One of the first webcomics I ever read was Brawl in the Family by Matthew Taranto. I honestly can’t tell you which comic number I started on, what year I started, or even how I found out about it, but I know it was one of my “original” webcomics. I got used to my daily routine of typing in website addresses to check for updates with this comic and I still automatically start typing the address for Brawl in the Family, or “BitF,” in some days. Unfortunately for me, the comic hasn’t updated in almost four years. Thankfully, that was a choice made by the creator as he moved on to other things and he was able to give it the ending he desired.
Brawl in the Family started about three months after Super Smash Bros. Brawl, or just “Brawl,” came out and was mostly about the characters from that game, though a lot of the comics featured Kirby initially and, ultimately, they were not restricted to only the characters in the game. They eventually adopted a sort of expanded “Nintendo-verse” to include a ton of Nintendo characters that never appeared in a Smash game and the occasional non-Nintendo character who showed up in something with a Nintendo character. While the comic tends to feature the characters on their own, doing gags or stories involving mostly their respective worlds, the fact that Brawl included characters from a huge variety of games and worlds allowed for a lot of hilarious single-strip crossover gags and huge, world-colliding story lines.
Brawl in the Family started a gag-a-day comic drawn by a man with a dream of telling funny stories about Kirby eating things. There wasn’t much plot to start, beyond the low-key animosity King Dedede, Kirby’s main villain in some of his games, feels toward the plucky pink ball of suction. Even that isn’t a constant as the one-off events of the webcomic eventually paint a picture of a growing friendship between the penguin-esque creature that is King Dedede and the small round master of destruction that is Kirby. There isn’t much plot beyond the individual stories, but there’s tons of continuity. Characters often depicted as shallow caricatures find elements of humanity and develop a surprising emotional depth under the guiding hand of Taranto (which, coincidentally, wound up actually being canon).
Honestly, if I had to pick one thing about this comic that I had to endorse above all else, it would be the alternate canon that Taranto creates in the comics. Kirby and King Dedede are enemies, but only sort of, in official Nintendo canon. Taranto takes that a step further by making them begrudging (at least on Dedede’s part) best friends who have more in common than you’d think at first glance. Samus and Captain Falcon are actually in a serious relationship that’s working out pretty well for them. Mario is still a plumber, Meta Knight used to look like Kirby, Waddle Dee (a copy/paste minion of King Dedede) would be an even more ruthless and awful king than Dedede ever pretended to be, and Waluigi is almost sympathetic. Hell, in stuff Taranto has done since the end of the comic, Waluigi actually is sympathetic.
I’ve always been a little leery of a lot of “fan canon” because of the level of ownership a lot of people display over their favorite characters and intellectual properties. You only need to look at the shit-show that is the vocal minority’s reaction to The Last Jedi to see how an excess of attachment can lead to some really disgusting behavior. Taranto, though, makes the characters his own but still manages to acknowledge that they belonged to someone else first and they belong to everyone who wants to share in the joy they bring to the world. He creates his own canon in the expanded Nintendo universe he’s pulled together but always acknowledges, mostly in little ways but sometimes in big ways, they the characters have a life outside of his comics.
When it comes to the topics of his comics, he covers everything from Kirby eating something weird and turning into something weirder to the delicate balance between hero and villain when molding young heroes. There are abusive men on power trips, women who save themselves, the unending question that is Birdo (seriously, look her up), and a healthy fascination with Solid Snake’s disturbingly well-depicted buttocks, all without ever going beyond a PG rating. That’s pretty impressive for a guy in his twenties (as Taranto was when he created this comic) given that I can’t seem to go a single blog post without swearing all over the damn place. There are comics about pushing kind people too far, the strength of friendship, the redemption of minor villains, and the power of song when it comes to depicting the troubles of the villainous. Because not only Does Taranto go from rough, blue lines and a basic depiction of the characters to a wonderfully shaded comic in high detail using mostly shades of blue, but he creates musical comics and songs for a lot of his major milestones. They’re hilarious, incredibly touching and, if you see the loneliness inside Waluigi that makes him lash out at everyone around him in an effort to garner some attention because no one cares about him even when he’s not being awful, tear-inducing. Yeah, I’ll admit I’m a little over-invested in Waluigi, but Taranto gives him a great deal of tragic depth despite there being almost no canon information about him beyond the fact that he shows up for sports, parties, and racing whenever the Mario crew gets together.
In addition to the stories he creates for these characters, Taranto also takes on a lot of the classic “video game webcomic” tropes and ideas in what feels like an exciting and fresh way. In one, Mario jumps on a Goomba and has to look on from the sidelines as that Goomba’s family appears to mourn him and hold a funeral for their dearly departed. The Thwomps are clever, Koopas throw their own shells, there are countless jokes about all of the weird power-ups Mario gets in some of his recent games, and Link never once speaks a line of dialogue aside from a few inarticulate shouts. Despite occasionally leaning on a lot of the common knowledge of most people who’d find his comic, Taranto does a great job avoiding relying on it to the point that less-versed people wouldn’t get his jokes. If he makes a particularly obscure reference, he usually has a helpful explanation in the text post below the comic and there you can see just how much he loves the games he draws and writes about. Reading this comic for any amount of time makes it incredibly clear just how passionate he is about these games and it is incredibly infectious.
If you’re looking for a completed Webcomic to look through, enjoy gag-a-day styles, and don’t mind wading through less-than-stellar artwork before you get to the really good stuff, I can’t recommend Brawl in the Family strongly enough. You may not enjoy every minute, but it’ll take you on an emotional journey beyond your expectations of a video game webcomic based around a bunch of character beating the tar out of each other.