Remember The Muppet Show? This goofy series, which aired from 1976 to 1981, was, at heart, an affectionate parody of vaudeville and variety shows. The humor was broad and cheeky, a mixture of puns, pratfalls, and pop-culture riffs made all the more absurd by the "actors" who delivered the lines: a prudish eagle with a monobrow, a spacey guitarist with yarn for hair. Though the show went off the air more than twenty years ago, the Muppets have remained ubiquitous, appearing in their own movies and animated shows, not to mention toys, video games, straight-to-DVD adventures, lunch boxes, and bed sheets. BOOM! Studios’ Muppet Comics go back to the original TV show for inspiration, capturing the rapid-fire delivery and groan-worthy puns of those 1970s skits while borrowing a few pages from later Muppet projects such as Muppet Treasure Island.
Muppet King Arthur, No. 1
Written by Paul Benjamin and Patrick Storck, Illustrated by Dave Alvarez
Ages: 8 and up
2010, BOOM! Studios, ISBN: 44284-00162-5
26 pp., $2.99
King Arthur, BOOM’s latest offering, follows the same formula as the Muppets’ big-screen adventures: take a literary classic, cast Muppets in the lead roles, then interrupt the story with lots of wordplay and breaking-the-fourth-wall humor. The very first page of King Arthur gives readers a good taste of what’s to come. The first panel, which is solid black, has two word balloons superimposed on it: the first sets the scene — "Britain without a king, a dark, foreboding place" — while the second, billed as an "editor’s note," provides the rimshot — "Seriously? The Dark Ages weren’t this dark. Give the artist something to draw or we’re all out of a job!" This gag is immediately followed by Guy Smiley introducing Excalibur as if it were a product of the Franklin Mint, a "super-rare collectible stored in this fine, quarry-themed, weather-resistant casing for years!"
We’re then introduced to Arthur (played by Kermit the Frog), a downtrodden page in the employ of Sir Sam, a pompous windbag. The two banter about unions, stimulus packages, and "turning pages" — you saw that coming, didn’t you? — before Arthur is dispatched to find his boss a new sword. What follows is a very loose retelling of how Arthur came to free Excalibur from the stone, filled with plenty of lively set pieces that give each Muppet a turn in the spotlight.
As with the original show, some of the jokes are great and some are lame, but the breakneck pace prevents the duds from sinking the script. The layout is clear and easy to follow, with just enough attention to costume and background detail to establish the once-upon-a-time setting. Some fans may find the character designs lack the soft, organic quality of the original puppets, as artist Dave Alvarez has given Kermit and Fozzie a more elastic appearance. (Note that the cover is not representative of the interior artwork.) Others may find the use of computer lettering on signs and background details an unappealing shortcut that’s not in keeping with the story’s polished visuals. On the whole, however, the artwork compliments the script’s antic, anything-goes quality, endowing the characters with a greater range of expression than their Muppet doppelgangers were capable of.
I’m a little puzzled that Muppet King Arthur is part of the BOOM! Kids line — not because the jokes are raunchy or inappropriate, but because so many of them depend on knowledge of politics and current events that it’s hard to imagine many eight-year-olds guffawing about the merits of democracy versus monarchy. There are certainly gags that grade schoolers can appreciate, but young kids who might be excited about a Kermit-and-Miss-Piggy comic will find the script hard to parse. Muppet King Arthur works better for tweens and teens with a sophisticated sense of humor — if yours are quoting Monty Python and the Holy Grail, they’re good candidates — or adults who want to indulge their nostalgia for the original show.
Review copy provided by the publisher. All images copyright BOOM! Studios.