In the much-closer-than-I-was-expecting future.

§ February 17th, 2017 § Filed under atlas, publishing § 10 Comments

So twenty or so years ago, when Mystery Science Theater 3000 was still on the air, and a feature film was in the offing, there was a not-insignificant amount of MST3K merchandise floating about. There were the t-shirts, of course, and a promo set of nine trading cards for the film (one of which is pictured to the right, there), and a Dynamic Forces lithograph, and all the stuff from the official fan club…and there was a planned comic book. Acclaim Comics was going to release a Mystery Science Theater 3000 comic book which, if my aged brain recalls correctly, was going to feature Mike and the ‘bots riffing over old Gold Key comics, presumably with their silhouettes superimposed at the bottom of the panels, or something similar.

The comic never did get come out, perhaps due to the MST3K feature film effectively being killed by its very limited release, or perhaps due to comics publishing/marketplace issues…whatever the reason, we didn’t get the funnybook that I, and probably many other MST fans, were hoping for.

Now, in 2017, with a new Mystery Science Theater 3000 TV series in production, and with years’ worth of DVD releases keeping the flame alive, and with the various similar spin-off projects finding new fans (most famously Rifftrax), now apparently is the time to try the comic thing again. Thanks to Johanna for pointing this out, as I somehow missed the announcement, but Dark Horse Comics has entered into a merchandising partnership with MST3K, explicitly mentioning a comic book series as part of the deal. Now, Johanna hopes it’s not just the adventures of the MST crew, and it probably won’t be. I’m sure it’ll be riffing old comics, like the Acclaim series was likely to be…though to be honest, I wouldn’t mind an “Adventures of New Host Jonah and the ‘Bots” series. But man, what I wouldn’t give for some kind of Avengers Forever/Watchmen/Crisis on Infinite Earths/Earth X/Kingdom Come type series tying together all the different iterations of MST3K into one cohesive continuity. Fully painted by Alex Ross, of course. …C’mon, you know that’d be great.

• • •

In response to Turan’s comment regarding what kicked off my Atlas/Seaboard collection, asking if it was the Bog-Beast what did the deed. The answer is no, believe it or not…when I was but a young Mikester, I was given a bag of old (well, perhaps not so old, then) comic books that were purchased at a thrift store. As I wasn’t yet the wizened old comics coot I am today, most of these comics were new to me…including the first issue of Grim Ghost. I thought that comic was pretty great, and when the opportunity arose, I picked up another issue of that series…and eventually, I started picking up others from the publisher, just because they were so like typical ’70s Marvel and DCs, but just different enough to feel sort of weird and mysterious and compelling. I don’t think I decided I was going to try for them all until after I was actually working in comics retail, but I think I figured there were few enough of them that it was worth a try. ‘Course, nearly three decades later I’m still trying to track some down, but that’s okay. All part of the fun of comic collecting!

By the way, I only remember a couple of other comics from that thrift store bag…one was this issue of Shazam! and the other was the Classics Illustrated version of Frankenstein. Man, thank goodness I didn’t get bit by the Classics collecting bug. “Finally collected all the first printings of the series…now to start on the second printings!” said 88-year-old Mike.

10 Responses to “In the much-closer-than-I-was-expecting future.”

  • Turan, Emissary of the Fly World says:

    I am old enough to have been buying comics when Atlas/Seaboard began. It was exciting, at first, to have a new publisher, especially one that was producing at such a rapid rate–something like two dozen different titles introduced in a few months. However, I soon noticed that the Atlas output was defined by three rather sour characteristics, which in turn soured me on them. (For convenience, I shall break this up into multiple posts.)

  • Turan, Emissary of the Fly World says:

    First, there was the highly derivative nature of much of what it published. I do not mean merely in the sense that a lot of comics are derivative, in that they follow established tropes and popular trends. I sincerely think that, had Atlas lasted longer, it would have been hit by at least one copyright infringement suit.

    The most obvious examples of this are the series created by Michael Fleischer. Ironjaw took his name and the gimmick that justified it from Crimebuster’s foe. The Grim Ghost was a condemned soul sent back to Earth by Satan to collect the souls of evildoers–just like Marvel’s 1940s version of the Black Widow. “Morlock 2001” was set in a dystopian future in which books are illegal and are burned by firemen. The first issue of “The Brute” was practically a scene by scene recreation of a terrible movie entitled “Trog.” Fleischer’s other Atlas series, “The Tarantula,” was not so obviously a rip-off, but then neither was there was anything original about it; it was simply a standard werewolf story, except that the hero was a were-spider (and I would not be surprised if this was swiped by some movie I do not know).

