There are only a handful of video game characters that have become such icons that non-gamers know who they are. Pac-Man, Sonic, the Angry Birds, and Mario. We’ve finished going over all of the Super Mario Bros. comics I own without going through my issues of Nintendo Power (the bunch I have anyway). While I liked The Legend Of Zelda and Game Boy, Captain N: The Game Master, and some of the random tales like Punch-Out in the Nintendo Comics System anthology comic have their charms and even some good stories, for some reason their Mario tales were seriously lacking. Everybody was an idiot to some degree, the jokes weren’t very good most of the time and at best mediocre. The art was good, but it takes more than good art to make a good comic. I don’t think the two writers that worked on these stories really knew the games that well.
In high school my English teacher (whom I often butted heads with over my reading preferences as my superhero and sci-fi tastes had already set in) gave us an assignment to tell a fairy tale in a unique way. I did a mini-comic of Jack And The Beanstalk in the style of The Super Mario Brothers Super Show just for fun. I got a A- because of some misspellings. It was the first time I had shown my comics to someone who wasn’t my friends. It’s not that good and at the time I didn’t know the show itself would do the same parody but I take some pride that the first comic I showed to people got high marks. I also made a pretty good (by my limited art skills) Mario Brothers poster with Mario and Luigi standing upon a pile of knocked-out Koopa forces. Doing these reviews got me to thinking: how would I approach a Super Mario Bros. comic book today? Well, I have a basic template.
The Archie comics Mega Man comics have been the best video game adaptation I’ve seen and one of the comics I really miss getting to pick up thanks to being unemployed. Using the games as a template but not being a slave to them (each storyline is based on the next game in the rotation but there are also arcs that aren’t adaptations and expand their universe), they’ve managed to create some amazing stories that are faithful to what little story the classic Mega Man games have. I wouldn’t do exactly like this, but it is my starting point.
I’m not a “story arc” person. I believe in telling a long tale with end points for the main adventure, making potential “jump on” points for those readers who prefer them but having a long story and continuity to people who have already been a part of things. Arcs (to write for the trade) is the new thing for modern comics, and if they can work a good story in there I accept it. It’s when they obviously play to the trade and pad things out that bug me. I’ve written multi-part stories in the notebook comics I made for fun until work took up my time but my thought is you tell the story in whatever length it takes to tell it right, not being too short or too long.
But following the Archie formula each game would be one storyline, only instead of telling a game in four parts there would be shorter plots based on each world, adding some new wrinkle the Mario Brothers would have to get through. As the games offered me more choices there would be more chapters to each arc. For example, there isn’t a lot of ground for the first game, but the second US game offers more opportunities. It’s possible that one world would only take one or two issues to get through while some may take more. It would depend on the stories I came up with.
So now we get to the important part: what would be my plot? Well, It would start in Brooklyn, since we’ve all agreed that the Marios come from New York. I would play things a little different. Mario used to be a carpenter until events in his life (nod to the Donkey Kong games) he’d rather not discuss led to his splitting with his girlfriend, Pauline, and losing interest. His brother, Luigi, needed help with his plumbing business and Mario joined him, turning out to be a natural. Then one call…got strange. They ended up in an area where the pipes were huge and strange creatures were coming out of the pipes, a nod to the classic Mario Brothers game. (I’d work Wrecking Crew in there if I could somehow. 😀 ) After taking the creatures down they followed the pipes until they arrived in a strange world, the Mushroom Kingdom. A group of traitorous mushrooms were tricked by King Koopa into letting them out of their dimension and into the Mushroom world, the side effect being the gateway that the other creatures used to come into our world and the Marios into this one. As “thanks”, Koopa turns them into his Goomba slaves (read the original Super Mario Brothers manual and the “Goomba” entry, I’m filling in the rest) and takes over the Kingdom, capturing Princess Peach Toadstool.
