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.

Tagged with Action, Adventure, NES, Nintendo, Opinions, Retro, Role Playing Games.

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.

Read this next

Super Mario Maker 2 Seems to Have a 32-Course Upload Limit

Maybe aim for quality over quantity, makers.

Zelda Breath of the Wild Master Trials DLC - Where to Find Midna's Helmet, Travel Medallion, Tingle Outfit, Korok Mask and More

Here's where you can find all the Zelda Breath of the Wild Master Trials DLC items, including Midna's Helmet, the Travel Medallion, Tingle's outfit, the Korok Mask, and more.

Mario Royale Becomes "DMCA Royale" To Avoid Copyright Issues

Now starring Infringio and his brother, Copyright Infringio.

Fan-Made "Mario Royale" is a Blast, For As Long As It Sticks Around

But the creator is anticipating a letter from Nintendo.

"Surprise" Dragon Quest Announcement Coming in June Reignites Smash Bros. Character Rumor

Dragon Quest is going to have a Smashing time this E3. Probably.

How the NES Changed RPGs Forever

Axe of the Blood God's Console RPG Quest continues!

More Opinions

Blacksad: Under the Skin Stars a Feline as a Detective, But It's No Kid-Friendly Zootopia

Blacksad: Under the Skin is like volume 2.5 in terms of when it takes place in the comic book series.

Splatoon 2 Players Are Dressing Up For The End Of The World

We're near the end of Splatoon 2's updates and events, but it's going out in style.

Sky: Children of the Light Might Be the Best Looking Mobile Game Ever

Thatgamecompany's long-awaited follow-up to Journey has some beautiful clouds, and it looks surprisingly great on mobile too.

Metal Gear Solid 2's Commentary On America On The Brink Resonates Just As Strong Today

An essay on Metal Gear Solid 2, from the new book collection of Metal Gear Solid essays called Okay, Hero.

More on NES

Mario Rocks a Surprising Bald Look in an Ancient Donkey Kong Coloring Book

To be fair, losing your girlfriend to a giant ape will make you tear your hair out.

Limited Run Games is Releasing New Star Wars NES and Game Boy Cartridges and They Look Brilliant

Those old Star Wars games can be yours if you're that attached to them.

Summer Games Done Quick '19 Starts This Weekend—Here Are Some Runs To Watch For

The Link to the Past-Super Metroid randomizer mash-up is sure to be a blast.

Square Enix is Mulling Over a Subscription Service for Classic Games, if It Can Find Them First

Square Enix may have misplaced a few classic video game source codes.

Best Retro Video Game Consoles 2019

From the NES Classic to the Sega Genesis Classic, we break down the best retro video game consoles you should buy—and which ones you should avoid.

More Action Games

Mega Man X is Back!...On Mobile

No, it's not Mega Man X9 (yet), but at least you get to play as Cinnamon.

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey Tips and Tricks, Beginner’s Guide, Controls Layout

In this Assassin's Creed Odyssey guide, we'll be walking you through ship combat, recruiting new crew members, the full controls layout, Exploration versus Guided mode, and more.

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 DLC - Marvel Knights Release Date, Fantastic 4, X-Men

There’s a ton of DLC on the way for Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3. Here’s what you need to know.

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 Costumes: How to Unlock and Change Outfits

You can unlock multiple costumes for your heroes in Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3. Here’s how.