“My friends,” Thor says, addressing the Avengers assembled in Tony’s suite, a row of dogs, pigs, bears, two people, and a few whatevers standing behind him, “I’m afraid that I am the bearer sad tidings.”
He pauses dramatically before continuing, because the God of Thunder is nothing if not dramatic.
“My friends,” he says, “Kermit the Frog has disappeared.”
Tony blames Steve for Thor’s desire to meet the Muppets.
See, Steve had been watching reruns of The Muppet Show one night—he prefers the softer, gentler comedy of that era to the sort of entertainment that dominates the airwaves these days—when Thor had wandered into the room, looked at the screen, and said, “That blue fuzzy creature. Who is he?”
Because apparently Gonzo, the fuzzy blue alien with the hooked nose, is actually from another one of the Nine Realms – Muspellsheimr, to be exact.
Which is why, after Thor has watched all of the episodes of The Muppet Show at least once, and the episodes featuring ‘Thor, God of Thunder!’ multiple times—the bit where ‘Thor’ attempted to get a library card was his favorite—and all of their movies, and can answer any piece of Muppet trivia thrown at him, Tony is not surprised when Thor starts one of their Avengers meetings by saying, “My friends, I believe that I would like to take one of your so-called ‘road trips’ to this place called ‘Los Angeles.’”
“Vacation time!” Giant Girl says.
Tony, because he is charming, persuasive, and very, very rich, manages to convince Thor that they will have a much better Team Bonding Road Trip Vacation if they use the Quinjet and stay at a five-star hotel that he owns in LA.
He thinks that Thor only gives in on this count because Spider-Man says, “Five-star hotel?” and breaks out the puppy dog eyes. Which, logically, he shouldn’t be able to do with a mask covering his face, but Tony just chalks it up to being another one of his superpowers.
Once they land on private airstrip at Tony’s hotel, Spider-Man and Giant Girl vote to head immediately for Disneyland. Storm and Steve have spent the entire flight debating whether to head for the Museum of Contemporary Art or the Getty first.
Thor, however, has his own destination in mind.
“I am off to find my compatriot from another realm,” Thor says happily, shouldering his hammer.
Tony doesn’t have the heart to tell him that as far as he knows, the Muppets haven’t been together, in the same place, for several years.
After all, he could be wrong.
Two hours later, Tony, ensconced in the office of one of the corporations he owns in L.A., knows that there is trouble afoot when he hears the first clap of thunder echo through the city—especially since there’s not a cloud in the sky.
He calls Storm first to make sure that she and Steve aren’t in any trouble, but they’re happily viewing a Monet exhibit at the Getty; he calls Thor next, but before he can get more than Thor’s name out, Thor says, “We must call a meeting of the Avengers, friend Tony. Now.”
Which brings us back to the beginning.
Or the middle.
“And, if the Muppets do not raise 10 million dollars by midnight tonight,” Thor continues, “Tex Richman, Evil Oil Baron, will tear the studio down so that he can drill for oil.”
“You know this how?” Tony asks. “Also, what does this have to do with Kermit the Frog disappearing?”
“So let me get this straight,” Spider-Man says slowly, several minutes later, holding up his fingers to tick off each point as he makes it.
“Walter snuck into Kermit’s office at Muppet Studios, overheard a meeting between the villains of this story, who spent a lot of time imparting very important plot points—including, but not limited to, a contract that Kermit signed giving up all rights to the studio unless you all can raise ten million dollars by midnight tonight—and then Walter, Gary, and Mary tracked down Kermit, conducted a musical montage to get the rest of the gang, traveled by map to Paris, and made it back here in order to put together a telethon to raise the money, only to end up losing the frog with less than 24-hours to go?”
“That about sums it up,” Walter says.
“We were practicing,” Fozzie says, “and we were right in the middle of our Smells Like Teen Spirit barbershop quartet number, when Kermit stood up, walked out of the theater, and we haven’t seen him since!”
“…Smells Like Teen Spirit done by a barbershop quartet?” Spider-Man asks under his breath. “You have got to be kidding me.”
“You have to understand, Mr. Stark,” Miss Piggy says, batting her eyelashes. “Kermie wouldn’t just leave. Even if he and I have had our differences—and oh, we have—this group, they all mean the world to him, and he wouldn’t abandon them in their hour of need.”
“Okay,” Tony says finally, because all of the frogs and dogs and pigs and people and Steve and Thor are all looking at him with wide, hopeful eyes. “Okay. We’ll see what we can do.”
Which is how Tony and the rest of the Avengers end up flying the Quinjet to the Muppet Studios lot, the entire Muppet menagerie piled on top of each other in the cabin.
This is not how Tony saw himself spending his totally impromptu team bonding vacation. But, he supposes, there are worse ways he could be spending the afternoon.
If Tony’s being perfectly honest, he’d actually have placed money that Spider-Man was on to something with the whole ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit barbershop quartet act being too much for Kermit to handle’ thing.
But, it turns out, he would have been wrong.
Because, see, as soon as Tony steps out of the Quinjet and lets his armor fold up around him, his sensors pick up a familiar trace of radioactive clay in the air, and he says, “The Puppet Master.”
“Isn’t he one of the Fantastic Four’s villains?” Spider-Man asks. “What’s he doing out on this coast?”
“Five words,” Walter says darkly, “Tex Richman, Evil Oil Baron.”
Tony’s actually had some dealings with Tex Richman in the past.
Once, they’d gone head-to-head across a boardroom table, battling it out over a piece of the Brazilian coastline – Tony, so that he could study (and protect, Pepper had reminded him) a flower that had surprising electro-magnetic properties, while Tex had wanted the land, Tony now assumed, so that he could continue developing his Evil Oil Empire.
Tex, Tony’s not ashamed to say, had lost.
