It has been 30 years since the premiere of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and the show, widely regarded as one of the greatest cult comedy television series of all time, is as strong as ever. Classic episodes of the series are now available on all forms of media and streaming services. Spiritual spin-offs by the show’s cast, like Rifftrax, Cinematic Titanic and The Mads Are Back are as popular as the original show. And one of the biggest Kickstarter campaigns in crowd-funding history brought the show back for a new generation of fans, before Netflix picked up the distribution rights and made MST3K more popular than ever.
For those who are not familiar with the show, here is a quick run-down. Mad scientist Dr. Clayton Forrester kidnaps Gizmonic Institute handyman Joel Robinson and blasts him into space to act as a test subject for an experiment to find a movie so bad it will break the minds of the human race and allow Dr. Forrester to take over the world. He is assisted in his efforts by Dr. Laurence Erhardt in Season 1, TV’s Frank in Seasons 2-6 and his mother Pearl in Season 7. Thankfully Joel, being a clever inventor, creates a number of robot friends to help him run the satellite and deflect the terrible film by making fun of it, thus making the experiment fail. Joel escaped in the 5th season of the show to be replaced by hapless temp Mike Nelson. After Season 7, the show moved from Comedy Central to The Sci-Fi Channel and Pearl Forrester took over her son’s experiments to enact revenge on Mike and the robots for her son’s death. Her assistants were Professor Bobo (a parody of the original Planet of the Apes apes) and The Observer – an psychic alien who holds his brain in a jello bowl.
Confused? That’s all frosting for the cake of the show – funny people mocking stupid movies.
In 1999, MST3K stopped production. but the fans never forgot it. The new Netflix series has built on the show’s original mythology, but very little else has changed. The robots are still there but now we have a new test subject, Jonah Heston, and a new mad scientist. Somehow Dr. Forrester and TV’s Frank had kids at one point (Don’t ask. We don’t know how either) and now Kinga Forrester and Max (TV’s Son of TV’s Frank) have resurrected the experiment.
The twist is that this time, rather than wanting to break humanity’s will, Kinga is a capitalist out to exploit the legacy of her father’s work and the nostalgia factor surrounding the existence of the classic show. That brings us to this comic, where Kinga invents a machine that allows her to send Jonah and the robots into the world of a public domain comic book and use them to create an entirely new comic that she can sell off to collectors looking for the next big thing.
Show creator Joel Hodgson takes a huge gamble with this concept, presenting something that has never really been done before. At first, the concept is a tad jarring. It takes a few moments to realize what word balloons are the originals and which ones are the riffs. The fact that this works as well as it does is a credit to letterer Michael Heisler. The artwork is amazing too, with Todd Nauck doing a great job caricaturing the cast of the show in the opening scenes and Mike Manley seamlessly weaving the characters into the public domain artwork. Once the concept is understood, you find yourself laughing at the entire situation and wonder why no one ever thought of doing this before.
And no, Deadpool and Harley Quinn do not count. They break the fourth wall. This is a genuine riffing of an existing story that exists apart from the narrative of the main characters.
While I highly enjoyed the first issue, that is because I grew up with Mystery Science Theater 3000. This style of humor molded my own sense of humor over the years, so I ate it up. For those who are really not familiar with the subject matter, they may not grasp what exactly is going on. And here is where I find the one fault with this book: it assumes the readers are already fans who know all about the show, so the book does not bother trying to introduce the basic concept and characters to the uninitiated readers.
When Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie came out in 1996, they did a brief explanation of the concept for those not familiar with the show at the start of the movie, so that everyone could enjoy. The new series on Netflix also had an extended introduction in the first episode that did this, and the show’s theme-song also explains the basic idea of the show. I think the comic should have done this on some level as well.
If you are not a fan of the show or have never seen it, you may not enjoy this comic. Still, it is a load of fun. The jokes fly by rapidly and are very well written. My personal favorite involved Totino’s Pizza Rolls and Kinga’s efforts to work product placement into the story. If you are a fan of the show, I suggest giving it a look-over. I hope future issues continue to be as entertaining as this one. I just wish it was more inclusive for those who don’t already know the joys of “deep hurting“.