In 1988, comedian Joel Hodgson was approached about creating an original local television show for station KTMA in Minneapolis. The result was a unique twist on the classic “horror host” movie program, where the host mocked the movie while it was playing rather than just presenting skits before and after the commercial breaks. The show was dubbed Mystery Science Theater 3000 and the next decade would see it picked up for cable distribution by three networks and syndicated.
MST3K (as it is called for short) has one of the most prestigious reputations of any cult television show in history. It won a Peabody Award in 1993 and inspired a feature-length film in 1996. More recently, Hodgson attempted to crowdfund a new season of the show on Kickstarter, going on to shatter the record for money raised for a television series. This prompted Netflix to pick up the distribution rights to the new series, introducing MST3K to a new generation.
The show has a surprisingly extensive mythology involving generations of mad scientists attempting to take over the world by abducting hapless working-class schlubs and forcing them to watch bad movies. All of this is just window-dressing for the basic concept of the show – three funny people (some of whom happen to be robots) watching the worst movies ever made and making fun of them. The new MST3K series on Netflix has revised the concept somewhat, with mad scientist Kinga Forrester and her assistant Max (played by geek royalty Felicia Day and Patton Oswalt) now more concerned with becoming Internet Famous than achieving World Domination, but the core idea is still the same.
So what the heck does that have to do with comic books?
Just in time for the 30th anniversary of the show, MST3K has now been adapted into a graphic novel format by Joel Hodgson himself and a team of writers and artists. How this is accomplished is more easily explained with pictures than words. Luckily, Dark Horse Comics, in their wisdom, has made these preview pages explaining the concept available for us to share with you. Aren’t you lucky?!
TL;DR? Jonah Heston (the current human host of the show) and his robot friends are put into a public domain comic book and are soon sarcastically working their way through the plot of Johnny Jason: Teen Detective #2, with Tom Servo (everyone’s favorite robot who looks like a gumball machine) placed in the role of Johnny Jason. It’s all annoyingly wholesome, or would be if the robots didn’t keep putting words in the mouth of various supporting characters, such as a cop randomly noting, “This is off-topic, but I just gave my gun to a hobo.”
The writing perfectly captures the anarchic spirit of the show and Teen Titans artist Todd Nauck does a great job capturing the cast in the opening “host segement.” Likewise, Mike Manly masterfully alters the original Johnny Jason comic art to work the MST3K characters into the story. How well all this works will depend upon how much you like referential humor and parody. In other words, if you’re a fan of the original show, you’ll probably enjoy this comic after adjusting you brain to how to read it. If you aren’t… well you definitely won’t.
If you’re a comic fan who isn’t sure if you might be a fan of this sort of thing… well, much as I like the comic, I’d definitely encourage you to check the show out first, just as a point of reference. (You can watch several episodes for free on MST3K.com – I personally recommend The Killer Shrews). That being said, while this might not be everyone’s cup of tea, the high-concept and execution make it worth checking out, even if you aren’t already a fan of the show.
Mystery Science Theater 3000 #1 releases on September 12, 2018!
Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.