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Video-game webcomics tend to gravitate toward the same crew of characters in general. Most everyone is going to do a comic about Mario, which also means that most everyone will eventually do that comic where Mario is a delusional plumber on mushrooms who gets stuck in a pipe.
Beyond that, however, it’s usually a roster of other visually recognizable characters: Pokemon, Kratos from God of War, Master Chief from Halo, Big Daddy from Bioshock, whoever is in Assassin’s Creed this year. These are the characters that populate the tribal knowledge of gamer culture. In a way, it’s not unlike superheroes. There are hundreds of pieces of fan art, video tributes and articles focusing on Batman, but who;s going to devote much time to, say, Silver Sable?
As it turns out, some of the characters that slip through the cracks tend to be quite popular. Kirby, for example. Did you know that little pink blob has appeared in more than 20 games, as well as a cartoon that aired for eight years? And yet, while most webcomic types will give Kirby a token appearance (usually in some Smash Bros.-themed comic), for the most part they have no idea what to do with him. Even Nintendo Power in 2010 named Kirby as a character who deserves more respect. That’s right: Kirby is the Rodney Dangerfield of video games.
For Matthew Taranto and Chris Seward, though, this baby is a firework. Their webcomic Brawl in yhe Family is set to come to a close soon, after almost seven years and 600 strips. Most video-game webcomics try to emulate Penny Arcade by ramping up the vulgarity and gamer-culture vitriol, but not Brawl in the Family. It’s centered around the family-friendly Nintendo titles, and most specifically anything to do with Kirby. It may be one of the few video-game comics not targeted directly at the pre-teen to young-adult crowd. It’s all-ages, and appropriately so.
The webcomic, as a result, feels like a niche fanwork that’s nevertheless quite accessible to the newcomer. If all you ever knew about Kirby is that he eats things … well, there are a plethora of comics where Kirby transforms into anything he puts into his mouth. There are also the side characters, like King Dedede and Metal Knight. I have no ideas who these guys are beyond their appearances in the Smash Bros. games. However, if Brawl in the Family is anything to go by, they have a sort of affectionate rivalry between them.
Other Nintendo characters and franchises get their due, too. The big surprise is Brawl in the Family‘s affection for Waluigi. The tall, lanky evil Luigi has a naturally comedic look, as if he stepped out of the silent screen to menace our heroes by twirling his mustache and menacingly tenting his fingers. I don’t play Mario Party games, so I’d never seen him before. This comic, in fact, is the only time I have ever seen this character, and I assumed that, by the way Taranto and Seward portrayed him, he was well-loved. So it was a bit of a shock to me when I came across an article about Mario Kart 8 that sneered, “Waluigi is still terrible.”
People don’t like Waluigi? Why?
It’s was a signal as to what makes Brawl in the Family such a stand-out among the sea of video-game webcomics. Taranto and Seward love the unloved, and by making them look special, they look like the greatest things ever.