For many people, the mention of video game and comic cross-overs conjures up images of character select screens and tag-based fighting. While companies like Capcom certainly have a long history of producing games based on popular comic series, these two media forms have plenty of interaction outside of beat ’em ups and fighting games. There is a wealth of comic books and graphic novels that take place in the fascinating worlds within video games. Some of these comics are nothing more than a cheap way to make a buck from merchandising, while others expand upon the gaming universe in clever and complex ways.
As an avid game player and comic reader, I have collected piles of these things over the years. Most of them have languished in long boxes and on bookshelves, untouched by human hands for some time. But here at Geek Force Network, I have the opportunity to exhume and explore these interesting cross-overs once more! Every week, I will cover a comic book/series and the history behind it. I will take a look at the stories contained within the pages, and see if they serve as an expansion to the universe, a loving tribute, or a blatant cash-grab to my favorite hobby. So let’s get things started with the Nintendo Comics System from Valiant Comics!
Founded in 1989 by former Marvel writers/editors Jim Shooter and Bob Layton, Valiant Comics was an independent publishing company formed after an unsuccessful bidding war for Marvel Entertainment. During its prime, Valiant produced several successful titles, such as X-O Manowar and Harbinger, thanks to the efforts many talented writers and artists. In 1990, Valiant scored a licensing deal with Nintendo and went on to create the Nintendo Comics System. The line of comics was based mostly on popular franchises like Super Mario Brothers and the Legend of Zelda, but issues based on Captain N: The Game Master and Game Boy spin-off stories were also produced. While I never had a subscription to these comics (yup, you could get these delivered to your door), I collected a handful of issues as a kid, which included the first of the Super Mario Bros. comics.
Since the Nintendo Comics System was being published in 1990, it would make sense to see Mario in his raccoon form winging across the cover. Super Mario Bros. 3 had just released that year, along with Happy Meal Toys and a Saturday morning cartoon show. The stories featured in each comic are of a similar tone to the cartoons: mostly light-hearted spin-off tales that take place within the Mushroom Kingdom, presumably outside of the main plot of the video games. Two longer tales make up this issue: “Piranha-Round Sue,” in which Mario must change the Mushroom King from a chameleon back into a human and thwart a misguided piranha plant revolution at the same time, and “Cloud Nine,” where the evil Wart disguises himself as a mattress salesman and tricks the Mushroom King onto an actual cloud mattress. As per usual, it’s up to the Mario Brothers to save the king and keep him from floating away while “raining” over his loyal subjects.
Outside of the main stories, there are one-page fillers which include a Q-and-A column with Princess Toadstool, and a riff on Ripley’s with “Koopa’s Believe It or Else!” Much of the art is drawn without many lines, but the simple nature of each drawing is complemented with plenty of detail and color on every page. The character faces also feature a wide array of expressions, which contributes to the cartoony nature of the stories. On a whole, these comics do very little to expand on the main storyline of the video games, but they are fun interpretations of the Mushroom Kingdom. Side characters such as Toad now have a chance to speak their minds and evolve beyond window-dressing, and it is great to see Princess Toadstool as more than just a sort of prize to be won.
At the back of the book, Valiant includes an address for readers to send their comments and suggestions, which seems like a great opportunity for players. By polling their readers, Valiant had a direct line into what gamers wanted to see in the comics. Since the Mario Brothers are little more than a handful of jumping sprites in the video games, I always wondered what the plumbers did in their spare time and what other sorts of adventures they had in the Mushroom Kingdom. This entry from the Nintendo Comics System may not have depicted the perils Mario and Luigi faced on their way to Bowser’s Castle, but it gave a peak into the daily lives of the characters and the colorful world they inhabit, which seems like a perfect plot for comics to explore.