sufficiently strange, I honestly wouldn’t say that there’s too much excitement and enjoyment to be had. It teases a bunch of potentially interesting concepts and power sets, but then doesn’t get a chance to delve too far into them before moving on to something else. It ultimately consistently gets trapped by its dedication to the relatively uninteresting Finn and Jake.

I can see why lots of adults have latched onto this series; there’s nothing else like it and it’s unrepentant about its oddness. It doesn’t achieve narrative brilliance, but it’s not trying to. For a series that aligns far more with style than substance, it needs to put far more focus on the characters and the concepts that have far more potential for exploration; a boy and his dog are a good grounding, but it needs to go further than that. I might return to this franchise in the future by venturing into one of the aforementioned character-focused mini-series, but, as it stands, I don’t plan on seeing more of this central series and I honestly don’t recommend that you do either.
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.