The Game Boy Comic: Now You’re Reading with Power! Portable Power!

July 28th, 2009 by | Tags: , , , , , ,

Back in the early 90’s, the comic company Valiant struck a deal with Nintendo. Over the next two years or so, Valiant would release a multitude of series based on Nintendo franchises. There were a couple that felt natural. Super Mario Brothers and Legend of Zelda each had their own cartoons at the time, so they would get picked up. Captain N: The Game Master would also get his own comic, though transformed due to the inability to use videogame characters outside of Nintendo. There was even a series called Nintendo Comics System that acted like an anthology of stories featuring those I mentioned and miscellaneous games like Dr. Mario and Punch Out.

Around that time, Nintendo’s Game Boy was still fresh on the scene and they wanted to do whatever they could to get the word out. Sure, advertising was easy for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Captain N was one big commercial for the console and all its games. Well, all the games that weren’t on that crappy knockoff cartoon Power Team (anyone else remember that? It had the monster truck Bigfoot, a basketball player and a talking tomato). Anyway, outside of commercials and magazine ads, how do you advertise what is essentially a lesser NES that you can carry around with you?

With the Captain N cartoon, they eventually introduced a Slimer-like character named Game Boy who was one, big, annoying Game Boy levitating around. With Valiant, they went in another direction. They gave it its own comic book.

I’m sure by now you’re already asking the million dollar question: “How exactly does a Game Boy comic work?” That’s a very good question and having found out the answer, I just had to get my hands on this 4-issue series.

The second and fourth issues of the series were written by Mark McClellan, who didn’t do too much more past working on Penthouse Comix. The first and third issues were written by George Caragonne, a man with an infamous history in the comic world. Due to some bad business decisions and a drug addiction, Caragonne ended up taking his own life in 1995 in a most horrific way. The only other comic of his I recall as having read is his What If two-parter What If the Phoenix Had Not Died and What If the Phoenix Rose Again, co-written with Chris Claremont. It was very good and even this Game Boy comic makes his descent and death seem sad. I’m not saying that this was a good series, but damn if Caragonne tried. He was given one of the stupidest concepts for a comic series and he went at it full force.

The Game Boy was still very new and there weren’t too many games out for it by Nintendo. Sure, there was Tetris. We all love Tetris. But can you make a comic out of Tetris? Let’s say no and spare ourselves of that mental exercise. The big game at the time, and the only one that seemed to have any sort of narrative, was Super Mario Land.

Super Mario Land is the chapter of the Mario Saga that nobody ever really talks about. It’s a good game and everything, but the design of it was very “same but different”. Koopas had bombs instead of shells. Mario’s fireball was replaced with a generic black ball that ricochet off the floor. Instead of Princess Toadstool/Peach, he was out to save Daisy. And instead of being in the Mushroom Kingdom to face Bowser, Mario was kicking it in Sarasaland to fight an evil purple alien named Tatanga. Tatanga is almost completely forgotten from the Mario series, only appearing again as a level boss in Super Mario Land 2: The Six Golden Coins. You’d think with his spaceship, he would be a natural to appear in a Mario Kart game.

We begin with the introduction to Herman Smirch. Herman is a middle-aged electronics clerk who lives alone. The first several pages try to show us that not only is Herman a jerk, but he’s a rather unorthodox one.

Yes. Herman’s hobby is to play Mario Land to the end and allow Mario to die because it’s funny. When that homeless guy leaves him alone, Herman whispers that beggers should be shot, causing the guy to yell at him for being an asshole. Herman crumbles like a coward and tries to give the guy a quarter. Later on, he insists to his boss at the mall that he was mugged.

The onslaught continues. His boss casually mentions that one of Herman’s Game Boys was shoplifted, but we see that Herman took it himself because he deserves to be paid more. To prove his point, he steals another one to play during his shift.

Soon after, we meet Rick and Josh, two teenage boys dropped off at the mall. Rick is the Zack Morris knockoff that was required by law to appear in any story involving teenagers during the early 90’s. You know the kind. Sunglasses and popped collar. Always talking about cruising around for chicks and using words that nobody ever seriously used, like “dweeb”.

Josh wants to buy Super Mario Brothers 3, but because Herman the clerk is too enthralled in his Game Boy game, the two decide to leave and hit the food court. They hear a crash behind them, but decide not to investigate. That’s when we discover this.

Tatanga commands clouds too? Wow.

Tatanga tells Princess Daisy that he will conquer this world, much like he has Sarasaland, for the sake of Daisy, when she finally decides to marry him. When Herman begs to know how this is real, Tatanga’s second-in-command Pionpi tells him that Tatanga had been psychically surveying other worlds to take over and stumbled upon our world. Herman made for the perfect anchor because he is weak-minded and bitter.