So why are the Marios helping? Mario (as I’ll get to in the character section) is the helpful sort, who is always the adventurer. He wants to help rescue the princess because it’s the right thing to do. Luigi, shyer and more cautious than his older brother, is talked into helping because he’s a good guy. Being from another world they can also call the magic of various totems, like the mushroom that gives them strength. To protect the kingdom, King Toadstool hid special boxes around the kingdom, and while Koopa and his Turtle Tribe (again, from the original game manual) trapped the citizens in brick prisons the Marios can become strong enough to free them. (The book says they were turned into bricks and stone and “horsehair plants” but let’s not get too far from what the franchise has become.) Fireflowers grant them superpowers while the Starman can grant them temporary invincibility as the plot needs them to. And so they set off on their adventure.
The tone is one thing I wouldn’t take from the Archie Mega Man comics. They went for something light but serious, which is a tone I’m used to in my stories but one thing Valiant got right was not taking things too serious. While I wouldn’t go the route of the animated or comic routes (including the Nintendo Power comics–note that this link is a Nostalgia Critic video and thus there is swearing) it would be more silly as befits the world, but with a sense of danger that is needed to make the adventure I’d want to tell. I would also take into account the later games and remember that information (like the Koopa Kids and Koopa Junior) so that I wouldn’t have to do a lot of retconning later. I also have a vague idea as to how I would write the important players in this series, at least for the first game/storyline.
- Mario Mario: Adventurous, loyal, sometimes looking before he leaps, getting himself and his brother into trouble. Otherwise he’s a natural leader and inspires others to success. He also has a secret as to why Pauline broke up with him and why he left carpentry for plumbing, which would come up as the series goes on, giving him something to come to terms with as his adventures go on.
- Luigi Mario: More cautions and slightly paranoid, Luigi shares his brother’s willingness to help other but not as willing to jump head first into danger. He will have to find the courage and battle his own self-doubts living in his brother’s shadow to become the hero he can be. You won’t find a more loyal companion, brother, and friend than Luigi. If my run got into Super Mario World he would be the one to make friends with Yoshi and of course he would shine when we got to the Luigi’s Mansion games.
- Princess Peach Toadstool: Using both of her video game names (Princess Toadstool and Princess Peach) I won’t have her be Buffy The Koopa Slayer as she was in the Nintendo Power comics but she won’t be the bossy witch of the Valiant comics. She’ll be closer to the Super Show version, kind and patient but not the damsel in distress trope. She’ll be intelligent and a kind ruler who can protect herself if need be but still needs our heroes or else why have them there? She needs to find her inner strength and move from victim to resourceful heroine, with the adaptation of her own game being about seeing what she can do when she’s the only hope of the Kingdom.
- King Bowser Koopa: The manual says that the “Turtle Tribe” (why did they drop that name?) has an affinity for the dark arts, and within the limits of a funny kids comic I can play with that. This version of Koopa isn’t in love or lust with the Princess. She’s his key to power to control the Mushroom Kingdom without much fight, which he plans to use as a base of operations to conquer the rest of the Mushroom World, and our world once he learns of it. There’s no sympathetic backstory or deeper meaning. He wants power and to rule the worlds for his people. What else do you need? They’re the most powerful and everyone needs to bow to them, and mostly him as the ruler of the tribe. That’s all he needs to know.
Toad, who has become his own character thanks to the cartoons, was one of the seven retainers at the decoy castles so I’m not sure what I would do with him at this stage, or King Toadstool, who will be less of a scatterbrained goofball than the Valiant version but otherwise I’m not sure what to do with him. I think this could be a fun, adventurous tale about two brothers from Brooklyn thrust into a battle to save the multiverse from a threat they barely understand and their quest to save the Princess and maybe learn more about themselves in the process. There’s some potential that I don’t feel has been properly tapped, and I would love to work on this if someone ever decides to get the license of a new Super Mario Brothers comic. Is Nintendo not willing to try that again or has nobody ever tried? Either way feels like a wasted opportunity.