Former “Mystery Science Theater 3000” star Mary Jo Pehl is an accomplished writer and comedienne, and Pehl’s comedy chops will be put to good use in Bluewater Comics’ four-issue “Jailbait,” her first foray into comics writing. “Jailbait” is described as a tongue-in-cheek comedy featuring an all-female undercover team called Gems, whose mandate is to protect children from the machinations of the world’s sexual predators.
The Gems operatives are issued code names that correspond to different precious stones, such as Diamond, Amethyst, Jade and Sapphire. But while members of the Gems team may share a common goal, but there is dissention in the ranks. “There are tensions among the team members themselves, personal issues and differing ideas about how to pursue the goal,” Pehl told CBR. “Do the ends justify the means? And by any means necessary? And how will their code evolve? These issues threaten to destroy their coherence in fighting a larger, outside threat.”
Pehl wouldn’t go into detail about the plot, characters, or the nature of the threat the Gems face, but she did tease, “A man who our heroine knows quite well claims to be fighting the same fight as the team but our heroine has notions that he is Janus-faced.” There also exists a possibility that not everyone on the team is as loyal to the cause as they claim to be.
Pehl is best known for her stint on the cult television series “Mystery Science Theater 3000.” The long-running, low-budget sci-fi comedy which fans lovingly refer to as “MST3K” centered around a plot by mad scientist Dr. Forrester (Trace Beaulieu) to strand an ordinary man on a space station, force him to watch the most horrible films imaginable, and observe the effects on his prisoner’s psyche. To keep his sanity, Forrester’s guinea pig Joel Robinson (and later Mike Nelson) cobbled together a few robots to keep him company on the ironically named “Satellite of Love,” and Joel and his creations would withstand the dreadful cinema that Forrester sent their way by mercilessly lampooning it.
Pehl was a writer on “MST3K” for years before appearing in front of the camera as Forrester’s mother, Pearl, a guest role which would eventually become a main character after Beaulieu left the show. It has been 10 years since the series finale of “MST3K,” but the end of the beloved series did not mark the end of Pehl’s career lampooning bad movies. Pehl went on to join fellow “MST3K” alums Trace Beaulieu and Frank Conniff and Joel Hodgson on the latter’s “Cinematic Titantic,” a direct-to-DVD series where the team continues to riff on laughable B-movies of years gone by.
It was during an interview for Cosmic Book News about “MST3K” and “Cinematic Titanic” that writer Don Smith asked Pehl if she’d ever considered writing for comics. “I thought he was totally high, and then I ran into my bedroom and crawled under the bed in fright,” Pehl admitted. Outside of a childhood interest in “Mad Magazine” and her older sister’s “Archie” comics, Pehl said she is only aware of comics culture insofar as it has been ushered into the mainstream through countless modern movie adaptations.
Smith put Pehl in touch with Bluewater Comics President Darren Davis. “In my initial conversation with Darren, he pretty much said, ‘Aha! We have just the project for you,’” Pehl recalled. “And then I crawled under my bed again.”
The project Davis had in mind was “Jailbait,” which was already in development at Bluewater. And though “Jailbait” was not the brainchild of Pehl herself, the premise of the book was one the writer could certainly grab onto. Pehl is a longtime fan of Chris Hansen’s “To Catch a Predator” segment on “Dateline NBC,” in which the journalist conducts undercover sting operations to catch sexual predators before they can act. “My husband and I watched it religiously and obsessively, and we continued to watch every sort of re-edit of the program on C-NBC and YouTube, and any other way we could watch it,” Pehl said, adding that “To Catch a Predator” is just one of “Jailbait’s” many “disparate and discrete” influences. Human trafficking and sex tourism are among the issues Pehl hopes to address over the course of the series.
Pehl’s experience on “Jailbait” has given the writer a newfound respect for comic book creators. “It’s challenging, in a great way, and it’s fun,” Pehl said. “I’m having a blast.” She hopes this four-issue miniseries will be the first of many forays into comics. “Or at least, I anticipate hoping to do more… I got to get this one done!”
“Jailbait” features art by Alejandro Figueroa and covers by Azim Akberali. The first issue of “Jailbait” is scheduled to hit stands next Spring from Bluewater Comics.