After a rather extended season of cooler weather, the first balmy day has arrived at Digital Draughts HQ. As temperatures climbed to the upper 80’s and a nice breeze kept the humidity at bay, I decided to celebrate this warmer climate in my usual fashion: cracking a cold one and relaxing with a comic book outdoors. Fortunately, I already had an ideal libation for a sunny day and a geeky pastime.
Pilsnerd is a German-style pilsner from Brothers Craft Brewing. This refreshing drink has a subtly sweet nose of corn pudding and lemon zest that rises from the glass. A juicy start of citrus expands into a malty body of challah bread with lemon butter. The finish is crisp, with some minerality and a lingering grassy hop note.
As I poured Pilsnerd into a glass, I relished the retro video game aesthetic presented on the bottle. The copy was delightful as well, proclaiming that, “at Brothers Craft Brewing, we’re beer nerds that appreciate tradition just as much as we love to experiment.”
With that sentiment in mind, I decided to bask in the sunlight with a comic that appreciates the tradition of another set of brothers, while experimenting with the stories surrounding them.
What defines the canon of a series? Is it only the material produced by the original creators, or can it extend beyond such a narrow scope? Video games and comics are both extremely murky waters to travel when it comes to canon. Batman has seen so many alternate dimensions and series reboots over the course of his career that it has become difficult to tell just who is under the cowl anymore. The Mario Brothers have a particularly bulky catalog of material as well; spanning video games, television series, comics, and a particularly awful movie. Across these various appearances, Mario and Luigi have transformed numerous times to suit the context of the medium. The overall tale of these plucky plumbers has grown into a massive media empire that has some difficulty in tying each entry together.
When Super Mario World debuted back in 1990, the main story of the video game has the brothers going on vacation with Princess Toadstool to a place called Dinosaur Land. Sure enough, Bowser and his brood follow the trio to this new land and proceed to cause all sorts of the usual trouble (kidnap the princess, try to stop the brothers, etc). Shortly after the game’s release, the Super Mario World television show premiered. A Saturday morning cartoon, this program featured a similar scenario to the video game, but built a more prehistoric world out of the Dinosaur Land setting. While the cartoon took some creative liberties with the game world and premise (why are there so many cavemen?), it featured plenty of material straight from the original source. Around the same time, a monthly comic was being published in Nintendo Power that featured a rather different tale than the game or show.
Super Mario Adventures made its first appearance back in January 1992 in Volume 32 of Nintendo Power. The story was written by Kentaro Takekuma (co-author of “Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga”) and the art was handled by Charlie Nozawa (pen name Tamakichi Sakura), who has worked in comics and video games (“Shiawase No Katachi” and “Tower Dream” respectively). The main story arc ran for twelve issues, followed by a bonus comic which was based on Super Mario Land 2 for the Game Boy. Neither of the plots for these comics follow the storyline of any particular game, but both of them feature key elements from the popular Mario titles at that time.
The main story of the comics begins with the Mario Brothers, plumbers extraordinaire who have been called to the Mushroom Kingdom to repair the palace pipes. After getting most of the plumbing complete, Mario notices an outlying green pipe that seems to have no match. One familiar green pipe sprouts several others, as Bowser and his forces wage an attack on the palace. The King of Koopas issues an ultimatum: Princess Toadstool must marry him or he will turn the entire kingdom to stone. Unlike the fair damsel of the video games, Toadstool is a woman of action who takes a troop of soldiers to meet Bowser head-on. After a week spent turning Mario back from stone, the brothers set out to find the Princess and help her deal with Bowser.
From this point on, the story features plenty of interesting twists on familiar elements. Princess Toadstool outwits the Koopalings and makes a daring escape, Mario has to be saved by the Princess and Luigi, and a horde of Yoshis end up being the saviors of the entire gang. There is even a scene where Mario plays therapist to a Big Boo and finds out exactly why the ghosts are so shy when faced by people (childhood bullying that led to anthrophobia). The comic is full of fun moments like these that help ground these fantastic characters and show them in a new light.
The artwork suits the lighthearted nature of the story quite nicely. Plenty of cartoon flourishes show up throughout the work, such as quick gags and goofy violence. The character proportions are kept similar to that of Super Mario Brothers 2, with Mario being shorter than the Princess and his younger brother. The facial expressions of every character are full of emotion, using various eye and mouth shapes to convey their mood. Backgrounds are handled with varying levels of detail; sometimes little more than a splash of color, other times there are plenty of flora and fauna that flesh out a scene perfectly. Bright colors are used for the entire comic, resulting in a wonderful world inhabited by interesting characters.
Super Mario Adventures takes the familiar story of “Mario saves the Princess” and turns it into a work that is wholly unique from other entries of that time. Instead of Mario solely making his way through Dinosaur Land to save the pitiful Princess once again, every character has a moment in the spotlight and the chance to be a hero. I personally prefer this tale to the schlocky Super Mario World television show, and maybe even to the story in the video game. With all of this material to consider, just which story is canon to the Mario Universe? Instead of getting so hung up on just which plot is the “correct” version, Shigeru Miyamoto (creator of Mario and other beloved video game characters) has this to say:
“If you’re familiar with things like Popeye and some of the old comic characters, you would oftentimes see this cast of characters that takes on different roles depending on the comic or cartoon. They might be businessman in one [cartoon] or a pirate in another. Depending on the story that was being told, they would change roles. So, to a certain degree, I look at our characters in a similar way and feel that they can take on different roles in different games. It’s more like they’re one big family, or maybe a troupe of actors.”
While Nintendo Power and the original collection of these serialized comics has been out of print for some time, a new trade paperback of the Super Mario Adventures hit store shelves in late 2016.
However, you can also find all of these comics (along with several other Nintendo Power scans) over at the fantastic blog, Old Game Magazines. Please be sure to check it out and follow them for other great pieces from video game magazines of yesteryear!