In news that should surprise absolutely no one, Mystery Science Theater 3000 makes for a really funny, really enjoyable, and really good comic. I reviewed the first issue back when it came out and found it to be a pretty enjoyable read. Now, I’ve finished the final issue of the run and I can confirm that it remains an enjoyable read throughout its run, intertwining the signature MST3K humor with the world of public domain comics.
Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Comic by Joel Hodgson, Harold Bucholz, Matt McGinnis, Seth Robinson, Sharyl Volpe, and Mary Robinson; illustrated by Todd Nauck, Jack Pollock, Mike Manley, and Mimi Simon
The riffing hilarity of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 comes to comics when Kinga Forrester pairs her Kingachrome Liquid Medium with her latest invention–the Bubbulat-R! Jonah Heston, Crow T. Robot, and Tom Servo find themselves thrust into the 2-D world of public domain comics, with riffing as their only defense!
From its humble beginnings on a tiny mid-west TV station in 1988, through its years as a mainstay on The Comedy Channel/Comedy Central and the SciFi Channel all through the ’90s, to its spectacular resurrection on Netflix in 2017, Mystery Science Theater 3000 has had a transformative effect on television, comedy, and the way old, cheesy movies are viewed. Now creator Joel Hodgson has set his sights on the comics medium, and the four-color pamphlets will never be the same!
The MST3K comic plays out very similarly to the MST3K show: there’s a host segment, some riffing over a movie/comic, an ad break, more riffing, and a final host segment. The purpose of these host segments (illustrated by Todd Nauck) is, mainly, to introduce the concept of this comic series to readers (both those familiar with MST3K and any who might be discovering it for the first time) and to facilitate the switching between the various story strands – more on those momentarily. In the host segments, we find out that Kinga has invented this new technology – called the Bubbulat-R – that can put people inside of comic books and allow them to both live through the events of the comic and riff on them. So, naturally, she puts Jonah and the ‘Bots into a comic and sets them loose. The host segments throughout the series really feel like one from the revival of the TV series. All of the characters’ voices are captured perfectly and Nauck’s illustrations perfectly encapture the look and feel of the series. They’re a marvelous touch and they help facilitate the flow of the series very well.
The actual meat of the series, however, is filled with three different comics that Jonah and the ‘Bots are sent into: “Tom Servo: Teen Reporter” (a take on “Johnny Jason: Teen Reporter”, “Black Cat” (where Jonah teams up with Black Cat, a public domain superhero), and “Horrible” (where Crow takes on the role of a Crypt Keeper-esque facilitator of spooky moral tales). It’s kind of nice having the crew split up between several different stories as it gives each character plenty of time to shine, but I’m not sure I liked how each issue would switch between the three comics. It made it very hard for me to follow what was going on in the individual comics that were being riffed and it became a bit tedious as the focus would keep switching. I understand that this might be the point; that our focus should probably be on how funny the riffs are and how cool it is seeing these beloved characters in comic book form, but it didn’t always make for the most fun reading experience. It might have worked better had each issue of the MST3K comic focused on a singular public domain comic, much like the TV series does with films. Then again, maybe I’d be wrong and that would have worked even less! Overall, the writing was still really good and the artwork in each separate comic-inside-the-comic was remarkable. Each artist (Jack Pollock, Mike Manley, and Mimi Simon) did a superb job at replicating the original artwork from the public domain series and mixing the MST3K characters into those worlds.
What makes this comic unique, however, is how it handles the riffing. As you watch the MST3K TV show, you’ll notice a few different kinds of riffs: one is the kind that is made overtop of the film (Jonah/Joel/Mike and the ‘Bots making a comment about the film), the other is made as if one of the characters says it. In the TV series, this is usually accomplished by whichever character who’s delivering the riff impersonating the character they’re delivering it as. In the comic, this is accomplished as a word balloon with an extra dot coming from that character. At first, it can be a bit tricky to differentiate what is actual dialogue and what is “riff”-dialogue, but once you get the hang of it, it ends up working out pretty well. All the jokes feel like things that might be said by these characters in the TV series and most of them land really well, being that perfect blend of obscure/topical/silly. It’s a whole lot of fun.
That’s a good way to sum up the MST3K comic, as a whole. It’s a lot of fun. It’s really silly, just like the TV series. The artwork is nice, especially the artwork within the comics getting riffed. The writing is on point and feels like an extension of the universe of the TV series. The host segment was clever, well-written, and felt true to the characters and situations present in the TV series. The way that Joel Hodgson and the other writers tweaked the MST3K formula to best work within the medium of comics was really clever, surprising, and enjoyable. This is just a really fun comic. It’s light reading, but still insanely worthwhile. If you’re a fan of the show, check this out. If you’re new to the world of MST3K, still check it out. This might be the thing that hooks you.
4 out of 5 wands.