“Wait a minute! Some game designer cooked you up! You’re just some little bytes of data from a chip! Something made you real… and now you think you always were! What am I saying? This is all a dream! You can’t be real!”

“Hmph! YOU seem rather improbable to me, giant!”

Upon finding out that they’re in the Wonder World Mall, Tatanga commands his army to conquer “the Wonder World”. People run and panic in droves as tiny Mario Land bad guys run rampant. It’s actually a bit messed up. In the background, you can see an explosion blowing apart a railing and forcing a guy over with nothing suggesting that he isn’t going to shatter half his bones on the floor below.

We go back to Rick and Josh to see that Josh is an impossibly geeky geek.

Nobody in real life can point out the Mario Land bad guys by name. I don’t care how much of a Mario fan you are. Everyone calls them “that bee with the spear” and “the Easter Island head guy”.

Daisy distracts Tatanga away from his adorable genocide by demanding food. Tatanga interrogates Herman into telling him where the best food in the world is. Herman leads his new master to a fancy restaurant in New York City.

Rick, you’re a bit of a douche, but I like the way you think.

Josh starts yelling at his Game Boy, hoping Mario can hear him as Rick dies from embarrassment. Then he gets him to a point in the game where there are three doors instead of two. He tries the third door and all of the sudden there’s a huge explosion of light. A very tiny Mario stands on the Game Boy, wondering where Daisy is.

Rick has a ton of questions for Mario and how none of this makes sense. How does he exist if he’s just a game character? How did he get here? How is he in color if the Game Boy isn’t? Unfortunately, he doesn’t get to the more important questions. Such as, where is Luigi in all of this? How far away is Sarasaland from the Mushroom Kingdom? How come on the cartoon, they referred to Bowser as King Koopa and all of his underlings were King Wart’s goons? That always bothered the hell out of me.

The three move to the New York subway system, where a bunch of Tatanga’s henchmen have recreated the end of the first level of Mario Land. This act of weirdness is even weirder when you realize that they rebuilt the level with all the power-ups still intact.

Folks, I’ve been taking both pieces of advice for years and look where it’s gotten me!

Up in the restaurant, all the customers have locked themselves in the bathroom while the waiters are forced to tend to Daisy and Tatanga. All the other bad guys run amuck. We get a couple moments here and there of the two of them talking. Daisy tries to manipulate Tatanga to do less horrific things, which he goes along with in his attempts to get her to love him. These scenes are strangely more dramatic and well-written than they should be.

Anyway, as Mario and the two kids barge into the restaurant, Tatanga reveals his masterstroke to Daisy. He didn’t come here specifically to conquer the world. That’s secondary. He really wanted to goad Mario to follow, as in the real world, you only live once. He kills Mario and it’s game over for good.

Mario is able to hold his own against all the henchmen, until Herman steps in.

Rick catches Mario as Josh points out another set of bricks he recognizes. Mario hits one of them and uncovers a star of invincibility. He grabs it and runs through all of Tatanga’s forces like an unstoppable juggernaut. Tatanga prepares to enter his ship from the final level of the game to fight Mario himself, but Daisy prevents this climax.

“So… this is the end, Tatanga… one way or the other… for all time…”

“What are you talking about?”

“Mario won’t stop until you’re finished. He is invincible, now… and what was it you said? In this world…”

“…You only live once.”

“I really do feel ill. Take me back to my cell… now… please.”

“Daisy, tell me… is it his life you fear for… or mine? Daisy?! Bah! I’ll battle Mario when I choose! This luncheon is over! Activate the warp zone vortex!”

Tatanga and his boys return to the Game Boy. Mario says his quick goodbyes and hops in after him, else he’ll be trapped. Once he’s gone, Josh and Rick talk about how nobody’s going to believe them. Still, the world hasn’t heard the last of Tatanga and the chances of them being around to summon Mario aren’t good. Rick figures, “Well… we can tell all our friends… ask them to spread the word…”

Josh and Rick are no longer a part of the series. The second issue is about Tannis, a little girl about to take a plane trip by herself to Florida. She wants to visit Cape Canaveral, but she’s really only going there to see her grandmother. Her sister is less interested in wishing her well as she leaves to take a tour of the cockpit and more interested in playing her Game Boy.

That’s boring. Let’s go back to Piscataway, New Jersey, where Herman Smirch has yet to leave his home. He’s on the phone with his mother, telling her that aliens from his Game Boy have taken over his mind and force him to do their will. Her take on it is to get rid of his Game Boy, since it seems to be driving him insane. He does so by handing them off to a couple kids on the sidewalk who he had been screaming at two minutes earlier. He takes a walk and feels a lot better.

