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'Super Trash Clash's charming narrative buckles under Easter eggs

Comic Books

‘Super Trash Clash’s charming narrative buckles under Easter eggs

Super Trash Clash had lots of promise, but there were some things that were lacking that would have made it even better.

As much as I hate to admit it, I often find ways to tap into nostalgia. Whether it’s watching compilations of theme songs from my youth, revisiting music that was the rage when I was in middle school, or looking back at the timeline of fandoms of which I was apart, nostalgia is a powerful and useful tool I use to get through the tough days. While the nostalgia I feel towards movies, TV, and music is strong, I’m lacking in the video game department. I greatly respect the long history of video game fandom, of standing in line to get the latest title, the joy of beating the top player at the arcade, or getting the cheat codes and tips from a gaming magazine, the same magazine one would use to enter a sweepstakes to go to space camp. Super Trash Clash offers a love-letter to the warm fuzzies of video game nostalgia, but under the Easter eggs and references to the games that made us, the plot – which revolves around love and familial connection – gets lost in a massive basket.

SPOILERS AHEAD for Super Trash Clash!

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Story and Characters

Super Trash Clash is written and illustrated by Edgar Camacho (Summon’s Alley, Onion Skin) and translated to Spanish by Eva Ibarzabal (El mundo adorado de Sonia Sotomayor). Told mostly in flashback, the story centers around Dul, a young girl and video game lover living in Mexico in the ’90s who wants nothing more than to play the hottest game on the market, Super Encounter Champions 2, a nail-biting fighting game for her birthday. Tragedy strikes when Dul’s hard-working single mother buys her the wrong game, Super Trash Clash, a terribly reviewed, hard-to-play game. After she trades it on impulse for the chance to play the game she wanted, Dul discovers that her mother is still paying off the game and puts in extra shifts at her job to pay for it in the first place. Guilt-stricken, Dul and her best friend Misa venture off in their town to try and get it back, coming across video game shop owners, bratty, rival gamer kids, and cooler, older cousins along the way.

Super Trash Clash
Top Shelf Comix

Dul is realistically written, precocious and playful and also thoughtful at times. She is a latchkey kid who, where she would rather go to the arcade with her friend, goes home and does the chores her mom asks her to do, choosing to be helpful instead of engaging in her hobbies immediately. The reader can tell that Dul cares a lot about her mother and isn’t resentful of their situation. That doesn’t mean she is a total goodie two-shoes; she expressed disappointment and annoyance when her mother gives her the wrong game — like all kids do — but she never comes off as selfish or entitled. While those are also very valid emotions to express, I’m glad Camacho chose to make the relationship between Dul and her mother an overwhelmingly positive one, of love and mutual respect as opposed to combative and spiteful about their circumstances. I also appreciated that Dul’s mom didn’t deter her from playing video games; there could have been the age old trope of “don’t play those, do this other thing that girls do instead.” That was missing, thankfully.

I would have appreciated learning more about the mom. What does she do for work? Does she have any hobbies? As loving and kind as she was, there was a lack of dimensionality that would have been nice to see. While I understand that the story is about Dul, the other characters fall to the wayside, falling into tropes of “nice best friend,” “snotty, sexist arcade kid,” and “Mom who works a lot.” I think many people can relate to a narrative of being a kid and having parents who work their butts off to provide and support them and their love is deeper as a result, and I think fleshing out the other players in this story would have added some richness to this book.

Also, there is no sense of time; I inferred that the story takes place in the ’90s based on the video game references and the consoles, but that’s all the evidence we are given. Additionally, we learn nothing about how Dul is in the future; the first time we see her is when she encounters the game in an old store when she is older (how much older? Who knows, we’re never told). She still has a love for video games, but has anything changed since then? Again, who knows?

Super Trash Clash
(Top Shelf Comix)

Art and Visuals

Camacho also did the illustration for this work, which is full of a geometric style with sharp lines and charming, fun facial expressions. Most of the book is in a muted color palette, lots of yellows and grays and dull oranges, which was a good representation of the hazy look back we get when we put on our nostalgia goggles. Everything had the look of an old photograph, much like his other work, Onion Skin, had. Additionally, the backgrounds are a treat to look at; many of the lines have a crude, organic feeling to them which adds to the doodle-like nature of the whole work, supporting the nostalgia aspect of the piece. There is also a really ingenious use of linework in the book that shows the passage of time and distance in a really unique way. It blew me away the first time I saw it. The clever use of color does not stop there, as the hues get brighter and more saturated when a video game is featured, be it Super Trash Clash or Super Encounter Champions 2.

Super Trash Clash
Top Shelf Comix

As the teaser suggests, this graphic novel is bursting at the seams with video game references. The Legend of Zelda, JRPGs, and fighting games all get a shout out here. There are cheekier nods, too – Dul talks about mastering a game about Italian brothers, and the game system has packaging just far enough away that any one with a knowledge of video games could get. The whole thing is very endearing, but something about the way the references were executed felt half-baked. The moments where Dul imagines she’s in a video game are few and far between, making them feel out of nowhere when they appear as opposed to a throughline that ties everything together. I would have appreciated Dul’s video game-addled imagination either being on display through the whole story, or not at all; the shaky middle ground made them feel disjointed and as an afterthought.

Super Trash Clash
Top Shelf Comix

Too Many Eggs, Too Small a Basket

Super Trash Clash promised to provide a heartwarming story about family and love while tipping its hat to some amazing video games. And that’s true…to a point. I fear that, in pursuit of writing and creating a world of nostalgia and telling a sweet story at the same time, both aspects stumbled in the final result. I’m a big fan of an Easter egg and an homage here and there, but when they get in the way of what is supposed to be the meat of a story, they become less endearing and more of a distraction, like waving keys in front of your face when you’re trying to focus on something. If the heart and love and care between two characters is there, then there will be less of a need for the Easter eggs, the work was already done – you got the reader to care about the story you wanted to tell. Perhaps I am feeling this way because the video game references felt randomly sprinkled in as opposed to richly enhancing the world, and I ended up enjoying the book more. I suppose I, like Dul, will have to use my imagination to envision it.

'Super Trash Clash's charming narrative buckles under Easter eggs
‘Super Trash Clash’s charming narrative buckles under Easter eggs
Super Trash Clash
Super Trash Clash had lots of promise, but there were some things that were lacking that would have made it even better.
Reader Rating0 Votes
Charming art style
Realistically written protagonist
Glimpses of a heartfelt narrative
One-dimensional side characters
Muddled narrative delivery
Referential humor interfered with the plot

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