Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Muppet Show #1

I have a hard time imagining that anyone was especially clamoring for a new Muppets comic book, but as the cover so boldly proclaims, this series is aimed directly at kids. Formerly the industry's lifeblood, the younger market has been sorely overlooked in recent years, as the industry has catered to a much more mature audience and largely lost sight of its roots. Marvel's tried to recapture that demographic via their Marvel Adventures line, but without any ties to the 616 universe, those books look and feel like something of an afterthought. With its Muppets property, however, Boom! Studios has landed a brand that's long been adored by children, while still remaining appealing to adults. The question now is whether they're still relevant or even recognized, eleven years since the cancellation of their most recent television series and nearly a decade since their last motion picture.

Roger Langridge provides both the story and the artwork, both of which are rooted deeply in the source material, but ever so slightly askew. These characters are so widely known and instantly recognizable that it's tough not to arrive with a preconceived notion of exactly how they should look and act. Langridge does his best to overcome that perception with his artwork, which takes a noticeably different angle on this familiar cast. The characters are still easy to identify, but at the same time they seem somewhat foreign. Kermit's face is just a bit too tall, Gonzo's appearance a little too manic, Mis Piggy's body a hair more realistic than I'm comfortable with. I realize how petty and miniscule these details may sound in print, but in conjunction with one another (and dozens of similar miscues on every other character) they really do add up.

Although his intentions may have been to give the issue's artwork a sense of loose spontaneity, in practice it feels regimented and over-disciplined. A lot of the fun of the TV series was in the casual way everything was orchestrated; puppets hanging limply from the roof or being hurled like a rag doll through the air. That's missing from Langridge's disciplined inks. Backgrounds and characters alike are sketched with a stern eye for order. It's like he was so concerned about getting everything just right that he sabotaged himself.

Lengridge's writing is much more in line with what I was expecting. A direct continuation of the Muppet Show format, he follows the crew from skit to skit, then backstage during the chaos that takes place in between sets. The jokes and puns are every bit as cheesy as ever, but the show's innocent nature and wholesome image make it all OK. He works hard to include as many familiar faces as possible from the TV show's enormous cast, but manages to do so without overcrowding the issue or losing sight of the more well-known characters. It's both fun and easy to read, still entertaining for the kids but also, amazingly, also for their parents.

The artwork needs to be a bit rougher around the edges, but overall I found this to be a worthy successor to the long-dead Muppet Show TV series. Old time fans will find a lot to like here, and younger readers without as deep a level of familiarity with the concept might be surprised by how much they catch themselves enjoying it. Borrow it.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 7

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