I think it was the tagline, “It’s not a place, it’s a process,” that initially attracted me to “Tales of the Beanworld.” And, really, how else can you describe the strange Beanworld itself? A universe where Bean Sol’jers regularly plunge through the Four Realities (Slats, Hoops, Twinks, and Chips) in order to raid the Hoi-Polloi Ring Herd and steal chow, which goes into the Chowdown Pool for the Beans to absorb. Except, when an insect invasion from the land of Der Stinkle leaves “Mystery Pods” all over the Beanworld, it begins to slowly turn the Beanworld upside down as the regular clockwork nature of the universe is disrupted in strange and unique ways…
Does this sound strange? It should, because “Beanworld” comics have always been more than a little bizarre. I’m not sure that anyone other than Larry Marder could mesh ideas from super-heroes, Native American mythos, and biology all into something that actually makes sense, but for twenty-one issues in the ’80s and ’90s, that’s exactly what he managed to do. What was especially neat about “Tales of the Beanworld” back in the day is that every time you thought you completely understood what was happening, Marder would throw another twist into the game. It became rapidly clear that while as readers we have no idea just what’s in store for the Beans and how everything fits together, Marder has the entire Bean saga mapped out perfectly in his head.
So with that in mind, now that Dark Horse is bringing the series back (first as two hardcover collections containing all 21 issues, plus an original graphic novel), it makes sense to have a single-issue comic out there as well for people who have never read “Tales of the Beanworld.” And hopefully? They’ll find it just as enchanting as all of us who read the comics back in the day did.
“Larry Marder’s Beanworld Holiday Special” takes place shortly after the original comics; the baby beans (or Pod’l’pool Cuties) are just starting to grow, Professor Garbanzo is still trying to figure out all the different powers of the Mystery Pods, and Beanish continues to take his secret trips to visit Dreamishness as she travels across the midday sky. But when the Boom’r Band members realize that the Cuties never talk to each other, only to adult Beans, everything else has to be put on hold. How can the Cuties grow up into Sol’jers if they won’t communicate with each other?
“Larry Marder’s Beanworld Holiday Special” isn’t the huge, everything-changes story that we’ve all been waiting for. (That, however, looks to be in the new graphic novel.) What it does do is bring almost every major element of “Tales of the Beanworld” back onto the center stage, serving as a primer for new readers and a reminder for those who have been patiently waiting these past 15 years. I suspect it might come across as a little confusing to new readers at first, if only because there’s a lot of material packed into this comic’s pages. But as a teaser for new stories to come? I hope it really sucks readers in. This is a strange, off-the-wall comic and that’s exactly how I remembered it.
So if you’ve been hearing about Marder’s strange comic over the years, go on, take a chance. Because it has to pull double-duty for old and new readers alike, it’s not quite at the dazzlingly high levels of the original series. But I do think it shows just what “Beanworld” is about, and an average issue of “Beanworld” is still head and shoulders above most comics being published today. This comic, just like the old ones, is subtitled on the cover, “A most peculiar comic book experience.” I’d say that’s pretty true, and that’s a good thing indeed.