Back Issues [Mario Month]: Super Mario Bros. #1

So, for no better reason than “Mar.10” resembling Mario’s name, March 10th is widely regarded as being “Mario Day”, a day to celebrate Nintendo’s portly plumber, an overalls-wearing mascot who literally changed the videogame industry forever and shaped the home console market of the nineties.

Published: April 1990

Story Title: “The Legend”
By: George Caragonne, Art Nichols, Jade, P. Zorito, and Janet Jackson

Story Title: “Piranha-Round Sue”
By: Bill Valley, Mark McClellan, George Wildman, Jade, P. Zorito, Janet Jackson

Story Title: “Koopa’s Believe It or Else!”
By: John Walker, Ken Lopez, and Barry Goldberg

Story Title: “Cloud Nine”
By: John Walker, George Wildman, Jade, P. Zorito, Andrea Brooks, and The Gradations

The Background:
By the early 1990s, Nintendo’s mushroom-stomping mascot had firmly established himself as an icon not just in the videogame industry but in mainstream pop culture as well; with more than sixty videogames already released, and with Super Mario All-Stars (Nintendo EAD, 1993) being a blockbuster release for Nintendo (and a major player in the on-going “Console Wars” between Nintendo and SEGA), merchandising and licensing opportunities naturally increased as Nintendo sought to capitalise on the portly plumber’s popularity. Between 1990 and 1991, Nintendo partnered with Valiant Comics to published comic book adaptations of some of their biggest and most successful franchises, and Super Mario was naturally at the forefront of this. Mario’s Valiant adventures were based not just on his videogame adventures, but also his depiction in the animated Super Mario Bros. Super Show! (1989), and Mario featured in a number of Valiant’s comics, either as the main character or in cameo roles.

The Review:
Valiant’s Nintendo comics were basically like printed versions of their DiC cartoons and were short, slapstick, fun-filled adventures punctuated by advertisements both fake and real (mostly for videogames, other Valiant comics, and radical nineties toys and such). As a result, there are four stories contained in Mario’s debut issue, with two full length adventures and two interludes to pad out the comic, which was the style of many publications for younger kids as opposed to comics by DC and Marvel Comics, which generally had the one story contained in its page alongside ads and such. The first story is a two-page introduction to the general concept of the Super Mario Bros., their world, and their adventures; according to “The Interlude”, the magical Mushroom Kingdom was a peace-loving land of mushroom people until the evil King Bowser Koopa and his forces invaded the land and terrorised the kingdom’s patriarch, the Mushroom King, and his daughter, Princess Toadstool. Fortunately, their plight reached Mario and Luigi, two plumber brothers who “hungered for justice and thirsted for freedom” who heard the Princess’s cries for help through their pipes and…somehow (presumably by jumping in the pipes? It’s not made clear) journeyed to the Mushroom Kingdom with tools in hand to defeat Bowser, push back his troops, and rescue the Princess and then presumably stuck around for more adventures based on their experiences. The first story, “Piranha-Round Sue”, finds the Mushroom Kingdom being over-run by the titular piranha plants (leading to a somewhat amusing gag about the plants being “revolting”). The King doesn’t see this as nearly as much of a pressing issue as his current predicament; Koopa has randomly turned him into a chameleon and the King needs Mario and Toad to retrieve the Magic Wand to restore him. Quite how, where, and when this transformation took place isn’t established, but if you’re willing to overlook that then you’re probably willing to overlook the convenience of a Magic Wand only being located in the piranha’s headquarters in World One.

Despite Piranha-Sue’s best efforts, Mario and Toad manage to restore the King using the Magic Wand.

Although Mario’s exasperated by the King’s distracted nature, he is gifted a “Green Gecko Gem” that protects him (but not Toad…) from “only the strongest enemies” at the cost of them being unable to touch anyone else, and the two head out to get the wand. Almost immediately Toad gets left behind and Mario delights in being able to plough through Goombas without issue, allowing Piranha Sue to easily get into Toad’s ear and manipulate him into getting a hold of the Green Gecko Gem in the promise of a fleeting moment of power as King of the Mushroom Kingdom, but of course it’s a trap to get the gem into the hands of her fellow piranhas so they can be free of Koopa’s service. While Mario’s busy collecting Coins with reckless abandon, he stumbles upon the Magic Wand just randomly sitting under a rock and is startled to find Toad on the verge of going over a tumultuous waterfall and drowning in the water. However, Mario hesitates to act since he can’t touch Toad and doesn’t want to abandon the gem in case someone steals it, but finally drops both the gem and the wand when Piranha Sue drags the mushroom retainer under the water. Although Toad is saved, Piranha Sue swipes both items and instantly declares herself to be the new rule of the world; unfortunately for her, Koopa was just off panel and took offense to her declaration. Despite the gem covering her in a protective aura, Koopa is able to grab her in a strangle hold and reprimand her for her insolence and discards both items since he believes the gem is worthless and Mario swapped out the wand for a fake on Toad’s suggestion. Victorious, the two return to the castle and change the Mushroom King back to normal, though his subjects are dismayed to find he has developed a taste for flies.

The Mario brothers foil Koopa’s attempt to ruin the cranky King’s reputation.

