The episode: “Laserblast,” ep. 706
The riff: Exclaimed by Mike as the hero’s feet stride into camera with very wide and frayed bottom cuffs.
The explanation: “Funky Winkerbean” is the name of a long-running comic strip that began in newspapers in 1972 and continues today. In its original format it was highly gag-oriented and the characters never aged for 20 years–I think Mike is calling the film’s hero that because his pants look like bell bottoms in this shot. In 1992, the Funky Winkerbean comic underwent a format shift and the characters began to age in real-time, along with storyline changes that suddenly made it like a “very special episode” of a TV show. In 2007, a “time jump” occurred in the strip that moved the characters forward another 10 years.
Novelty factor: It’s very weird for me to say so, but I’ve never read a Funky Winkerbean comic. This is all the more strange because I grew up reading the comics every Sunday in the Chicago Tribune, but Funky Winkerbean was not one of them for whatever reason.
The episode: “Outlaw of Gor,” ep. 519
The riff: Exclaimed by Tom as we get our first look at “Cabot,” the film’s reluctant professor-turned sword-and-sorcery hero.
The explanation: Doc Savage was a pulp magazine hero of the 1930s and 1940s, sort of a gun-toting Indiana Jones archaeologist archetype. He was a very popular character in short stories, comics, radio and even a feature film or two, popularizing the stock character of a “fighting professor” who’s not afraid to get his hands dirty. Shows like “Johnny Quest” and “The Venture Brothers” owe everything to Doc Savage. The series could also be criticized for a certain white supremacist air, as only the wise and noble Doc Savage could fix each situation.
Novelty factor: I’ve read plenty about Doc Savage before, but I’ve never actually read one of the pieces. We may get to see the character again, though, as there is persistent talk of a Doc Savage reboot.
The episode: “The Black Scorpion,” ep. 113
The riff: A rare riff from Josh as Tom Servo, observed as a man peers through binoculars and sees a figure on a horse racing along.
The explanation: The Cisco Kid is an enduring Western character who has gone through many iterations. He was created by ironic short story writer O. Henry in a 1907 story called “The Caballero’s Way.” There, he was a murderous desperado who killed for fun. Over time, though, the character became a hero in comic book appearances and an eventual TV series in the 1950s. His last significant appearance was a 1994 TV movie that starred Jimmy Smits as The Kid, believe it or not.
Novelty factor: The only way I know of this character is from a song, “The Cisco Kid,” by the band War. Guess how I first heard the song? Mike Nelson sings it in a later episode of MST3k. We’ve officially come full circle.
The episode: “Jack Frost,” ep. 607
The riff: Sarcastically spoken by Mike as the movie’s title character, Jack Frost, saunters into the frame. He’s a round-faced man with a long, white beard.
The explanation: A multi-part joke with two references. Bob Keeshan was a television actor known to millions as the title character of “Captain Kangaroo” from 1955-1984. Jack Frost has a very similar face in this movie, but his comical beard was more akin to “Mr. Natural,” the famous creation of underground “comix” artist R. Crumb in the 1960s. The character was cast as something between a phony guru and a criminal con-man. Of note: This has nothing to do with the famous MST3k short “Mr. B Natural.”
Novelty factor: I recognized the “Mr. Natural” reference because a previous riff led to me reading about R. Crumb (I don’t remember which). Bob Keeshan I didn’t know, although I am familiar with Captain Kangaroo. The character made some great appearances in “Black Dynamite.”
Just combine this guy…
…with this guy, and you’re there.