That’s when a cloud appears around his head and he goes into a daze. He sees an electronics shop with Game Boys displayed behind the window. He throws a brick through it and snatches one up.

While last time, Tatanga was all about finding good food, this time he wants to have a nice vacation with Daisy. Herman suggests Disney World, which pleases Tatanga. They try the bus, but it won’t allow them entry, so they blow it up. They then hijack a semi and force Herman to drive them to the airport.

They hijack the plane that Tannis is on, which has yet to board the other passengers. Tannis, like other children in this comic, is able to point out Tatanga by name without even thinking about it. Then again, there’s reason for this. Tannis’ sister heard from someone at school that you can bring Mario into the real world via Game Boy. Word really does travel.

Tatanga is displeased with the speed of the plane and demands a faster vessel. Tannis tells him about how fast space shuttles can go and where they can be found. Tatanga has the plane stop at Cape Canaveral, drops off all the airline employees and takes Tannis and Herman with him to hijack a space shuttle.

Yeah! All that exciting Super Mario action, huh? We’re halfway through the goddamn issue at this point.

Once they’re in space, we finally get somewhere. Tannis tells Herman that she’s scared. He yells at her for putting them into this mess, but then warms up and tries to console her. He gives her his jacket to keep her warm and then goes off to speak with Tatanga. She fishes through his pocket and finds his Game Boy.

Tannis sucks at Mario Land, so she contacts NASA and has them call her mother. Once she’s on the phone with her mother, she demands to speak with her sister, so she can give her tips on how to play through the game. Tatanga notices her betrayal and demands his people destroy her, but by that point, Mario is finally on the loose.

He is quickly overpowered and tossed into a spacesuit prison. They toss him out of the airlock, causing him to drift in space, but he points out that he’s an expert with pipes, crawls through the air tube and makes it back onto the ship. He sabotages the ship so that it’ll crash back to Earth, causing a stalemate between he and Tatanga. Tatanga folds and demands his men make emergency repairs to the damage Mario made so they don’t all die. They still crash onto Earth, but the shuttle is slowed down enough that nobody is horribly injured.

Except Daisy, that is. She’s unconscious, so Tatanga calls off his fight with Mario and returns to Sarasaland inside the Game Boy. Daisy winks to Mario, showing that it was a ruse. Well, good fucking going, Princess! That’s twice you’ve mucked up your own rescue. I think somebody has attention issues.

Herman is able to get away from the scene as Tannis walks out of the shuttle to find herself in Disney World. Apparently, they crashed into the “It’s a Small World” ride. There were probably hundreds dead and more injured, but they never talk about that. In fact, there’s no follow-up or final one-liner whatsoever. Tannis surveys the damage and it’s over.

Starting with this issue, the final page would show the cover of the National Enquisitor, a tabloid that would cover the newsworthy events of the issues. These events would be buried among articles such as this.

The third issue features no appearances by Tatanga and Daisy, but is instead centered more around Pionpi, that blue Kuang Shi Chinese ghost guy. At the very least, we get more of Herman, who appears to be the only thing keeping this comic entertaining outside of the outright absurdity.

We find him hiding in his mother’s house. His mother is continually asked about his son’s whereabouts by police officers and things get worse when footage of Herman hijacking the airplane hits the news. As his mother suggests Herman has himself committed, he finds a package delivered to him. It’s the Game Boy he gave to those little girls in the last issue along with a note from their mother that they don’t accept gifts from creeps.

Herman knows Tatanga’s forces will be back and doesn’t want his mother involved, so he steals her car and some of her money to get away. About a week after, we get the most improbable scene of the entire series.

Herman is rather shocked that this waitress is drawn to him, but the moment she steps away, he starts going into his haze. Pionpi appears from out of the Game Boy and Herman has to hide him as he excuses himself and leaves, though not before the waitress gives him her number.

Pionpi, along with a bunch of other Mario Land villains and bosses, is in charge of finding an area for Tatanga to use as a stronghold. Somewhere with plenty of people to mind-control. He demands Herman tells him where such a place is, which he answers China. Pionpi commands Herman to drive him to China. The gag is funny on its own, but they use their videogame alien technology to upgrade his mother’s car into something that can take to the air.

They fly around for hours, but Herman is completely lost. He hides his failure by landing on a desolate island in the middle of nowhere and claiming that everyone’s on vacation due to it being monsoon season. Surprisingly, this works and the others (Sarasalandians?) start putting together a fortress.

