September 6, 2016

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All-Ages or Small-Ages #23 (DC Super Hero Girls - Volume 1 by Shea Fontana, Yancey Labat and Monica Kubina)



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?

Since animation was made possible, people have been converting the established DC and Marvel universes into children’s cartoons. Adaptations vary in their quality, but one thing that they all have in common is their attempt to distill the essence of character down into one or two significant traits. DC Super Hero Girls takes the most significant female characters in DC Comics history, both heroes and villains, ages them all down and puts them in a high school setting a la X-Men: Evolution from the early 2000s. While it effectively does what an adaptation should and converts established characters into a parred down version, other parts aren’t quite as successful.


When you see a character change into a cartoon, if you’re already familiar with them, there should be an aspect of them beyond their physical appearance that allows you to immediately recognise them. Even though I’m not immensely familiar with the sprawling DC universe, the characters that I do recognise, such as Wonder Woman, Harley Quinn and Batgirl, feel like pitch perfect adaptations. Fontana successfully cherry picks the qualities to carry over, so it’s easy to feel as if you already know them. If you’re coming into this comic with that detailed background, you’re going to be alright.

However, it’s also important that, from a continuity standpoint, an ensemble book like this be accessible to new readers. As the intended young audience is one that is likely to be wholly unfamiliar with the entire cast, this book unquestionably meets this criteria. It’s worth noting that while you’re shown a character trait or two to tell you about each person that you’re introduced to, it never comes across as heavy-handed as it sometimes can. It probably helps that they each originate in other media, but each character does get introduced in a way that lets you know that they're already fully formed.


While the characters themselves are entertaining from the offset, the plot that they find themselves in leaves a lot to be desired. A large proportion of the volume is spent introducing each of the characters in their own individual contexts, before eventually tying them all together in the final chapter. While this does allow for the aforementioned in-depth look at what makes each character tick, you do reach the end of the volume and begin to think about what you actually just spent time reading. Admittedly, it’s very easy to fly through the story, but you still start to worry.

One part of the unfolding narrative that I did appreciate was how interwoven it was. Essentially, you see the same day unfold from the perspective of each of the characters before, again, all of the timelines eventually converge. What this means is that you see other heroes in the background of the current protagonist’s story so that, when it comes time for them to star in their own chapter, you start to gradually piece together everything that happens. A moment that seemed strange and insignificant before eventually makes sense in a surprisingly satisfying way.

It’s worth mentioning here that this book does succeed magnificently at creating a narrative suitable for young children. It’s very simplistic in a way that very deliberately feeds into the desires of that audience, creating something unquestionably fun and silly in perfect measures. However, as an adult coming into this world, that's not enough to keep you engaged and motivated to keep going. It's certainly enough to make you interested in the concept, but not really enough to make you want to read any more of it.


Labat's pencils sell the hell out of this series. Every character is aged down in a very believable way, creating a teenage version of that, most likely due to the age range of the intended audience, doesn't end up oversexualised. This might seem like an abnormal comment to make, but in superhero comics you can never be too sure. Aside from that, the layouts in the book are kept relatively simple, with large panels full of vibrant and energetic art. This makes it easy to read, but makes the lack of significant substance in the plot all the more noticeable.

Kubina's colours uses Labat's already cartoonish art style and escalates its effect exponentially. Beyond the actual colouring of the costumes and character details themselves, she adds a layer of complexity and lucidity to the backgrounds that makes the entire story feel more vibrant. While Labat's art could most likely create the aesthetic of a cartoon on its own, the colours no doubt play a part in how appealing and interesting the art is to look at.

Say what you like about this book, it achieves its purpose: regardless of the reader's gender, this book provides some fantastic female role models for readers without any comics experience. While its female-driven cast draws parallels to another more widely acclaimed DC series, it stands far above in being both well written and consistently drawn. These are clearly both talented creators, so I do hope I encounter them again in the future, it just seems that I'm not the intended audience for this book. In this case, that's honestly fine; I'm not intended to be.

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.