The Webcomic Overlook #215: Bravoman
This is the part of The Webcomic Overlook where I reminisce nostalgically like an old man. My grandpa had World War II, my dad had his childhood in the Philippines. Me? I have video games.
I remember, way back when, as a bright eyed kid playing in the arcade. I remember playing Pac-Man. I remember playing Space Invaders. And I remember especially playing Frogger, which was the only cartidge I ever owned to play on our Atari 2600. I remember trekking Toys ‘R Us just so I could buy a Ninendo so I could play Super Mario Bros. (That Nintendo was later stolen by burglars who broke into out house in Detroit, but that’s another story.)
I even have fond memories of the Saturday Supercade. That was the Saturday morning cartoon series that featured the animated adventures of Space Ace, Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., and Frogger. For some reason, though, I can only sorta remember the Q*Bert segments, which, at the time, I though were so very wrong because Q*Bert talked. I also remember the Pac-Man series, back in the day when Atari was still trying to convince us that the dude was had retro Mickey Mouse eyes and a hat.
What I’m trying to say is … I been playing video games for a long, long time.
And I have never heard of friggin’ Bravoman.
It may surprise you that Matt Moylan hasn’t either. Moylan is creator of the Transformers chibi parody Lil Formers (which was one of my very first reviews on this site). He is also a managing editor at UDON entertainment, a studio that consists of Asian-influenced comic creators. Along with artist Dax Gordine, Moylan is also the writer of the Bravoman comic on Shiftylook, a site filled with webcomics about very old and oftentimes obscure video game properties (and a few somewhat well known ones like Klonoa and Katamari Damacy).
I sent an e-mail to Matt, asking if he’d ever played Bravoman when he was younger. He replied:
Actually no, Bravoman was a pretty obscure game, and I had never even played a TurboGrafx16 as a kid. Working on the webcomic came about through UDON’s connection with Shiftylook editor-in-chief Rob Pereyda.
It was Rob who suggested I give revamping Bravoman a shot, and once I saw just how odd this game was I figured I could do something fun with it. And once we brought in artist Dax Gordine things really started clicking.
So who the heck is Bravoman? The boxart shows that he kinda looks like Mega Man (and by Mega Man, I mean boxart Mega Man) wearing some cool shades. The game was released in acrcades across Japan and eventually it was released the Turbografx, and console that maybe two people in America ever owned. It’s now available on the Wii Virtual Console, the online store that let us fuddie-duddies relive the glory days of playing Super Mario Bros. 3.
Wikipedia reveals that the game itself was a little cheeky: “The game described by Namco themselves as a “comical action game”, which takes a light and humorous approach to an otherwise trite theme, by using a lot of humorous elements, both graphics, plot and sound-wise, usually ridiculing or parodying stereotypical elements of Japanese tokusatsu and videogames….” How silly? Well, Bravoman’s alter ego is an insurance company salaryman based on Namco’s founder, Masaya Nakamura, and among the regular cast of character is a dude named Lottery Man, a yellow robot riding a fat unicycle.
Moylan had to do his research. And by that, I mean playing video games. If I could’ve done research in my engineering classes by playing video games, I probably would’ve gotten a doctorate by now. “Luckily,” Moylan recalls, “Bravoman only ever had the one game 25 years ago, so that was the main focus. Though, he has cameo’ed several times in other games (mostly Japanese exclusives)….. I have played the actual game plenty now, and it’s tough! I still haven’t been able to get close to the final boss (hopefully I will eventually!)”
Though no prior knowledge is necessary, you probably need some video game know-how though, since Bravoman loves to poke fun at old-timey video game tropes. It’s similar to Wreck-It Ralph, in how the movie’s best gags came from classic mechanics (the clunkiness of video game sprite animation reflected in the way the townspeople walked, for example.)
In Bravoman, a lot of the characters are weird premutations of the main character. Mario has Wario. Sonic has Shadow. And Bravoman has Bravo Woman, Anti-Bravoman, and Braveman. A screenshot seems to confirm the existence of a Black Bravo; on the other hand, Moylan informs me Bravo Woman is an original creation. It’s a cute callback to video games’ long-standing tradition of palette swapped characters.
