Before I begin, I want to mention that the title confuses me. Is it suppose to a play on the line “Prance Around You?” If so, that’s an awfully big stretch for a pun. If anyone has any ideas what this is supposed to mean, let me know, please.
My second entry into the Super Mario Adventure series, “Piranha-Round Sue” is a fairly ambitious ten pager that never manages to live up to its potential. Oddly enough, many of the Valiant entries have bold ideas but weak executions. It’s difficult to put a solid story in such a short amount of time, but considering that there are a few comics that are fairly great (including a particular one that is flat-out excellent), I do believe that there could have been more hits than misses during the series’ run.
One of my favorite ideas about Super Mario stories is expanding the various factions within the Mushroom Kingdom world. To wit, I mean to think of sects of characters that go beyond “Princess Toadstool supporters” and “King Bowser minions”. Whenever a comic or game looks to insert not only new characters, but new groups of people, it elevates the franchise immensely. And while not every comic or game can toss in a Smithy, a few X-Naughts, or even a Shadow Princess (who I personally think is an underrated but amazingly evil villain), fooling around with already-established creatures is a great way to work with what you got. It’s always cool to see actual Koopa Troopas being on the right-side of the law, and in a perfectly creative would, these Troopas would be treated with a cautious approach, a constant shadow on where their loyalties still lie – the Death Eaters of the Mushroom Kingdom world. (And don’t get it twisted – Nintendo could allow something like this to happen, albeit in a more light-hearted fashion.)
So in “Piranha-Round Sue,” we’re treated to what appears to be a new wrinkle in the Toadstool v. Bowser conflict: the piranha plants are revolting!
Not only that, but the King has be transformed into a chameleon, and Mario and Toad have to find the magic wand to change him back. That’s three conflicts total: the uprising, controlling the king in his chameleon form, and finding the wand (yeah, I know the second one isn’t a conflict per se, but it theoretically would be one if there was time to focus on the King’s situation within the palace. I’m still counting it.) In addition, Mario is given a magic jewel called the Green Gecko Gem (despite the fact that the king was changed into a different type of lizard entirely. Also, did the king always possess this thing?) It’s essentially a poor man’s Starman. Protect you from mediocre attacks, but you can’t touch anyone else. Why they dropped the Starman concept for this Gecko Gem I have no idea – probably because it’s difficult to draw a multicolored figure on the page? In it’s own way, this is another conflict, an ultra-weak version of the ring from Lord of the Ring. It still counts, though, especially how the comic handles it later.
Again, this is crazy ambitious, and a full comic might have satisfied all the beats required to accomplish this. But then we see this.
Toad plans something with Mario. Interesting at first. But it leads to this:
Mario acting like a PURE DICK.
Now, I’m going to stop here and talk about Mario a bit, and why this sort of makes sense, contrary to our heroic dispositions. It’s often ridiculed in pictures on the web, but Mario as a gleeful, arrogant hero actually works. He stomps, kicks, punches, and attacks what seems to be innocent creatures all the time, often with a smile on his face. Of course, the visual aspect of SMB is ultimately whimsical; a cute, visceral metaphor of a struggling person fighting these monsters under a false, carefree veil of poppy music, bright colors, and charmingly cure henchman. The gag, therefore, is to showcase Mario as an needless aggressor, attacking innocent Koopas and helpless Goombas for no reason. Humorously, it’s fine, but every so often, it seems the writers here take that idea and make it into a real trait, as showcased in that screencap. And you know what? I dig it. It gives Mario a darker side. A personal conflict that he has to keep in check. In fact, to this comic’s credit, it plays with this idea later on, as well as touched upon in later issues.
So, leaving Toad in the dust, our tricky antagonist, Sue, confront our solitary mushroom and manipulates him into forcing Mario to choose between his gem and hubris or his friendship. Another layer of conflict? Hey, I’m down for this.
This is probably one of my favorite panels in the entire run. It looks cheap, but on purpose; it has a strong 8-bit video game vibe to it. I love how it divulges so much info without being too expository (well, it is, but no one exposits directly to Toad, so I buy it.) The other piranha plants are all doing different actions, the simple but refreshing “mustache on Bowser gag”, and the spacing of the three different “character-areas” is very well established. All this clutter for the this short gag.
Comics are best thought of what happens between the panels than what happens in them. This is a great example of this.
Of course, things go off the rails. Sue convinces Toad to test Mario’s friendship by pretending to drown. Mario is a jerk, but he isn’t a monster; so it’s just wrong to see Mario complain about being unable to help due to the Gem’s restrictive powers. Sue hurries things along in another great panel:
… finally forcing Mario to drop the gem (and the wand he found which was, strangely, underneath a random rock) and save his friend. Sue snatches up the gem and the wand, declaring herself to be the most powerful creature in the world. (If the piranha plants are all connected, they theoretically all could be gem-protected as well. That is never made clear though). Those plants are about to unload on Bowser’s tyranny, Egypt-style.
OR ARE THEY?
You see, apparently only extremely strong forces can penetrate the gem’s barrier. And Bowser is pretty damn motherf*cking strong. So in instant, Bowser undermines the revolt with a neck-snatch and a belittling and tossing aside of these cheap trinkets, as he calls them. Snatching them up, Mario and Toad head off, with this extremely bizarre revelation:
BACK THE FUCK UP.
So, everything that happened was pre-planned? Did Toad whisper to Mario, “The plants are revolting, so pretend to be a jerk, so that one of the plants will try to goad me into testing your friendship with a near-death experience. That plant will possess the gem and wand right until Bowser appears from nowhere and just quell that rebellion shit in an instant, leaving us the gem and wand, killing two birds with one stone!”? No. No. NO. I can’t imagine even part of the idea being in Toad’s plan. Mario acting like a jerk wouldn’t necessarily lead to the Sue encounter, nor bring Bowser into the picture. Mario’s line “That could work… if they try anything!” kind of implies the Sue meeting (“they” being the plants) but “That could work” then means Bowser coming into the picture, or bating Sue to monologue loud enough to capture King Koopa’s attention, who for some reason was in the area. NONE of this makes sense. In an instant, a cute story goes to hell. Cutting out the idea of Toad executing all that would have at least turned it into a charmingly cartoony tale. Now it’s just a Shyamalan mess.
Anyway, they return to the castle, transform the king back into his former self, and grin at each other while the king still seeks out flies to eat. Haha. (Also, the Wooster character is INEXPLICABLY wrapped in bandages on the final page. I am completely baffled as to why.)
Like I said, the comic is okay and they are some really nice moments, but the story collapses on its own weight. It tries to be greater than the sum of its parts, but it instead just blows up in the face of simple logic. I don’t remember the other comics trying to be smarter than its content (the sucky ones suck for other reasons) but the idea that the characters knew it all along is just undramatic, illogical, and unnecessary. Being silly is one thing; being stupid takes work.
Next time: A sillier comic where Princess Toadstool goes punk: “Magic Carpet Madness.”