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Jeff on the Late Freight: Some Thoughts on The Return of Fin Fang Four and Muppet Show #3

Jeff Lester

Hey, you don’t mind me writing about two Roger Langridge comics, one of which came out months ago, do you?

(If you do, don’t click the link!)

FIN FANG 4 RETURN: I dug the original one-shot (from 2005? Fuck a duck!) but wasn’t really sure if the characters were strong enough to merit a follow-up, frankly: not only are we lucky enough to see much more Langridge in the marketplace now than in 2005, but we’re also seeing him on a licensed property to which he’s almost perfectly matched. As much as I love the way Gray and Langridge handle Marvel continuity (it reads like it’s written by someone who read everything Marvel published up until 1968, and then kept a pretty close eye on things until 1978, before finally saying to hell with it), all the initial juice for this concept, that of classic Marvel monsters re-emerging in modern times and trying to fit in, seemed used up in the first go-round.

And, honestly, the first twenty pages or so make a pretty convincing case for this viewpoint. The four main characters are re-introduced in an opening story that barely shows them together, and then rest of the issue is divided into short pieces for each individual character: it smacks of back-up pieces being reconfigured for a one-shot (r maybe just of an attempt to get another note out of a one-note concept. Although the first few stories have typical top-notch cartooning from Langridge (who gets more characterization out of Fin Fang Foom’s eyes and lips than Salvador Larocca has managed to forcibly wrestle into his entire oeuvre), I was pretty bored.

Fortunately, the last three stories pick up the pace (and, probably just as importantly to me, the amusing continuity shout-outs) as Googam gets adopted by the richest woman in the world, Elektro the robot gets mistaken for the Spider-Man villain and ends up in the “S-Wing” of prison, and Fin Fang Foom fights Hydra for the fate of Christmas.

I’d like to think it’s more than the dinner bell of Marvel continuity making my Pavlovian chops salivate: the Googam and Elektro stories have more than one gear to them, keeping moments small until the stories blow up big and crazy at the end, and the Fin Fang Foom story benefits from coming after these two smaller pieces. But if pressed, I’d also say that, yeah, having a Latverian nanny instruct Googam on all the many joys of her beloved homeland (“…Lake Doom was created in 1983 when ze Doom Dam was built as the ze mouth of Doom River…”) or having Herbie the Robot act like a big douche really aided and abetted in my enjoyment of this book. Also, for what it’s worth, I thought the colors by J. Brown were lovely throughout and exceptional on the final story, which takes place at twilight on Times Square–rather than playing up the Christmas angle, Brown pulls in purples, pinks and oranges to give the events a feeling of happening at dusk. Nice work, that.

So: it’s not Langridge’s Muppet Show, but I was won over by the second Fin Fang Four one-shot and would give it a GOOD, with the caveat that your love of anachronistic Marvel continuity may easily make or break this one for you.

MUPPET SHOW #3: Speaking of which…can I be a doomsayer for a minute and talk about why I’ll be surprised if Muppet Robin Hood ends up working? It’s not just that Boom! has found itself in the could-be-worse situation of having to do a follow-up to a miniseries (that has already found the perfect creator) with a team different from aforementioned perfect creator, it’s that the Muppets themselves aren’t nearly as enjoyable featured in long-form narratives as they are in bits and pieces. After the big origin story of The Muppet Movie, each movie goes on to feel a bit more uninspired until they fall into the position of having Muppets prop up public domain classics (and vice-versa).

The Muppets are at their best when encountered in bits and pieces, as on their show and Sesame Street, where they can quickly set up a situation, just as quickly blow that situation to pieces, and move on to the next situation before anything risks becoming dull. If there’s one emotion I’d associate with the damn things (nothing is more humbling than typing Muppets twenty times in two paragraphs), it’s delight, and delight, like Chinese food, works best when it’s served hot and fresh: if left out long enough to get cold and cloying, one’s impression of the whole experience suffers.

And this is–as if we’re not all tired of reading and typing this–why Roger Langridge is so perfectly matched to this material. The third issue of this series focuses on the mystery of what, exactly, the Great Gonzo is (a subject that’s been covered by other Muppet properties, as I recall) but what works is that this focus is given marginally more attention than the skits themselves, some of which focus on Gonzo (or on the theme of perceived identity) and some of which just have top-notch funny drawings. If you don’t like a particular sketch, it’s gone in a page or two; if you do like a particular sketch, your affection for the work carries you through the next sketch or two you might not like. It’s more than the old “throw-everything-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks” approach: Langridge mixes up pacing, panel placement, joke payoffs, all while throwing in regular two page routines from the show to keep the reader off-guard, all to heighten the surprise and, yes, delight.

There are very few people in the industry who’ve worked for so long to deliver their work in such variation as Langridge (although does it mark me as too much of a buffoon to say I’d love to see what Eddie Campbell could do writing the characters?) so I pity who tries to take on the Muppets next, no matter what the length they’re attempting. But full-length miniseries? I hope the creative teams figure out a helluva good way to change up the tempo. A lot. The Muppets are damn demanding little dance partners.

(Oh, and VERY GOOD stuff, obviously.)

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