In 1990, Mario was having a huge year, due mainly to the release of Super Mario Bros. 3, which was loved by many players everywhere. That same year marked the debut of Super Mario Bros. comics from Valiant courtesy of the Nintendo Comics System series. As I said in my first article regarding this short-lived comic series, Mario enjoyed a longer run than the other titles, and as a result, he went on many zany adventures with numerous friends and foes. There were so many Mario comics that at one point there was even an entire hardcover book featuring a large amount of stories. Let me tell you more about Mario’s comic adventures, which can be enjoyable, if silly, at times.
Mario and his brother Luigi were two plumbers from Brooklyn who one day heard a cry for help. It came from the residents of the Mushroom Kingdom (sometimes referred to as Mushroomland), who were under attack from the forces of evil. They were led by King Bowser Koopa, who often went by just Koopa (though he was called Bowser in later stories) and who resembled his animated counterpart from the Super Mario Bros. Super Show. The two plumbers would come to the rescue, foiling Koopa’s schemes, and promising forevermore to protect the kingdom from Koopa and his minions in the future. In the comic, the brothers would remain in Mushroomland, with no indication of whether they would return to Brooklyn for a while or for good.
Mario and Luigi, while loyal, were a bit dimwitted here. Sometimes, they would get into trouble due to making a foolish decision. Nevertheless, they would always manage to set things right in time to save the day. Here, when Mario was not busy saving the kingdom, he would tend to his love of food or read comics featuring his favorite superhero, Dirk Drainhead. Mario was so obsessed by this comic that he would often recite various moments from the hundreds of issues published and, in one story, he found himself in the role of Dirk Drainhead while he was sleepwalking. Luigi would try to keep his brother in line at times, but somehow, they would persevere in whatever missions they encountered.
As in the games, the main female character was Princess Toadstool, who proved that she could be a bit tough when the situation demanded it. She would send Mario and Luigi on some missions and teach them, and others, a lesson if she was losing her patience. Of course, she would occasionally get into some trouble of her own, usually thanks to Koopa. In one story, she was brainwashed into thinking that she was a rebellious teenager riding a magic carpet and wreaking all sorts of havoc. Naturally, she would always be saved one way or another. Unlike in the games, Toadstool had a father, sometimes known as King Toadstool. It was little wonder that he let the kingdom fall into Koopa’s hands, because he was known for being quite inept. His stupidity got him into trouble on more than one occasion, and in a story which most of the other characters were left temporarily dimwitted by a weapon called a “stupid bomb,” the king was unaffected on account that he was dumb enough to begin with.
Other characters included Toad, the Mushroom Retainer, who sometimes tagged along with Mario on his adventures and who had a knack for getting into trouble; and Wooster, the king’s adviser, who was much more intelligent than the king. On occasion, some recurring characters would show up. Prominent among them was Stanley, a talking fish who proved to be quite an annoying nuisance. He wanted nothing less than to win the heart of whichever girl he was trying to woo, and would ask Mario for help, even when the plumber was busy dealing with enemies. At one point, Stanley even fell in love with Wendy Koopa, Bowser’s daughter, but he finally decided that Big Bertha, a giant fish, was the one for him.
Many elements from the games were seen in the Mario comics. In the early issues, there were numerous appearances from enemies featured in the first two Mario games. Goombas, Piranha Plants (including Sue, who hoped to rebel against Koopa in one story), Lakitu (who betrayed his leader by swiping his gold) and many other foes would cause trouble for the Mario brothers. At least one story even had Wart, the main antagonist from Super Mario Bros. 2, who tricked the king into sleeping on a thundercloud, which made the citizens of Mushroomland angry on account of their belief that the king was making it rain throughout the kingdom.
With the then-recent release of Super Mario Bros. 3, elements from that game would be included as the series progressed. The seven Koopa Kids would show up in an attempt to help their father defeat Mario or wreak havoc. Foes such as Dry Bones would show up, and adventures would take place in some of Mario 3’s locations such as the water world. Mario would wear such suits as the Raccoon suit, which made him fly; and the Frog suit, which improved his swimming skills. As the series concluded prior to the release of Super Mario World, no elements from that or later games would show up in the comics.
I have told you about some of the plots featured in the comics, but there are some others worth mentioning. There was one tale which was rather like a parody of the games, wherein Mario kept dreaming that he was trying to rescue the princess, but he would be knocked out by Shy Guys at the start of each attempt. Another story had Mario and Toad trying to find Wooster, who had resigned after being accused of treason for…insulting the king’s new crown. In that story, it seemed that Wooster really was a turncoat who had sided with Koopa, but it turned out, he had tricked the evil king and his minions into eating so much junk food that they would hibernate for a while. These stories, usually ten pages long with some 1-2 page gag stories added in for good measure, were often silly and were written strictly with Mario’s younger fans in mind.
In fact, I find that the Mario comics that I have read range from being pretty decent to being sort of poor. The humor is neat when it works (like in the aforementioned dream story) and is corny when it does not work. Some plot holes appear on occasion, such as in one story in which the princess says that her father was changed into a spider, but to my knowledge, it never occurred in the comics. The artwork is decent and fits well with the cartoon-like atmosphere of the Mario games, and indeed, Valiant’s take on an alternative Mario canon is fascinating, if not always good. Even with its faults, the Mario comics can be enjoyable to some extent. The title ceased to exist after 1991, though many of its later issues were merely reprints of earlier stories, and with its cancellation, the Nintendo Comics System series was no more.
For those of you who want to read these silly Mario comics, issues have popped up on e-bay, as has the aforementioned hardcover book, entitled The Best of the Super Mario Bros. Scans of the stories can also be found on various Internet sites, so you can read them on your computer. The Mario comics are hit-or-miss, but they have a nostalgic value on account of being from a time where it was not uncommon for Mario universes outside the games to be seen in several different forms of media. The same goes for the Legend of Zelda comics, which will be in the next part of this series of articles. In the meantime, feel free to look up the Mario comics and experience the craziness for yourself.