Later, Bravoman reminds a potential villain that he has only two powers (stretchy arms and turning into a submarine), a reminder of the limitations in a world where progammable solutions are finite. Also how kinda silly a lot of the powers are. And then there’s a time when a whole fight switches to 2-D.
Now, while Bravoman can’t trade on nostalgia the way billions of other webcomics out there do with Mario, Link, and Solid Snake, there’s huge benefits to using an unknown property. Namely, Moylan and Jardine seem to be having a ball creating the Bravoman mythos out of thin air. In this incarnation, Bravoman is still a mild-mannered guy earning a salary (though that part is never emphasized beyond the first strip), but he doesn’t have a wife and two kids. (Though Moylan does slyly hint at this part of the official Bravoman legacy.) Rather, he’s more like a hyperactive teen who likes to play video games. He fights off enemies sent by his nemesis, the bespectacled mad scientist known as Dr. Bomb, and usually dispatches them with ease.
There are some exceptions. Bravoman can’t hit Waya Hime, a ninja girl who looks like Starfire, out of a sense of chivalry. She, in turn, falls in love with Bravoman because she’s crazy. This leads to Bravoman having to fight Waya’s dad, who’s imprisoned his daughter in a cage. Bravoman accepts the challenge — not because he has unrequited feelings for Waya, but because Alpha Man, Bravoman’s mentor who looks like an egg with lips, has also been tossed in the same cage.
Then there’s Zortan, an armored robot who speaks in red word balloons, and Bravoman immediately frets that this means he’s definitely a tough customer. He’s treated a little more seriously than most, even if Bravoman has to unleash a move called “Bravo-buttbutt.”
Moylan gets thumbs up for infusing these characters with some fun personalities. Dax Gordine, though, does a great job in transforming a bunch of sprite characters into fully realized designs that look like they came straight out of a shelved Bravoman Saturday morning cartoon. Not only that, he manages to single-handedly resuscitate my inner child with a few brilliant single-panel comics. As someone who got a lot of enjoyment poring over the schematics that came with GI Joe toys, I got a huge kick out of the strips that details the inner workings of Bravoman’s various vehicles. Also fun? A strip showing the line-up of Bravoman characters as action figures. It strikes to the heart of a simple truth: the toys were fun, but the simple paper inserts that came with those toys? More than anything, those drove the imagination wild.
Speaking of Saturday morning cartoons: Bravoman is so much like one that I can almost see the ads for it. You start off with the smash cut graphics, and then you go to the too cool for school announcer going, “Saturday mornings will never be the same again! Catch Bravoman at 8/9 Central! Only on the Hub!” Is it any surprise, then that Bravoman is soon to be on a web-only animated series? (With Bravoman to be voiced by none other than all-star voice actor Rob Paulsen, the first Raphael and the current Donatello.) The wacky spirit is tailor-made for a childlike sense of humor. The way the comic often breaks the fourth wall, for example. In the most recent comics, especially, Moylan piles on the meta gags, with the characters getting involved with the process of cartooning itself. And then there the comic parodies, one of which goofs on Moylan’s other webcomic.
Moylan mentions how his humor was molded by shows like Looney Tunes and Animaniacs as his big inspirations. Unintentionally, though, Moylan was also channeling the spirit of the Saturday Supercade. In that show, Frogger was an ace reporter who works for the Swamp Gazette, and Q*Bert was suddenly a teen in the 1950’s with a girlfriend named Q*Tee. Because, really, what could you do? The original Frogger was just a sprite you got across the street to a lily pad, and Q*Bert was a block-hopping cypher. Sometimes you stick with the imagery, but because everything else is undefined, you graft a weird origin story on it.
A comic based on an existing video game would be easy to be cynical about (“Surely a cheap ploy to get more Wii downloads!” you might scoff), but the weird obscurity of Bravoman only adds to its oddball charm. We have no nostalgic attachments impelling us to pull up this comic. So why are Moylan and Gordine having such a ball with it? Once you start reading, it’s hard not to get charmed by the good vibes all around. Incidentally, the news posts are pretty interesting, filled with obscure Bravoman trivia.
Man. Only on the internet. Bravo for Bravoman!
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Posted on November 28, 2012, in 4 Stars, action webcomic, all ages webcomic, comedy webcomic, The Webcomic Overlook, video game webcomic, WCO Big Review, webcomics. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.