    However, the problem was not confined to the Fleischer series. Amusingly, some were compound swipes. “Planet of the Vampires” had a title taken from a Mario Bava movie, and a premise that was a combination of “I am Legend” and “Planet of the Apes.” Targitt’s name and appearance were obviously based on the movie “Bullitt,” his choice of weaponry was influenced by “Dirty Harry,” and the plot of his first issue was a combination of two other movies, “The Big Heat” and “The French Connection.”

  • Turan, Emissary of the Fly World says:

    Second, there was the fundamental unpleasantness of most of the characters. Comics generally had just discovered the anti-hero, and Atlas reveled in the concept.

    Again, the Michael Fleischer series were the most obvious examples. Ironjaw was a rapist, the Grim Ghost worked for Satan, and Morlock, the Brute, and the Tarantula all ate their enemies (or anyone else who came within reach). Yes, that is right–Atlas actually had three different comic books in which the heroes were cannibals.

    Again, however, the trend was not limited to this one writer. Tiger-Man ripped the faces off his foes. Sgt. Hawk made a joke while slitting the throat of a naked, unarmed German soldier. Targitt shot an unarmed man in the face, also while making a joke. Basically, all Atlas heroes were bastards.

  • Turan, Emissary of the Fly World says:

    The third defining characteristic of the Atlas line was its extreme changeability. If a title lasted as many as three issues, it probably underwent some fundamental alteration. Some started this on their second issues. Sometimes, this was merely a matter of a new writer bringing a new attitude, such as Gary Friedrich taking over “Ironjaw” and realizing that merely being the last one standing in a fight was not enough to make the title character a hero, that he needed to actually do something heroic once in awhile.

    Often, however, the changes were more drastic. Take, for example, “The Scorpion.” In its first two issues, this was devoted to the adventures of Moro Frost, a mercenary in the 1930s. In the third (final) issue, the Scorpion was now David Harper, a modern day newspaper publisher who periodically puts on a mask and tights to fight crime.

    The most extreme case was probably “Targitt.” As noted, it began as an amalgam of various cop movies. With the second issue, it became “John Targitt, Man-Stalker,” and the hero took to wearing a mask and tights (with a bullseye on his chest, for the convenience of people shooting at him). With the third (last) issue, he had a new set of tights. These gave him super-powers, and he gave up on chasing regular criminals to concentrate on super-villains.

    Perhaps the most curious case was “Planet of the Vampires.” In its final issue, all but one of the heroes was killed; the survivor retaliated by killing all of the vampires, and then he blasted off in a space ship to find a new home. In other words, there was no more planet of the vampires. I might have thought that the writer knew that this was the last issue, and he was simply tying up all the loose ends, but the story ends with a bit of a cliffhanger, indicating that the series was intended to continue. One has to wonder how it would have justified its title from thereon.

  • Turan, Emissary of the Fly World says:

    Still, Atlas did publish some nice work here and there, especially by Doug Wildey, Russ Heath, and Mike Ploog (though having him inked by Frank Springer was not a great idea).

  • philip says:

    Vootie, vootie! I have that Shazam issue, too. It survived the Great Comics Purge of 2013 when I went from 14 long boxes down to 4.

    I blame “The Destructor” for my fascination with Atlas comics. I think I got the whole 4-issue run for a buck, once upon a time. I have a partial collection but don’t know if I’ll ever complete it because I can’t bring myself to pay what people are asking for the Vicki books.

    Turan raises many valid points about the short-lived publishing effort, but it is because of these flaws that I think I love it as much as I do.

  • Turan, Emissary of the Fly World says:

    Well, as I mentioned at the start, I was buying Atlas comics as they came out, which means I was getting them in a fairly concentrated dose–over sixty issues (not that I bought them all) in a period of maybe eight months. That made these qualities stand out. Perhaps they are not so conspicuous if one is only picking up an occasional issue once in awhile, over years.

  • Turan, Emissary of the Fly World says:

    By the way, Mr. Sterling: Does your proposed “Crisis on Infinite Satellites of Love” involve the various crews also meeting the gangs from the Film Crew, Rifftrax, and Cinematic Titanic? If so, that would raise the question of whether it should also include Cartoon Dump, a stage show (which also resulted in a few YouTube videos) that involved Frank Conniff and, once in awhile, Joel Hodgson.

  • >…tying together all the different iterations of MST3K into one cohesive continuity.

    Repeat to yourself it’s just a show, you really should relax.

    (besides, it’s already one cohesive continuity – the new show is a direct sequel to the original series)

  • Caleb says:

    Shortly after the new MST3K was announced, I had a dream where Mike and the ‘bots heard about the show and wanted to save the new guy, so they went on a journey to find old allies Gypsy and Joel and the bad guys at Castle Forrester to find a way to get up there and bring him down…