By Noah Robischon
August 20, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

In the late ’70s, when my dad bought me a subscription to MAD magazine, parodying movies, TV, and other pop-cult totems was the norm. SCTV, Saturday Night Live, and The Kentucky Fried Movie all did it. A new generation of comix illustrators, the progeny of R. Crumb — himself influenced by MAD artist Basil Wolverton — were doing it in alternative weeklies. And later Spy magazine and This Is Spinal Tap would perfect it. Yet it was clear to me that MAD was the wellspring from which these others sprang, and since the Usual Gang of Idiots always warned to ”beware of imitations,” all my back issues are still there, safely rotting away in the garage.

Thanks to Totally MAD, a $69.95 CD-ROM archive of the full contents of 564 back issues — up to December 1998 — I can finally throw them out. The collection starts in 1952, when editor and patron saint Harvey Kurtzman, along with such brilliant comic artists as Will Elder, Wallace Wood, and Jack Davis, unleashed the likes of Superduperman! and Dragged Net! upon a button-down world. The early MAD poked vicious fun at everything Americans held dear — baseball, education, politics, Christmas. It was an instant success.

In the early ’60s, led by the late publisher William Gaines, writers and illustrators such as Al Jaffee, Dave Berg, Sergio Aragones, Mort Drucker, Don Martin, Dick DeBartolo, and Antonio Prohias invented staple features like ”Spy vs Spy” and Fold-Ins — all of which are easily accessible from the Totally MAD Search-O-Meter. It’s easy to see why the magazine lost its edge in the ’70s and ’80s, though: Kids who grew up reading it had, as their parents feared, become antiauthoritarian Alfred E. Neumans who passed the ”What, Me Worry?” gene on to their children (like me), who eventually ran amok with MAD’s take-no-prisoners wit on the Internet. The magazine has became obsolete, in short, because its ideas and ideals are everywhere. Still, this CD-ROM set remains a blissfully nostalgic crash course in how the world went to potrzebie. A