My Favorite Family

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.

This Superhero Anime is a Smash Hit

One of my roommates recommended that I watch My Hero Academia since I was looking for something to watch while I was on vacation. We both expected me to sit down and watch two to five episodes at a time, like I’d down with pretty much every other show I’ve watched, but that is not what happened. I got sucked into the show immediately, lost track of time, and watched the first whole season that afternoon and evening. The following day, I spent the entire day watching all but the last five episodes and I would have watched those if I didn’t have an event the next day that required I get up early. It was close. I almost decided to just stay up so I could watch the last few episodes even though it would have left me bleary and exhausted for the day of watery adventure.

My Hero Academia is, on the surface, your basic action anime that hits all the requirements: teenage male protagonist, male rival who is both a friend and enemy, the hero has a great power he can’t properly wield, he’s in training to be some kind of action hero, and there’s some vague threat looming in the background that slowly becomes more apparent as the series goes on. The protagonist even has the same personality markers as all the other male protagonists of similar anime: a heart of gold/unwavering belief in his peers, the drive to work harder than everyone else, a casual disregard for his own well-being when it comes to protecting people, and a hair color that stands out from his peers and elders (with exceptions for genetics). If all you do is look at the surface, it is simply a fill-in-the-blank action anime with a delightful superhero twist.

The minute you start to look beneath the surface, which is actually easy to do because the show does a masterful job of peeling back the layers for viewers of all ages, there is a startling amount of complexity to all of the characters. The protagonist, Izuku, is not only a hard worker, but he’s also very clever. His analytical abilities lead to more victories (and often less costly victories) than the use of his potentially overwhelming power. His inventiveness, when it comes to finding ways to make use of his rather unreliable powers and applying the powers of his teammates, is unmatched. If he seriously tries, he can usually find a way to make use of the “quirks” (the special powers that most people in the world develop before they’re four) of his peers to defeat whatever foe or obstacle he’s facing. Not only is he intelligent, he’s actually pretty in touch with his emotions and good at reading people, so he has a tendency to find ways to help the other conflicted teenagers he attends Super Hero High School with.

All of his classmates at U.A. High School are heroes in training as well, and a lot of them are still working on why they want to be heroes or what kind of hero they want to be. There’s a guy with engines in his calves, a woman who can turn things she touches weightless, a dude that sweats explosives from his hands, some guy with a tail, a woman who can create objects which pop out of her body (which is most of the cheesecake in the show, since her costume is revealing so as to not tear when she pops out a cannon), an invisible girl, and a guy whose whole body hardens into some kind of metallic-y stone substance, and so much more! The personalities of the cast are, for the most part, just as diverse as the powers. Sure, the explosives guy has anger issues, the invisible girl is constantly afraid of being overlooked, and the dude with engines in his legs is incredibly driven, but they’re also more than just that facet of their personality. Explosives guy wants to be the top-ranked hero and proves his drive despite appearing to be a villain-in-waiting. The invisible girl is a solid hero who wants to keep her friends safe and isn’t afraid to do whatever she needs to in order to succeed. The drive young man is also willing to learn, sharing a surprising depth of wisdom with his classmates and proving to be a capable leader in the few instances he isn’t overshadowed by the protagonist and his rival.

Even the teachers aren’t the rather shallow caricatures they appear to be. Each of them gets their time to show the various aspects of their characters, the wisdom and strength they’ve attained throughout their lives as heroes, and the strength of their conviction when it comes to their pupils. Even the hero who is passing his power onto the protagonist, All Might, shows a surprising depth of character considering his surface-level is just some big muscle-y dude who punches stuff really hard while shouting the names of states or cities in the US while smiling. It turns out he carefully crafted the image of himself as the ultimate hero, the “Symbol of Peace,” in order to discourage villains from attacking all the time and to give the non-hero populace someone to believe in, even going so far as to sacrifice his physical health in order to stay that symbol when he probably should have retired.

That being said, the plot is actually pretty standard. The protagonist wants to be a hero, gets a one-in-a-million chance to become a hero, constantly throws aside the rules in order to do the right thing, and continuously overcomes all the boundaries between him and his goal by trying harder. The big change comes in how the other people in the world react to that and the consequences he faces. It is illegal in his world for people who don’t have a hero license to use their quirk to hurt someone, and he almost goes to jail for doing just that. His super-powered attacks take an incredible toll on his body and, while there is a certain amount of  “Ta-da! You’re magically healed!” there’s also a point VERY early on where he learns that he will eventually suffer irreparable harm if he continues to damage his body and have it healed. Most of his cleverness goes into figuring out how to use his powers while minimizing their impact on his body. Unlike most similar protagonists, Izuku actually has the potential for serious consequences and, even when he tries to “technically follow” the rules, he almost gets in a huge amount of trouble. Even his mentor takes him to task for being reckless.

I would recommend watching My Hero Academia because it is a really fun action anime with depth of character and actual consequences for being a reckless moron (I’m looking at you, Naruto). Finally, you can watch something about a kid who just wants to be a hero and succeeds by trying hard without feeling the little bit of guilt you (or at least I) always feel when watching adults just let kids get away with some really dumb shit. It’s a responsible action anime!