July 26, 2016

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All-Ages or Small-Ages #17 (Phineas and Ferb by Jim Bernstein, Scott Peterson, John Green and Eric Jones)



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?

To get all of my bias out in the open, I’m a tremendously large Phineas and Ferb fan, so much so that I may (read: definitely do) own a Perry the Platypus t-shirt. To give some context to those unfamiliar with the TV show, this probably sounds nonsensical. The conceit of Phineas and Ferb is a chronicling of the titular step-brothers who spend each day of their summer holiday creating or doing something extraordinary, be that building a backyard beach or becoming one-hit wonders. Deliberately skewing the perspective of what is possible and embracing the ridiculousness of the situation, it leads to crazy hijinks and adventures that create some genuine laughs on screen. Oh, and their pet platypus, Perry, is a secret agent.


Perry the Platypus, or Agent P as he’s known, is, without a doubt, my favourite part of the original series, making me ecstatic that they chose to utilise him so heavily in this comic. In this single issue, you receive three short stories that all show off a different aspect of the TV show and a different adventure. Perry takes centre stage in two of the three, incidentally playing to my sensibilities making it, in my opinion, far more suited to an all-ages audience in the context of this column's definition. While the adventures of the children are what motivates the action each week, it’s Perry’s journey that always contains an extra layer of, for lack of a better word, maturity.

There’s a meta-contextual layer to all of Perry’s missions to foil his nemesis, Heinz Doofenshmirtz, that makes each confrontation feel very self-aware. The pair discuss the practicality of arranging to build a new giant death ray every week and regularly discuss the responsibility that he feels to demonstrate his showmanship at the same time. While children can tune in to see a brand new silly device get created and played with each week, the stereotypical and yet very subversive approach to the storytelling keeps it all fresh. Luckily, this is a detail which is carried over very effectively into this comic.

Doofenshmirtz, along with every other character, has a very distinctive voice. Translating audio into the written word and retaining the same essence can be a very difficult thing to do, but Bernstein and Peterson have it down to a fine art. It’s difficult to read the dialogue in anything with anything but the inflection of the original actors. If you’re coming into this comic as a fan of the original TV show, then you can be assured that the quality of the speech translates perfectly into the written form.


There’s a very definitive structure that a regular episode takes, even if they do often choose to subvert it. Although it’s clear that these creators know the tropes that we’ve come to expect from the series, this first issue does tend to feel like they’re trying to tick all of those boxes at once. Isabella mentions getting a girl-scout badge, Buford needlessly bullies Ranjit and then Ferb slides in at the end with a witty one-liner. While these are components of the show that I usually adore and look for, there was a stiffness created from reading them in a static context that made them grate ever so slightly.

There’s a humour to the TV show that I’ve come to appreciate that translates very well into this series. As previously mentioned, the writers know that all of these situations are incredulous and infeasible, but that that is part of the fun. Deciding to not explicitly explain every little detail, they regularly point out that something doesn’t make sense, then immediately move on with the rest of the story. By doing this, you remove the need for patronising scenes of explanation that can be found throughout lots of children’s cartoons, just in case you didn’t quite understand what’s going on.


With each issue containing shorter stories, you do lack that depth and the chance to fully explore some of the concepts that you get from a longer form narrative. Characters come in for a little demonstration of their base characteristics and then immediately drop out again. While I do appreciate the ability to flit through little stories, which maybe this medium is more suited to, this comic lacks a lot of the depth that you can find on the screen. If this paragraph sounds indecisive, it’s because it is; I can’t quite identify whether or not this is a negative or a positive quality of the series. Both sides have merit and only further exposure to this form itself will push the decision either way.

I really wanted to get to the end of this article and be able to say that I pushed past all of my bias and was able to mark this comic as Small-Ages. Unfortunately, as you might have been thinking all along, this is a property that I can’t objectively say whether or not this adaptation is high quality, but I don't know if I really want to. It’s smart, it’s funny and every story in this issue feels fresh. The way that the creators so adeptly make the same old concepts feel new and exciting each time, with a few exceptions, is astounding. I do believe that you should be buying this series on its own but, at the very least, go and watch the TV show.

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.