Back in 1999–2000, the Bullpen Bits ran in the back of Marvel comics books; the strip featured kid counterparts of superheroes and villains. They were charming four-panel strips that shone with a light-heartedness that is missing from a lot of comics today.
Since those single strips, Giarrusso has created longer stories for these adorable characters, which have been collected in this book. These include Paperboy Blues, Cereal Quest, Paperboy Showdown, three stories about the Hulk (Hulk Date, Round Trip, and World War Hulk: Rally The Troops), and The Iron Avengers. If you want fun, amusing, entertaining and utterly charming comics, these are for you.
The stories are straightforward but not dumbed down, and everything you need to know to enjoy them is included in the book. Paperboy Blues sees Spidey (not Spider-Man) delivering the Daily Bugle for (the adult) J Jonah Jameson; however, because he is failing to collect the money, JJJ threatens to give the route to Eddie Brock (who is wearing the Venom costume; he still wants to eat people’s brains, but he looks cute with one big bottom tooth). So, Spidey has to visit all his deliverees: the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, and the Hawkeye-led Thunderbolts. This whistle-stop tour of the Mini Marvel universe is a delight – all the characters are easily identifiable and the interactions are great.
Cereal Quest sees Wolverine trying to obtain a box of his favourite cereal, X-Crunch. He is hampered in this by the people who work in the supermarket and by evil mutants, and he looks great with his uniquely Logan hairstyle. Paperboy Showdown sees JJJ get Spidey and Brock to fight over the one place on the route they both don’t want – Norman Osborn, with some walk on parts for lesser known members of the Marvel universe. The Hulk stories see Hulk on a date (suffering from advice from Hawkeye), witnesses the Mini Marvel Illuminati remove Hulk from the Earth, and the third story is a lovely tale about World War Hulk, featuring the greatest panel of humour in all of Marvel comics books (it’s the one in the bottom left corner, if you’re wondering: see below). Finally, a cute story about Iron Man giving everybody their own Iron suits (perhaps a dig at the Spider suit from Civil War).
I got this book originally for my girlfriend, who laughed at every page and enjoyed it immensely, but I couldn’t help be won over by the delightful art, the light touch of the stories and the charm of the humour. These are a lovely antidote to some of the seriousness that permeates the world of comic books today, allowing you to enjoy the idea of a universe where the Marvel superheroes are all friends and meet up to enjoy their interactions, the sort of notion that develops when one first experiences the interconnected universe of Marvel comic books. Giarrusso is still drawing and writing/co-writing Mini Marvels back-up strips (mostly in the pages of Power Pack stories) and I can’t wait until they are collected as well. Go buy this book and make yourself feel good about superheroes again.