Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Mini Marvels

Mini Marvels Ultimate Collection, by Chris Giarrusso
January, 2010 Marvel Comics

I generally steer clear of anything which proclaims itself as suitable for "all ages," but this book is an exception to the rule. Chris Giarrusso's Mini Marvels really does justify the description: kids will enjoy the goofy humor and pint-sized versions of classic Marvel heroes, while adults -- especially ones who grew up with Marvel comics -- will appreciate the in-jokes. In fact I think adults just might enjoy Mini Marvels more than kids.

I've only recently discovered the series. Giarrusso started up a "Marvel meets Peanuts" strip in 1999 which ran as "Bullpen Bits" in Marvel's editorial columns. As the years progressed Giarusso's art got slicker and the strips longer, some of them running into epic proportions as mini-series or special editions. This paperback collects all of Giarusso's Mini Marvels work (save a few Bullpen Bits; one of them, featuring Cyclops, I've placed below). This is by far one of the most enjoyable books I've read in a long time.

Giarrusso recreates the famous Marvel characters as feisty kids. But this isn't one of those stupid modern-day kids-centric hero deals; you know what I mean, shrill cartoons featuring little smart-asses who spout lame dialog at one another. Mini Marvels is several steps above that. These comics are funny, not stupid, and therein lies the difference. In other words, Giarrusso hasn't written a dumbed-down product to appeal to children; he's put real work into his stories and his art so that it not only appeals to kids but also resonates with an adult audience. It's a special kind of magic for sure. When I finished the book I actually missed these little guys.

Giarrusso pretty much does everything -- he draws all of the strips and writes the majority of them. A handful of quickies are written by others, and without a doubt those strips are the worst in the book; it appears that only Giarrusso knows how to portray these characters. He has a definite handle on the various major and minor Marvel personalities (keep an eye open for incredibly obscure characters hiding in the background), and he really seems to have an affinity fo the unsung Avenger Hawkeye. The scrappy archer appears in many of the strips and usually serves as the protagonist; it's nice to see a writer who knows that not every story needs to star Wolverine or Spider-Man. I also love Giarrusso's take on Iron Man, whose ego hasn't diminished despite his smaller stature here.

The biggest shame is that Marvel cancelled the title because they feared people would confuse it with their craptastic new cartoon Super Hero Squad. This nauseating animated series is all the things Mini Marvels isn't: it's stupid, crass, and seems designed to appeal to children brain-damaged from inhaling magic marker fumes. In fact it seems to have been written by those same brain-damaged children.

So, a smart and clever title was cancelled so that a stupid one could live. But then, that's the way of today's rotten world. If Marvel had been smart they would've given Giarrusso a steady job and sold the property as a Sunday comics feature with national distribution. With it's "Peanuts for the Marvel Age" mentality, I'm certain a weekly Mini Marvels strip could've become a huge hit.

I could just rave on and on about this book. There are only a few negatives. For one, I'm uncertain why that aforementioned Cyclops strip and a few other Bullpen Bits weren't included (numbers 2, 9, 10, 36, 37, and 44 respectively -- and it's a real shame that #44 wasn't reprinted here, as its "Wolverine as Charlie Brown" image is downright iconic). Luckily you can find all of the Bullpen Bits over at Giarrusso's website, under the "comic strips" tab in the Mini Marvels section. And another thing I don't like is the somewhat-smaller size of the book. It's not up to the usual trade paperback dimensions; I'm thinking Marvel's done this to appeal to the tweener manga-reading market, which only serves to increase my anger.

Below I've placed some samples of the various strips (freely stolen from about the web), from the early scratchy material to the later, slicker affairs.

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