Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

21 October 2008

Mini Marvels: Rock, Paper, Scissors

Collects: Varioius Mini Marvel strips and backups (2002-3, 2007-8)

Released: July 2008 (Marvel)

Format: 96 pages / color digest / $9.99 / ISBN: 9780785132110

It might surprise some when I say that the most enjoyable trade paperback or hardback graphic novel I have read this year is Mini Marvels: Rock, Paper, Scissors by Chris Giarrusso.

Some of you might not have heard of Mini Marvels; most probably haven’t heard of Giarrusso. In 1999, Giarrusso wrote and drew a series of comic strips for Marvel’s Bullpen Bulletins page; called “Bullpen Bits,” it featured elementary-school editions of Marvel’s heroes and villains. In 2000, Bullpen Bits faded from view, but in the intervening years, longer stories have appeared as backups in various Marvel titles. Mini Marvels even managed to get its own comic specials from time to time.

Mini Marvels: Rock, Paper, Scissors coverMini Marvels still shows its origins as a superhero version of the classic newspaper comic strip, although unlike today’s newspaper strips, it’s funny. The influence of Charles Schulz’s “Peanuts,” seen from early “Bullpen Bits” to Mini Marvels (Giarrusso’s Xavier looks like a cross between Jean-Luc Picard and Charlie Brown), is obvious. But despite the comic-strip roots, Giarrusso makes the transition to longer stories effortlessly.

It would be easy for Giarrusso to pound one joke into the ground, over and over again, until you just wish you could go back in time and break Jim Davis’s hands before he created “Garfield.” That’s not the case here; Giarrusso’s parodies the Marvel Universe, and by God, he’ll travel all over the Marvel Universe for his jokes. His standby is classic Spider-Man continuity, with Spidey as a paperboy who has to deliver to the homicidal Green Goblin’s house and contend with his paperboy rival Venom. But there are also stories based on Spider-Man’s Iron Spider armor, Planet Hulk / World War Hulk / Illuminati, and the continuity from the animated X-Men: Evolution. If you like obscure characters, well, so does Giarrusso; there are plenty of second-rate heroes and villains in the background of crowd scenes, especially in the “Paperboy Showdown” story.

Giarrusso’s Hulk is adorable and hilarious. It’s clear Giarrusso identifies with Hawkeye and Colossus, but Hulk steals the show in any story he’s in.

Interestingly, there is more depth to Mini Marvels than you might think; Giarrusso wittily satirizes current Marvel stories. Also, on a second reading, I kept finding jokes I didn’t see the first time. And on a couple of instances, what I had originally read as amusing throwaway jokes were actually well set up payoffs for earlier gags. (“All funds, said and dunds!”) Even the title comes from an obscure — but funny — background gag in the “Round Trip” story.

That’s not to say Mini Marvels does not suffer from drawbacks. But there aren’t many. The $10 price tag is a bit steep for less than 100 pages in digest size. Giarrusso uses a couple of jokes that are Twisted Toyfare Theater standbys — for instance, Daredevil is really blind and Aunt May can’t figure out Peter is Spider-Man, even when he’s in full costume. Each is used only once, however, and the Daredevil joke is a tiny throwaway on the front cover of the first printing. And that’s about it, really.

Demand outstripped supply on this one, with the first printing selling out so quickly Marvel rushed a second printing to press with a Wolverine cover. (They’re hedging their bets there, aren’t they? Wolverine always sells, even in adorable childlike versions!)

I cannot wait until the next volume of Mini Marvels comes out. I hope the success of Rock, Paper, Scissors makes Marvel consider coming out with a digest of original Mini Marvel comics, just so I don’t have to wait so long for another volume.

Rating: Marvel symbol Marvel symbol Marvel symbol Marvel symbol Half Marvel symbol (4.5 of 5)

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