The comic then shifts to a one-page fake infomercial, of sorts, “Koopa’s Believe It or Else!”, a series of random gags and panels that tell us such tall tales as “Koopa” meaning “Thing of beauty” in “lizard language”, stuffed plumber’s caps being a delicacy in the Mushroom Kingdom, the Mushroom King having over 2,000,000 crowns but only one pair of socks, and a gag about a plumber actually making a house call that’s lost on me since I’ve never experienced an issue with plumbers not coming when I call them out. Following this odd segue, the issue ends with another full-length story, “Cloud Nine”, which finds the Mushroom King aggravated to be woken up in a mood so foul that he chases his sentient alarm clock and dumps boiling hot water on Luigi’s crotch! The King complains that his bed is so lumpy and uncomfortable that he can’t sleep, so Mario and Luigi take him to a shop to purchase a new bed. The Marios are stunned to find the King unsatisfied with the shop’s selection as they’re too hard, too soft, too lumpy, and not lumpy enough, and so distracted by his erratic behaviour that they completely miss Koopa switching places with the shopkeeper. Any suspicions they might have about this shady new character are quickly forgotten when the shop (really Koopa’s minion, Pidget), announces a 100% off sale on all plumbing supplies, easily allowing Koopa to spirit the King up to the 2,927th floor to try out his “Cloud Nine” mattresses. Introduced to the “Cumulo-Nimbus Special”, the King instantly falls into a much-needed deep sleep and is unwittingly whisked away across the kingdom. In the middle of despairing over the King’s disappearance, Mario and Luigi spot the cloud bed flying overhead and give chase, though they’re unable to stop Koopa from framing the King for causing bed weather over the land. Eager to stop the King from tarnishing his reputation further, Mario and Luigi hop into a biplane and catch up to the slumbering King, with Mario using his plumbing tools to…fix the leak in the cloud…? and stop the rain. With the King well rested, his mood noticeably improves (though he still doesn’t have a new bed…) and he regales his subjects with a bizarre dream he had where the plumbers harpooned Koppa in the butt and had the biplane carry him out into the faraway Fungus Forest while the repaired cloud blasted him with lightning, bringing the story and the issue to a close.

The Summary:
Super Mario Bros. #1 is a fun enough comic; it’s a pretty juvenile and slapstick series of adventures and gag strips that definitely doesn’t take itself too seriously and leans very heavily into puns, sight jokes, and kid-friendly cartoony situations. If you’ve ever watched an episode of the Super Mario Bros. Super Show! then you’ll be more than familiar with this sense of humour and presentation, which is a great way to capture the fantastical whimsy of the source material. When you think about it, Super Mario Bros. has always had a weird premise and an oddball sense of humour; fire-breathing turtle-dragons, sentient mushrooms, subjects being turned into blocks, and all kinds of weird power-ups and collectibles make this a light-hearted and fanciful world that’s clearly separate from ours. Like the cartoons, Valiant’s comics run with the idea that Mario and Luigi hail from Brooklyn and what we know was the “real world” and bring their plumbing expertise to the fantastical Mushroom Kingdom, making them hardworking, everyday heroes thrust into the roles of heroes in a magical world, which was also reflected in the anime and live-action movie and is a plot point that’s largely been ignored these days.

A fun, whimsical comic book adventure with some amusing gags and references to the videogames.

One thing I enjoyed about the comic was its juxtaposition of the surreal cartoon version of Mario with more traditional elements from the source material; Mario and Toad’s search for the Magic Wand is framed to resemble gameplay from the videogames, with cameos from Goombas, musical blocks, and even showing Mario grabbing a whole bunch of Coins and stuffing them into a bag so he can buy a new adjustable socket wrench set. Indeed, “Piranha-Round Sue” is the best story in the comic in terms of fidelity to the source material, with Mario utilising a power-up (one not seen in the game, but still…), his incredibly jumping prowess to hop over pipes and piranhas in his search for the Magic Wand, and he’s teamed up with Toad to evoke Super Mario Bros. 2 (Nintendo R&D4, 1988). “The Interlude” is a similarly faithful recreation of the popular canon at the time and a summation of the first videogame, with Mario and Luigi trumping Koopa’s forces and even using the Fire Flower power-up (though without changing colours), and even “Cloud Nine” feature some call-backs to the videogames, such as the cloud-based stages, even though the story’s much more in line with the cartoons. Overall, I have a soft spot for Valiant’s Nintendo comics, especially their Super Mario Bros. publications as they reflect a different, far more whimsical time when adaptations just kind of did whatever they wanted as long as it was fun and entertaining for kids. The artwork, while a little sloppy and rushed at times (character dimensions and spatial awareness suffer a bit), perfectly reflects the Mario cartoons from the time and there were some fun moments that made me chuckle, so this was an enjoyable debut issue for the world’s most famous plumber brothers.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Have you ever read Valiant’s Nintendo comics, specifically their Super Mario Bros. publications? What did you think to them? Were you a fan of the comic continuing the slapstick nature of the cartoon and splicing in some references to the videogames? Are you glad that the franchise has slightly moved away from these depictions or do you miss when the Mario’s were plumbers from the real world? Did you read and collect Valiant’s Nintendo comics? If so, what were some of your favourite stories and moments in their publications? Did you enjoy Mario’s other comic book adaptations as well and would you like to see another produced some time? Feel free to leave your thoughts on Valiants Super Mario and Nintendo comics down below by signing up or on my social media, and thanks for being a part of Mario Month this year.

2 thoughts on “Back Issues [Mario Month]: Super Mario Bros. #1

  1. trippydaisy 25/03/2023 / 18:43

    I had no idea they even had super Mario comics. I mean it makes sense but these sound fun! And haha – stuffed plumbers caps 😂 nom nom?


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