Are you looking forward to a new comic book but it’s impossible for you to wait for its release before you know what we thought about it? That’s why there’s DoomRocket’s Advanced Reviews — now we assess books you can’t even buy yet. This week: ‘Mystery Science Theater 3000’ #1, out September 12 from Dark Horse Comics.
THIS REVIEW OF ‘MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000’ #1 CONTAINS SPOILERS.
by Clyde Hall. *Turn Down Your Lights (Where Applicable)*
Being a MSTie saved my life. Let’s say the late 1980s were a difficult time, one of my darkest. While the fledgling Comedy Channel original programming brought needed smiles (The Sweet Life with Rachel Sweet, The Higgins Boys and Gruber, Short Attention Span Theater hosted by a young Jon Stewart), it was Mystery Science Theater 3000 that induced demon-smiting laughter. And a faithful viewer I remained through the Turkey Day Marathons, the Joel (Hodgson) years, the Mike (Nelson) years for the most part, the Syfy years intermittently. By the end, the formula seemed a bit tired, my fortunes had improved, and pulling the plug came with a reserved sigh.
A cautious but interested ‘Eeeuuk-uueeel?!?’ worthy of TV’s Frank welcomed the news of MST3K: The Return on Netflix. But Joel Hodgson’s homecoming, a decent budget, solid new cast regulars, and nostalgic visits from past characters like Pearl, Bobo and Brain Guy quickly made Return must-see-online-TV. (Plus, Patton Oswalt, bless him. Any program he’s in earns an automatic watch from me.) The timing was also fortuitous, just like that of the original series, because right now the world needs all the demon-smiting laughter it can find.
Pending a second season of Return, word came forth that Dark Horse Comics would be bringing current host/abductee Jonah Heston, the ‘Bots, Mads Kinga Forrester and Max to the comic book medium on a riff tour of public domain titles. It was a moment of Deep 13-vu, though, as this idea had been proposed before. In 1997, Acclaim Comics announced a graphic novel with Mike Nelson and crew riffing on old Gold Key and Dell books. The plan was scuttled when Acclaim was forced to curtail some of its production, and by 2004 the company closed shop with a Chapter 7 filing.
‘Fool me once, shame on you, but fool me twice, shame on me’ was my reception to this newest proposal. It was still an intriguing concept, but would Dark Horse’s attempt to translate MST3K into graphic art form end up being the latest Boy Who Cried Blast Hardcheese? Happy to report that second time’s the charm and Mystery Science Theater 3000 (The Comic) #1 will be available at fine comic shops everywhere on September 12. And even happier to report that the first issue is a worthy addition to the MSTie cheesiness-riffing art form.
Nefarious plans are being put into motion on the dark side of the moon as the limited series debuts, with Moon 13 workers preparing a new form of torture for test subject Jonah Heston and his robot pals Crow T. Robot, Tom Servo, and Gypsy (along with Growler and M. Waverly, apt Return additions). R&D-minatrix Kinga Forrester, along with her servile second banana Max, have developed a Bubbulat-R using Kingachrome technology which allows them to send old comic books pilfered from Max’s collection to Jonah and crew aboard the Satellite of Love. Like the cheesy movies delivered in a similar process, the comics can’t be avoided by the unwilling test subjects. Unlike those films, the comics actually pull Jonah and his cronies into the panels, forcing them to take an active part in any lame funny book the Mads deign to send.
Dell Comics’ 1962 Johnny Jason, Teen Reporter #2 is the subject matter for their debut experiment, and once fused with the human and robot lab rats, it becomes Tom Servo, Teen Reporter. Tom’s forced into the title role, with other crewmates adding their humorous asides and observations to his own. And the wisecracks here aren’t merely snickerfest grist; they produce out-loud belly guffaws. Missing are Jonah and Crow, apparently swept into their own bad titles simultaneously and prepped to be the focus of upcoming issues. Meantime, Growler and Waverly make with the witticisms as Tom juggles peer pressure, teenage angst, and having both a driver’s license and his own sweet ride while exploring the American Graffiti-verse.
The result? A compelling nightmare-filled variant on what is MST3K’s usual cinematic presentation, both in format and in the sortes de fromage. Come on, at least a few titles vault to mind when the average comics fan considers candidates for Most Deservedly Lampoonable Four-Color Fodder. And not all of ‘em are Dell, Gold Key, nor old. With movie audiences currently attuned to the comic book medium’s impact on the big screen, the leap from laughable celluloid to laughable newsprint is more of a short hop. There’re already gentle pokes at the MCU included here, and with very few reservations, the creative team makes the transition work gangbusters.
Since the original art from Johnny Jason is used during the experiment portion of the book (with adroit additions by Mike Manley), it would be nice to see John Tartaglione credited for his work. It might not be his best stuff, but the late Tartaglione was a career comic book artist and inker who (per Mark Evanier) became Marvel’s resident authority on historical research and spiritual themes, and who oversaw art correction for the company. Not acknowledging him is like using an old, poorly scripted Charlton tale but ignoring the Steve Ditko pencils. The issue also ends Tom’s teen reporter adventure rather abruptly compared with the flow established by the rest of the book. And there’s more story to the original Dell scripting as well, enhancing the feeling that you were suddenly dropped midway through.
The successes of MST3K #1 vastly outnumber the faults, though, including Mike Manley’s skill matching imagery to Tartaglione’s original work. Todd Nauck’s art for the introductory portion involving the SoL, Moon 13, and the Return characters proved an unexpected major plus for the book. The fun he’s having morphing the show into comic book form is tangible. His pages warranted a second viewing after my initial read, just to admire the joie de vivre he invested.
Scripters Harold Buchholz, Joel Hodgson, Matt McGinnis, Seth Robinson, Sharyl Volpe, and Mary Robinson take full advantage of the comics format. In all live action incarnations, balancing riffs to fit alongside the movie dialogue without covering it is a timing essential. It makes for brief verbal jabs, measured to coincide with what the characters are saying, and it’s no doubt an ongoing production logistics battle. But here, the spiels can expand without threatening any original (i.e., bad) dialogue just begging for a longer shellacking. The writing team also handles the new experiment format well, resonating its own irreverent, creative style by direct depositing Servo into the story. It functions smoothly and trumps a mere comic book version of three silhouettes talking at the pages. Overall, they invested me as a reader enough to do exactly what I did as a viewer of the TV show: I checked online and found the original Johnny Jason to compare on its own merits with the MST3K version. Just the way finding the original cheesefest films on YouTube made the show’s version even funnier, so too Johnny Jason’s vintage melodrama enhanced Tom Servo’s stint as a comic book teen reporter.
And be sure to check the bottom of the Tom Servo, Teen Reporter title page when the experiment portion commences. It represents the heart and soul of MST3K humor, and the sort of detail that cements this comic book interpretation’s place as a worthy extension of the cult classic program. With upcoming issues using Harvey’s Black Cat and Comic Media’s Horrific as further Bubbulat-R ammunition, I’m all in for the entire run. And hoping against hope that the Dell superhero monsters get their own MSTie comic cheese sampler.
Push the button, Max.
Dark Horse Comics/$3.99
Written by Harold Buchholz, Joel Hodgson, Matt McGinnis, Seth Robinson, Sharyl Volpe, and Mary Robinson.
Art by Todd Nauck and Mike Manley.
Colors by Wes Dzioba and Mike Manley.
Letters by Michael Heisler.
8.5 out of 10
‘Mystery Science Theater 3000’ #1 hits stores September 12.