When I had the idea for this feature, I put together a list of comics I wanted to cover. Some of them came to mind immediately, while with others I knew the creator I wanted to cover but I didn’t know if they had anything weird or curious in their bibliography. In doing research for comics to write about, I found some really interesting artefacts that I didn’t know existed and I’m really looking forward to writing about them, but none of them struck me as odd as The Marvelous Adventures of Gus Beezer by Gail Simone and Jason Lethcoe and it shot to near the top of the list of comics I just had to talk about.
Gail Simone was a pretty well known name in the comics industry in 2003; her website “Women in Refrigerators” really kicked off the conversation about the way female characters in comics are treated as disposable and expendable, she had a popular column in the early days of ComicBookResources and she had well and truly made a name for herself as a comics writer with work on The Simpsons at Bongo Comics and a fan-favourite favourite run on Deadpool and Agent X at Marvel.
On paper, the existence of this title makes complete sense because Simone had established her bonafides as a writer of comedy superhero comics and all-ages cartoon comics, why not combine the skills for an all-ages cartoon comedy superhero comic? The result was The Marvelous Adventures of Gus Beezer, a series of three one-shots starring a young super-hero super-fan that Simone described as Dennis The Menace meets Stan Lee.
Gus Beezer is a young child who lives in the suburbs with his family; a mother and father and two sisters, one older and one younger. I don’t think his age is given and I’m really bad at guessing how old kids are, but I’d say he’s maybe about seven years old, or maybe ten? I’m not sure. He goes to school with friends like August and James, and rival Dubar Dilpepper who is more a traditional comic nerd type of kid. The only difference between Gus Beezer and a regular kid is that Gus Beezer lives in the Marvel Universe.
Each issue follows the same formula pretty much. The issue starts with Gus playing at pretending to be a superhero, perhaps with his friends taking the roles of teammates or villains, but his real life will get in the way of the fantasy in some way. Then, in the final third of the comic, the actual superhero guest star will show up in some fashion and interact with Gus in a comical fashion.
I wish I knew a kid I could give these comics to in order to get a genuine reaction from the intended audience, because I don’t want to be too harsh on a comic that just isn’t for me. I don’t like kids, so kids aren’t really ideal protagonists for me but I can definitely tell that this series has its charms and I can see a lot myself in Gus. When I was about five, I locked myself in the bathroom and drew Xs all over my body with a blue felt-tip pen because I wanted to be in the X-Men; my grandad had to come over and take the door off the hinges to get me out. Similarly, Gus paints his entire body green in an attempt to be The Hulk.
I really enjoyed Jason Lethcoe’s art in The Marvelous Adventures of Gus Beezer, aided by Hi-Fi’s colours and Dave Sharpe’s letters. Lethcoe mixes it up slightly from issue to issue, experimenting with different styles while maintaining a visual consistency across the three issues. My personal favourite is the Spider-Man issue in which Lethcoe employs a kind of proto-Skottie Young style, with a sketchier and less polished composition that feels very different from what you’d expect from an all-ages superhero comic.
However, if I was going to recommend one of these comics, it would be The Marvelous Adventures of Gus Beezer and Spider-Man which is different to The Marvelous Adventures of Gus Beezer: Spider-Man because comics are stupid a lot of the time. This issue, which came out about a year after the initial three Gus Beezer comics features early work by Gurihiru who would go on to be staples of Marvel’s all-ages comics with work on Power Pack before really making their mark with The Unbelievable Gwenpool and Superman Smashes The Klan. This issue sees Gus head into the big city with his cousin Peter and has a great interaction between our titular hero and J. Jonah Jameson, so if you’re going to read just one, make it this one.
Interestingly, each issue features two stories taking place simultaneously; the top two thirds of the comic are the traditional Gus Beezer-meets-superheroes story but the bottom third is a separate strip that presents itself as a comic written and drawn by Gus Beezer himself. I found it easiest to read the main story first and then return to the start to read the strip, so I think in a way it’s successful in making me spend more time with the comic. Apparently, according to a tweet from Simone, The Marvelous Adventures of Gus Beezer were supposed to be square-bound books but they ended up being traditionally sized comics, so they needed to make new content to fill the gap.
I definitely think there’s a place for a Gus Beezer in the Marvel Universe, that’s what’s so great about shared superhero universes, there’s room for everyone. He is canonically Peter Parker’s cousin in some fashion, so he could always come back at another family reunion or something. He even exists in the Ultimate Marvel Universe too; Brian Michael Bendis introduced the Ultimate version of Augustus Beezer as in Ultimate Spider-Man #93 as an anchorman who works for Mojo, mostly as a rib to Simone.
All four issues of The Marvelous Adventures of Gus Beezer are available on Marvel Unlimited and Comixology, and if you’ve got young kids who like superheroes but are struggling to find age appropriate comics to get them started with the medium, then these stories are a lot of fun. It’s easy to make fun of them because it’s an obscure, forgotten series by a now A-List creator and “Gus Beezer” is just a ridiculous name, but there’s a charm and heart to these comics that’s undeniable.