30 years after its TV debut, Mystery Science Theater 3000 finally made to the funny papers via a six-issue Mini Series published by Dark Horse Comics starting in 2018. It features the characters from the revival adapting to the comic book medium by creating a new way to riff. It's written by several of the producers of Netflix-era MST3K, including Joel Hodgson himself.
On Moon 13, Kinga Forrester introduces Jonah Heston and the bots to Synthia's new invention the Bubbulat-R, a machine that surrounds its subjects with bubbles, which somehow transports them into a comic book. Anyone inside a "bubbulated" comic becomes part of the story, sometimes to the point that they replace the main character; they also get word balloons that have little bubbles on them to show their dialogue isn't part of the original comic. Armed with "Max's dorky comic book collection", Kinga briefly uses Max himself as a test subject, then sends the Satellite of Love crew into several different books, where they snark away from whatever story world they find themselves in.
The book has several main artists; Todd Nauck draws the host segments, while the MST3K cast are inserted into the old comics by Mike Manley (issue #1 and #3, for the Johnny Jason stories) and Jack Pollock (issues #2 and #3, for the Black Cat and Horrific stories). So if you ever wanted to see Tom Servo's head on a human body, this is the book for you.
Comics riffed include:
- Funny Animals. Max is briefly sent into this comic, which has a self-explanatory title.
- Johnny Jason, Teen Reporter. Servo becomes the adventurous protagonist of this story, which also has an all-revealing title.
- Black Cat Comics. Black Cat is a superheroine with a Stripperiffic costume. Jonah becomes her Sidekick; Crow briefly accompanies him before he is replaced by Gypsy, Growler and M. Waverly and literally flung into...
- Horrific. An EC Comics-style Genre Anthology of Horror stories. Crow washes ashore skulking around the periphery of the terrible tales, before assuming the persona of their Horror Host.
"Prepare to enter the nightmare-fueled world of tropes!"
- Alliterative Name: Johnny Jason.
- The Cameo: Ardy and his dog Bonesy appear on the first page of issue #1, then aren't seen or mentioned again until the next issue.
- Chekhov's Gun: As Joseph Hatter walks through his laboratory in the Horrific story "Tail of Death", he sees a stray cat and doesn't react well: "I hate cats! Wish I could kill 'em all!" Later... well, see Hoist by His Own Petard below. The cat's role in the plot is so obvious that Crow names it "Foreshadowing".
- The Chessmaster: Mr. Rook, the Big Bad of the Black Cat story, turns the Smart People Play Chess trope into his entire shtick, complete with a Human Chess setup at his castle hideout. But then he reveals his Evil Plan to learn the hero's Secret Identity — a publicity campaign to have people send their guesses to a P.O. box. How will he be able to tell if any of the guesses are right? Ummm... he's working on it?
- Comic-Book Adaptation: And we only had to wait three decades for it.
- Cool Bike: Black Cat uses one. Fortunately for the SOL characters who wind up riding around with her, it has a sidecar.
- Early-Bird Cameo: The main cover of issue #1 has the Mads displaying the comics riffed in the first two issues.
- The first issue features Ardy walking his dog Bonesy, who would not be introduced in the show proper until Season 12, two months after the first issue debuted.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: Remember Chekhov's Gun above? When the re-shrunken Joseph Hatter sees the cat he'd cursed out (now a giant from his perspective) again, he tries to sic it on a rat (also a giant to him). Instead, Joseph becomes cat food. Yeah, Cats Are Mean, but Joseph really had it coming.
- Horror Host: Appropriately enough, Crow and his infamous Cryptkeeper impersonation embrace the role of the narrator of the stories from Horrific by the end of "Tail of Death" from issue 2.
- Incredible Shrinking Man: The plot of "Tail of Death", the Horrific story from #2. Mad Scientist Joseph Hatter tests what he thinks is a growth formula on a rat, but the rat gets smaller — and so does he when the rodent bites him.
- Info Dump: The first issue spends a significant amount of time explaining how the Bubbulat-R works. Lampshaded slightly by Synthia.Synthia: (in thought balloon) Why did I design this part of the process to be so tedious?
- Intercontinuity Crossover: Teased when Synthia notices that Gypsy, Growler, and the other Bots can crossover between each of the comics. Max compares it to Marvel Vs. DC.
- Intrepid Fictioneer: The premise of the comic book adaptation — instead of overlaying Jonah and the Bots over comic panels, the Bubbulat-r sends them into the comics, either playing Possession Sue for major characters in the original story (for example, Tom Servo for Johnny Jason) or hanging on the edges of the action.
- Intrepid Reporter: As Johnny Jason, Tom Servo investigates the attempted kidnapping of a teenage starlet, rides a horse with a burr under its saddle, and gets into a fight at a Wild Teen Party — and that's only the first issue! Fortunately, he's having the time of his life.
- Jumped at the Call: Both Max and Servo are enthusiastic at the prospect of becoming comic book characters.
- Little Bit Beastly: Max sprouts an adorable pair of rabbit ears while in the Funny Animals book, but that's the only change to his appearance.
- Meaningful Name: The Villain Protagonist of the Horrific story "Tail of Death" is a Mad Scientist named Joseph Hatter. Get it?
- No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: In Horrific's "Tail of Death", Amos Hatter tries to keep his shrunken brother Joseph safe by stashing him in a parrot cage. Then Amos frees Joseph and gives him an antidote to the shrinking formula, but the Mad Scientist is so angry about having been confined that he immediately strangles his well-meaning brother to death. Lampshaded soon afterwards when the antidote fails and the re-shrunken Joseph realizes that "I killed the only one who could have helped me!"
- Product Placement: Every issue has a prominent scenes where Kinga and Max suddenly appear inside the old comics to advertise Totino's Pizza Rolls. (When the "Moon 13 Ad Trap" in the third issue breaks the plot of the Horrific installment, Crow goes on a Jesus and the money changers style rampage.) You begin to wonder whether it's just a Running Gag or the comic really did get money from Totino's.
- Public Domain: Conveniently enough, all of Max's comics are out of Copyright. Therefore, despite Kinga's Badass Boast that the Bubbulat-R will "tear the Marvel Universe apart brick by brick!", don't expect to see any well-known characters being riffed here.
- Reality Ensues: Max's experience in the Funny Animals comic does not go well.Max: See that little girl bunny there? Cute, right? In real life she's four feet tall, has powerful, sinewy limbs, and reeks of a bizarre musk!
Kinga: But, Max, it's just a harmless animal comic.
Max: It's not! Once you're inside it, those poorly-drawn animals are alive and feeding on each other! Circle of life, phooey!
- Rodents of Unusual Size: In Horrific's "Tail of Death", this is how an already shrunken rat appears to the even smaller Joseph Hatter.
- Sixth Ranger: M. Waverly and Growler, the new bots built by Jonah in Season 11, are part of the cast here.
- Time-Travel Tense Trouble: Happens when Kinga does her Product Placement bit during the Black Cat sequence in #2.Jonah: There were no Totino's Pizza Rolls in 1946, were there?
Kinga: There were now!
- World of Funny Animals: Yes, the Funny Animals comic.
- Xtreme Kool Letterz: The spelling of the Bubbulat-R.