December 28, 2009

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The Muppet Show Comic Book: Meet the Muppets

Written by Roger Langridge
Illustrated by Roger Langridge
Boom! Studios

I'd been hearing really good things about Boom! Studios' new adaptation of the Muppet Show from those who still read comics in single issue form, and I admit it took all my willpower to trade-wait this one. After all, I'll take a look at anything Muppet-related and I loved Langridge's Marvel comedy work.

However, I had no idea that Mark Waid had been kind enough to produce a comic book just for me, and get Roger Langridge to write and draw it.

Thanks Mark! It's awfully kind of you.

Adapting a very visual property to comics can be a tricky thing, but Langridge does an amazing job of capturing the magic in a way that not even the last Muppet Movie (Muppets from Space) was able to do. All of the bad puns, visual gags, and sense of family are there, right down to little background details, such as people passing by backstage as the main characters talk.

How well does Langridge get it? The first page is a Muppet News Flash, talking about how the Muppets have moved to comic books. When you turn the page, not only does the splash page feature darn near everyone from the old show, Statler and Waldorf start their heckling early and often, with the wordplay being every bit as good as the program ever was.

Each issue reads like an episode of the original show, with Langridge even going so far as to retcon the awful Gonzo origin from Muppets from Space. Kermit and his internal struggle gets center stage in issue one, as the gang try to help their fearless leader feel better, leading to a powerful closing number. Fozzie can't find his funny in issue two, leading to skit after skit getting canceled so Fozzie can try something new. Watch as Langridge puts Fozzie in settings from Elizabethan England to the Beatnik Bear.

Gonzo's identity is the key to issue three, where an insurance agent won't give the theatre group coverage unless he knows every species in the show. I can't help but think this is a subtle commentary on Langridge's feelings about revealing who Gonzo "is." His payoff answer is perfect, and in my opinion far more fitting for the character. Last up is Miss Piggy, and while her story is the least interesting of the four, it's still a fun read as Piggy falls for a mystic's scam and goes off the paranoid deep end.

Mixing things up over the course of these issues are episodes of Pigs in Space, Veterinarian's Hospital, Muppet Labs, and even the Sweedish Chef get their spots and are spot-on in voice. (This is no mean trick in the case of the Chef.) I was shocked to see the Koozebane planet and the Talking Houses show up. That's not just giving us the feel of the show--that's giving us the actual show!

The only thing missing are multiple musical numbers, which was okay with me. Trying to add song to a soundless medium strikes me as a bad idea. We get a few musical numbers here and there, however, which is fitting within the theme of the show.

As with the best all ages comics, Langridge gives us a set of stories that are perfectly appropriate for children but can be appreciated by adults. There's nothing in Muppet Show you can't show a child, but there's also nothing in this comic that's too childish for an adult reader. Again, that was the beauty of the Muppet Show, and something that I think has sometimes been missing in modern uses. Jim Henson and company found a way to make a show that worked for everyone, and Langridge gets it.

I was so happy with how well Langridge *wrote* the characters that I almost forgot to mention his character designs. You can tell this was a labor of love, because Langridge took pains to get even the most minor of characters (Walter the janitor!) to look as much like the original as possible. Gonzo comes of looking a bit weirder than usual, and Sam the Eagle is a bit more rounded than I would have pictured him in comic form, but those are minor changes.

In fact, oddly enough the only character that Langridge seems to have trouble depicting consistently is Kermit. His mouth, which depends so heavily on the puppeteer, is just a bit too tricky for Langridge to keep the same panel to panel. I think his compromise--go for the expression rather than a Kermit who only looks one way--was the best option.

All good trades have bonus material, and this is no exception. We get to see an unpublished Muppet Show comic that Langridge wrote for a Disney mag that went under and served as his pitch to get the gig in the first place. There's also a one-page gag strip with Fozzie and Statler and Waldof that did see print and is a perfect example of what Langridge wanted to bring to the table.

In an afterward, Langridge indicated that he originally planned to use this assignment to get his pitch published in a trade(!) and move on, but that it's picked up a life of its own and he hopes to be doing it for a longer period of time. I'm glad to hear that, because I can't see anyone else stepping into his shoes and doing work this good every month.

I understand there's now an ongoing series for the Muppets, with Langridge on writing and artistic duties. So not only was this mini-series seemingly created for me but now Boom! is going to create even more comics exactly how I would have wanted them to be.

That Mark Waid is a pretty nice guy!