MAD Magazine Published the Ultimate Video Game Parody in its January 1990 Issue

MAD Magazine Published the Ultimate Video Game Parody in its January 1990 Issue

For a gang of idiots, they were pretty smart.

If your holiday wasn't dominated by the peerless excitement of blowing your fingers off with illegal Fourth of July fireworks, you probably heard the sad news about DC Comics shutting down MAD Magazine. I taught myself to read using my father's sizable collection of the long-running satire rag, and it pains me to say goodbye to one of the main reasons I'm warped beyond belief.

Jabbing at politics and pop culture is MAD's entire raison d'etre, which adds up to a lot of jokes and silly wordplay lobbed at movies, television, and music through the past 67 years. But MAD also swung at video games, sometimes in hilariously inexplicable ways.

In the April 1999 issue's parody of The Matrix (named "The Faketrix"—brilliant), we see a re-imagining of the classic, horrific scene where Agent Smith inserts the robot bug into Thomas Anderson's belly button. Except, instead of using a worm-bug thing, Agent Smith inserts a tiny Gyarados. Pokemon was only starting to garner mainstream attention at this point, so I appreciated the reference—though not as much as I appreciated the absurd sight of a tiny Gyarados hovering above the bare belly of a mouthless Mr. Anderson.

But MAD's game parodies go much further back, at least as far as its classic Pac-Man "Man of the Year" Time cover parody from 1982. In between that cover and the Pokemon sight gag in "The Faketrix," we had "Joystick Jabberwacky" on the back cover of the January 1990 issue. Syd Lexia has a good scan and excellent breakdown of the poem, though I can't say I forgot about it in the decades since. How do you forget a poem with the lines "The Shadow Boss Twinbellowed through, backed up by Pengs, Chicago Ox, twelve Ninjas and McGoo?"

As its name suggests, "Joystick Jabberwacky" is a game-based re-writing of Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky." Like its source, "Joystick Jabberwacky" is utter nonsense. (I'm probably courting the wrath of Batman's Mad Hatter by calling it nonsense.)

Only same as "Jabberwocky" starts to make a worrying amount of sense when you read it over a few times, it becomes clear "Joystick Jabberwacky" had a tremendous amount of work put into its rhythm, its rhymes, and its references. Nearly every noun can be traced to an actual game; look at Syd Lexia's breakdown for a thorough list. There are shout-outs to throwaway enemies, mid-bosses, and bosses from Mega Man, Kid Icarus, Dragon Warrior, Castlevania, and Solomon's Key on top of obvious picks like Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda. Amazingly, Carroll's original rhythm is kept intact through the entire parody.

This is the version I should've been forced to memorize in school. | Sydlexia, MAD Magazine

"Joystick Jabberwacky" would've been an easy project for MAD writer Frank Jacobs to phone in. Jacobs was over 60 by the time the poem was published; it's not impossible that he loved Nintendo games, but it's not extremely likely during a time when video games were largely a pastime for kids. Even if he did enjoy video games, he clearly put a lot of research into "Joystick Jabberwacky's" myriad obscure references. I sure didn't know what a "Zigmo" or "Folfu" was until I read Syd Lexia's breakdown. Jacobs could've just referenced video games in a more generic sense, with rhymes about tanks, dragons, and saving princesses. He clearly respected his young audience too much to talk down to it. In fact, most of MAD's writers and artists carried that respect and exhibited it month after month, year after year.

What a gang of idiots.

Side note: The teenage Alfred E. Neuman lookalike illustrating the bottom of the poem is literally ejaculating on Super Mario Bros. I have absolutely no idea how MAD got away with that one.

Sometimes we include links to online retail stores. If you click on one and make a purchase we may receive a small commission. See our terms & conditions.

Nadia Oxford

Staff Writer

Nadia has been writing about games for so long, only the wind and the rain (or the digital facsimiles thereof) remember her true name. She's written for Nerve, About.com, Gamepro, IGN, 1UP, PlayStation Official Magazine, and other sites and magazines that sling words about video games. She co-hosts the Axe of the Blood God podcast, where she mostly screams about Dragon Quest.

Read this next

USgamer Holiday Gift Guide 2019: For the Nostalgic Gamer

If you're shopping for someone who still finds beauty in cartridges and pixels, have we got a gift guide for you.

The First Three Dragon Quests Finally Leave Their Mobile Prison For Switch

Erdrick's violent kids are about to run rampant on your Switch.

Why Dragon Quest Failed to Make it In America 30 Years Ago

Nintendo tried its best to make the West love RPGs, but culture—and more importantly, timing—was against the attempt.

EarthBound’s 25th Anniversary Makes us Pine for Classic Instruction Books

Earthbound's player guide is a great example of the effort publishers expended trying to make the West fall in love with RPGs.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Character Ban Sets Off Massive Debate

Dragon Quest's Hero is a random character... possibly too random.

More Opinions

Starting Screen | Tyrants, Dollhouses, and Rude Geese: Looking Back on 2019's Great Gaming Moments

There were some great moments in video games this year. Let's look back on some of our favorites.

25 Years Ago, Breath of Fire 2 Was My First Journey to Kill God, and It Was Good

Even the world's worst translation can't destroy a good yarn about slaying the Lord.

"I Can Pretty Much Become Way Worse Than Gordon Ramsay"

THIS WEEK IN BUSINESS | Razer CEO Min-Liang Tan would like to be seen as the "Asian Steve Jobs" but comes off more like "a jerk selling light-up mice."

Starting Screen | Why 2019 Is the Year I Decided To Stop Rushing Through Games

Some of us have been playing Death Stranding slowly, and it's far better for it.

More on NES

USgamer Holiday Gift Guide 2019: For the Nostalgic Gamer

If you're shopping for someone who still finds beauty in cartridges and pixels, have we got a gift guide for you.

Make a Statement At Your Next LAN with This NES-Inspired Mouse

You'll probably come in last at whichever game you're playing, but you'll look good while losing.

What's Your Favorite Sports Game?

COMMUNITY QUESTION | Deadspin forever.

Three Classic Letters That Show How Much Easier It Is to Be a Video Game Fan in 2019

The gaming community knew nothing in the '90s, and frankly, neither did a lot of publishers.

This Weekend's Tetris World Championships Showed Why Classic Tetris is Thriving

As the NES Tetris community grows, newcomers and hyper-tapping players are rising to the top.

Return of the Obra Dinn's Creator Reminisces on Getting Its Iconic Style Just Right

"After working on non-graphical stuff for so long, I took a moment to reflect on what I had with the visuals. It wasn’t great."

More Action Games

Ghost of Tsushima Release Date, Gameplay, New Trailers - Everything we Know

Here's all the information on Sucker Punch's Ghost of Tsushima, such as a potential release date, gameplay, trailers, and much more.

Armored Monsters and Flying Swords: Here's Your First Look at Babylon's Fall's Gameplay

We get our first glimpse of the gameplay from the new collaboration between PlatinumGames and Square Enix.