On an aircraft carrier nearby, some pilots notice the strange goings on on that island, such as a black cloud looming over, refusing to move with the wind. One of the pilots, a guy named Campbell, remembers hearing something about this via a letter from his brother Josh, but Campbell thinks it’s a load of bunk and decides to relax with a game of Super Mario Land. He ends up pulling Mario out of the game by accident and finds out that either his brother wasn’t fooling, or they all deserve to be thrown into a padded room.

Mario flies his tiny propeller plane towards the island, only to be shot down. The enemy now has real world weapons, which make them more powerful. Mario crash lands towards the carrier, where Campbell catches him like a football.

Tatanga’s minions cheer over Mario’s defeat and Herman seems pretty pumped. Finally, he belongs and he’s a winner. He cheers along with the others, only to get scolded by Pionpi.

There’s something incredibly uplifting about this piece.

Campbell helps Mario by upgrading his plane to the point that it’s tagging along twin gatling guns and several dozen missiles of different sizes. Other navy officers see Mario flying by, giving the victory sign, only to pretend that none of this is actually happening.

I don’t know how this is possible, but the issue becomes completely badass from here on out.

Hahaha! This makes it all worth it.

Defeated, Pinonpi sets up the self-destruct sequence. Herman is to leave his Game Boy, drive off and save himself, while the others will hop back into his Game Boy before the place explodes and man will be unable to steal their technology. Herman does so, hailing Tatanga as he goes on his way and makes it back to the coast. He feels pretty swank about his current situation, as he’s a big wheel in Tatanga’s army, he’s got a kickass car and that waitress is into him.

The fourth and final issue begins with Seaside Heights, New Jersey, where Herman now works cleaning rides. He unleashes Tatanga and… forget this. It’s a boring issue with minimal Herman that goes through the same motions as the earlier ones. The only high point is that Mario almost dies from radiation poisoning from saving a nuclear powerplant from a meltdown.

Fact is, it in no way can follow up on that Highway to the Danger Zone story in #3, so I have to call it a day. I hope you understand.

Originally, there were supposed to be six issues of the series, but they cut it down near the end in a rare instance of sanity. Part of me feels that it’s a shame. I would have loved some closure on that wacky bastard Herman Smirch. I still find it interesting how this concept worked out differently between two writers. McClellan’s stuff put me to sleep, but damn if Caragonne didn’t have his moments, bless his cocaine-ridden heart.

It is silly, isn’t it? The way he turned something as cartoony as Mario on a tiny plane and turned it into something badass. I wouldn’t mind seeing Valiant try to make another dorky Nintendo license into something hardcore.

Hello! Looks like I’ll be reviewing you in the future!

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10 comments to “The Game Boy Comic: Now You’re Reading with Power! Portable Power!”

  1. I owned every single one of the Valiant Nintendo books. Just wait til you get to the horror of the Zelda series.

  2. Man, don’t knock Super Mario Land. Mario had Superballs!

  3. And now i’m reminded of the “Adventures of Gamepro” comic that ran in Gamepro magazine

  4. Are you telling me that there’s a comic that takes place in Seaside and you don’t review it!? Looks like I’ve got some buying to do.

  5. Zach Morrison? I think you mean Morris, but I am terrified and delighted to think of Zach and G-Mo joining forces…

  6. @Satch: My bad. I guess when I type “Morris” while in a comic mindset, my fingers go through the motions.

  7. Y’know, some of this actually looks kind of neat, with Herman drawn and colored in an early-90s comic book “realist” style, next to the flat-colored cartoon bad guys. That “What a great bunch of guys” panel in particular is genuinely trippy.

    I had some of those Valiant Nintendo comics; one of them had an ad for Game Boy #1 in them, and I always wondered what that comic would be like. The writers who came up with concepts for licensed properties like this are real unsung heroes. “Write a legitimately interesting story for children using these predetermined elements, and make sure it sells the product.” It’s an interesting writing exercise, if nothing else.

  8. wow, this was a blast from the past. i had the first 2 issues of “Game Boy” comic (this in lieu of an actual Game Boy.) i was old enough to view them pretty critically (they don’t make a lick of sense at all!) but i still liked them for the way the characters looked, those bees carrying spears, the heads with wings, and the little white square with shocky points.

  9. I never got to own the Game Boy comics, but I wanted to. I liked what little I got to read of them, though, and kind of like them better than Valiant’s actual Super Mario Bros. comics.

  10. Well, I really miss when comic books, was water colored, and not digitally colored. Even markers, and paints was better then what we have now. It is not too amazing, since the entire series leaves on a cliff hanger.