February 13, 2011

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The Muppet Show Comic Book: On the Road

Written by Roger Langridge
Illustrated by Roger Langridge and Shelli Paroline
Boom! Studios

What to do when your theater is temporarily closed? Take the act on the road, of course! That's exactly what the Muppets do, hopping on a tour bus and seeing a bit of the country while repairs are made. But not everyone is going with them; Fozzie opts to fly solo. Can the Muppets survive without him, especially when they travel to a town that's filled with relatives of Statler and Waldorf? Watch as the road show antics build up to a momentous return home, complete with Gonzo being, well, Gonzo for charity and a mysterious box that could lead to temptation. All this, and a pitch for a movie-length version of Pigs...In....Spaaaaceee!! (Why not? Hollywood's done everything else.) It's time to play the music in your head, and be sure you've got plenty of light when reading more from Langridge's Muppet Show!

It would be really hard for anything to top Roger Langridge's initial four issue run of the Muppet Show Comic Book. That was a magical experience that might come along only once in a lifetime. I was mind-boggled by how well Langridge took the spirit of the show, from Pigs in Space to Veterinarian's Hospital to Statler and Waldorf and made it absolutely sing on the printed page.

I can't imagine anyone being able to keep that pace up, and so it's no surprise to me that my second entry into Langridge's Muppet Show comics was not as awesome as the first time. But that's sort of like saying nothing's going to top the first time you ever saw Casablanca; just because the first time was the best doesn't mean the 15th time isn't something special, too.

This time around for the "0" issue, Langridge has an artist, Shelli Paroline, for the Pigs in Space movie pitch. Paroline isn't as good as Langridge at making the Muppets come alive, but the splash page that has nods to quite a few other sci-fi shows, including a certain temporary employee and his robot pals. I'm not sure if that was Langridge or the artist's idea, but I'm a sucker for little Easter eggs like that. The rest of the story isn't half bad, either reading like an extended episode of the Muppet Show, with Fozzie and Rizzo hosting instead of Kermit. The verbal banter is excellent, and Langridge deftly weaves the usual cast in and out of the narrative.

From there, the story transitions into the Muppets adapting their act for road shows, with the already vaudevillian feel of the program ramped up to the next level. Dr. Bob becomes a traveling medicine show, for instance, and the group adds an insult comic using the Muppet Show as a stepping stone to better things. Even the Swedish Chef and Pigs in Space are given a tweak to work in a non-studio format. Best of all, the troop can't escape Statler and Waldorf, who apparently have spies in every city--or at least relatives!

The jokes hold up pretty well all in all, but all in all, things are best when the gang return to the stage and immediately get greedy about a secret box addressed to Fozzie Bear. The show must go on, but that won't stop everyone--Kermit included--from trying to learn what's inside. Where's Fozzie, you ask? Doing a road show of his own in some great silent comedy sequences by Langridge, particularly the one about the alphabet.

Soon, the gang is reunited for a musical number that could easily close any of the Henson TV shows, and we're closed for another trade. This one ends on a really touching note, I think, showing that Langridge understands that beneath the laughs, there could also be a lot of meaning. Henson and his associates had strong feelings about the world, and it's good to see that vision carried out, even on the printed page.

One the Road, while not as mind-blowing as the first collection, is still very, very good. I love that Langridge has the characters self-aware that they're in a comic book rather than on television, and I love his use of so many of the varied characters that appeared on the Muppets over time. Even his original additions look like they came out of the creature shop, which is no mean feat. I'm sad that there's only so many Muppet Show comics left to go, but I also appreciate that Langridge didn't try to take this idea further than he could sustain it (though perhaps Disney owning Marvel had a bit to do with the closure as well). I couldn't possibly give On the Road anything less than a wholehearted recommendation, and if you're a fan of the Muppets, you'll do the same once you've read it. Forget whoever is working on a Muppet Movie--hire Langridge!!