Back when Mario Mania was reaching its peak in 1990 and 1991, Valiant Comics licensed various Nintendo characters and properties for use in comic books. Five series of comics were published: Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Captain N: The Game Master, Game Boy, and the compilation series Nintendo Comics System that consisted of reprints of stories from the other comics. Sold in limited quantities in comic book shops and an occasional K-Mart, the Nintendo comics never took the world by storm and today are mostly forgotten. When I was in the second grade my father would drive me to the local comic book shop each month so I could buy the latest issues.
Artwork styles and stories were heavily influenced by the Super Mario Bros. Super Show and Captain N: The Game Master cartoons that were running in syndication and on NBC's Saturday morning cartoons block around the same time. Each comic series had a basic theme in an attempt to set one series apart from another. Take a stroll down Memory Lane and look at some of the oddest Nintendo merchandise ever published. Be sure to click on the pages to get a better look at the corny dialog.
Super Mario Bros. was filled with corny plumbing jokes and Koopa puns. Storylines typically involved King Koopa planning some nasty plot against the Mushroom Kingdom or Princess Toadstool getting herself kidnapped. In one issue Toad enrolls in a home journalism course and decides to follow Mario on his adventures in order to write an article. Toad is distracted by Koopa Troopas, however, and decides to write an article about how the Troopas are always stealing from King Koopa.
Other storylines involved fetching a new issue of Mario's favorite comic book, Dirk Drainhead, from a comic books store in World 5 and Mario's attempt to fix the castle plumbing that ended with a temporary alliance with King Koopa himself. The Koopalings appeared a few times and Super Mario Bros. 2's lead enemy, Wart, even crashed the party once. Several new characters were included in the comic, such as the Mushroom King and lead mushroom retainer Wooster. The series debuted in 1990 as Super Mario Bros. but was reprinted as Adventures of the Super Mario Bros. in 1991, often recycling stories from the 1990 issues.
The Legend of Zelda tried to be dramatic (well, as dramatic as these things get). There was little humor, more action, and plenty of long monologues from Ganon. The average story involved Princess Zelda getting into some predicament, resulting in Link rushing to her rescue and leaving the Triforce of Wisdom unguarded, allowing Ganon's monsters to come searching for it. The Triforce was in constant peril, Ganon was always cooking up some plot, and Link always wanted a kiss from the princess.
The one story that stands out from the rest - a "special" two-part tale, "The Power" and "The Price" - sees Link finally defeating Ganon and recovering the Triforce of Power. With the Triforce in his possession Link begins to turn dark, taking control of Ganon's armies and locking the pigman himself in a cage. It is only when Princess Zelda points out to Link that the Triforce is corrupting him as it corrupted Ganon that he discards the power so they can all live happily ever after until the next issue. The Legend of Zelda is one of the few Valiant Nintendo comics to reach Volume 2, but most of the new comics consisted of a few pages of new material and a recycled "classic" story.
Captain N: The Game Master was based on the NBC cartoon of the same name, although the premise was a little different. Third-party characters such as Mega Man and Simon Belmont who appeared in the cartoon were not in the comics. Most Captain N stories existed not to entertain, but to slip little game hints and tips into the dialog. Mother Brain was usually behind most of the grand schemes to conquer Videoland, but the good captain had some help in his fight against evil in the form of Princess Lana (also from the cartoon), his loyal dog, and a large talking Game Boy.
Captain N comics usually included two stories: one story starring the captain and another based on a game from Nintendo's library of titles, such as Punch Out!! or Metroid. These secondary stories took many liberties with established plots and characters, often introducing sidekicks that were not in the original video games, i.e. Samus Aran's insectoid partner Big Time. Only five issues of Captain N were published and it was the first of the comic books to cease production, ending in September 1990.
Game Boy was a four issue mini-series that was probably the oddest comic of them all. The premise is that here in the "real world" certain Game Boy units contain conduits to the world of video games. When a bitter employee shoplifts a Game Boy and accidentally summons Tatanga and his army of monsters from Super Mario Land, it's up to two scrappy young kids to find a way to bring Mario into the battle. Along the way both the shoplifter and the kids learn valuable life lessons about honesty and virtue.
As the issues progress Tatanga pops up in all kinds of places, baffling everybody except for one or two kids with a Game Boy. Mario appears, kicks ass, offers a life lesson, and everyone's happy again. The main reason for this comic's existence seems to be to sell Game Boys, as the units and their packaging appear in almost every frame in some capacity. Oh, and if you want to bring Mario into the real world you have to make him enter the third doorway at the end of World 1-1. Keep it a secret, k?
The last of the Valiant Nintendo comics was published in late October 1991: Issue #9 of Adventures of the Super Mario Bros. These comics are rarely spoken of these days, aren't worth much more than the original cover price ($1.50), and aren't much fun to read after age eleven or so. Still, they're an interesting part of gaming history and a reminder that at one time anything with Mario on it was a license to print money. Unless of course you were publishing a subpar comic book, in which case nothing could help you avoid being swallowed up by a larger corporation. A number of comics from all five of the books went unpublished when Valiant became a part of Acclaim. The new Valiant decided to focus on their own original characters instead of licensed properties, although cover art and storylines for more Nintendo adventures were advertised in the last of the published issues.
Don't cry too hard for the fans of the canceled comics. Remember, Super Mario Bros.: The Movie was just two years away...
For more information about Valiant's Nintendo comics as well as some of their other publications, be sure to read through the Valiant Firsts website.