“The Puppet Master?” Thor asks. “I am not familiar with this foul villain.”
“Oh, my poor Kermie!” Miss Piggy wails.
“He’s a sculptor,” Spider-Man says. “See, he makes these little models of people—or, um, frogs, or whatevers, or, um, whatever—out of this radioactive clay stuff, and then he, like, controls them with his mind.”
“Oh my!” Bunson says, his eyes going wide, and he immediately leans over to whisper something urgently in Beaker’s ear.
“Meep!” Beaker squeaks. “Meep-meep-meep!”
“Exactly,” Bunson says.
“Is there any way for us to acquire a sample of this clay?” Bunson asks. “Beaker and I believe that with further study, we might be able to disrupt the psychic frequency that the Puppet Master uses to control his, well, ‘puppets’.”
“Meep!” Beaker says, nodding firmly.
“Beaker, Bunson, we don’t have time for that,” Fozzie says, “because Kermit is missing again and we all know from past experiences that we cannot have a show without him.”
Tony must look confused, because Thor leans over and says, “It was the subject of their 1984 film The Muppets Take Manhattan. He had amnesia and they were scheduled to appear on Broadway.”
“So what we need to do,” Steve says, as if finally remembering that he is the nominal leader of the Avengers, and thus probably should have been in charge of this expedition from the start, “is find both the Puppet Master and Tex Richman—”
“And stop their diabolical plan in its tracks,” Miss Piggy growls. “Because no one frog-naps my frog and gets away with it.”
They divide into teams:
Fozzie, Rowlf, Scooter, Storm, Spider-Man, and several of the rest of the Muppets head back to the studio to keep preparing for the show – “Which will go on,” Walter says, “it must.”
Steve, Thor, Giant Girl, Gonzo, Camilla the Chicken, and a few of the more fierce looking Muppets – including a king prawn in a leather jacket and a creature with a chain hanging from his neck – head out to the streets, to gather what information they can.
Well, Tony finds himself being assigned double duty.
First, he and Miss Piggy are going to go confront Tex Richman, businessman and scorned wife to businessman, and then he’s going to join Beaker and Bunson in the lab, trying to figure out a way to a) track the radioactivity of the clay, and b) disrupt the Puppet Master’s psychic control over his subjects.
Tex Richman, Evil Oil Baron, greets them with a rap.
“Do you think I should start my hostile takeover bids by composing a rap about how I’m so much better than my competition from now on?” Tony asks Miss Piggy. “Richman might be onto something here…”
Miss Piggy isn’t listening to him, though. She’s sitting next to him, the anger visibly boiling up within her – until suddenly she is flying across Tex Richman’s desk, her silk gloved hands tight around his throat.
“Listen, you slime ball, if you hurt my frog, I am going to make your life a living hell.”
When Tony finally manages to pry Miss Piggy’s fingers off of Tex’s neck, and plants her back in the chair next to him, Tex Richman says, “Mr. Stark, Miss Piggy, I appreciate your position, I really do, but you’re too late to counter my offer, and now that the frog has sadly gone missing, such a shame, your telethon will be a bust. In short: the studio will be mine. Maniacal laugh, maniacal laugh.”
“I’ll ‘maniacal laugh’ his derriere,“ Miss Piggy says through gritted teeth as soon as they’re in the elevator, heading back down to the lobby.
“We will stop him,” Tony says. “I’ve got my lawyers working on the contract, and believe me, there is no one more qualified to rescue Kermit than the Avengers.”
Tony and Miss Piggy have barely made it back to Muppet Studios when they get a call from Thor.
“My friend, word on the street has it that there were two henchmen out combing the streets yesterday, looking for foul villains who might be interested in some not-so-gainful employment,” Thor says. “A bear—of the growly sort, not the ‘wocka-wocka’ sort, and a… something, with an English accent.”
“And that’s all you’ve found out?” Tony asks.
“Unfortunately yes,” Thor says, sounding slightly defeated.
Through the phone line, Tony can hear voices in the background calling, “Kermit! Kermit!”
From the outside, Bunson’s lab looks just as run down as the rest of the Studio, but on the inside it’s… well, it’s still run down, but it does have an awesome array of instruments and equipment that look to have been MacGyver’d together out of bubble gum, shoe strings, and fluorescent lights.
Tony, quite frankly, is a little in awe.
“So,” he says, sitting down at the lab table in the center of the room, “where do we start?”
Five minutes later, Scooter comes racing in, looking as pale.
“We just received a ransom note,” he says, handing a piece of paper to Tony.
It’s on a sheet of plain white paper, pieced together out of words and letters cut out of magazines and newspapers.
To whom it may concern, it reads. If you want to see your frog alive again, you will let Tex Richman, Philanthropic Energy Provider and #17 on Time Magazine’s List of the 100 Most Powerful People in 2009, assume control of Muppet Studios. You will cancel the telethon and return to the holes in the ground that you crawled out of.
At the bottom, scrawled in crayon, was another note: Moopets forever.
“Moopets?” Tony asks.
“You don’t want to know,” Scooter says, holding his head in his hand.
Five minutes after that, Fozzie comes into the lab holding a cell phone that is approximately the size of a football. “It’s Veronica,” he says, “from the studio. She wants to know if we have a celebrity host yet.”
Two minutes after that, Tony calls Pepper.
“…you want me to find a celebrity to host the Muppets Telethon,” she says, “which you’re still planning on going forward with, despite a ransom note telling the Muppets that if they don’t hand over the studio, they’ll never see Kermit again?”
“We can’t let the Evil Oil Baron win,” Tony says.
“This would probably also explain why TMZ has footage of Thor walking down the street with a blue, hook-nosed whatever perched on his shoulder, calling, ‘Kermit! Kermit!’ wouldn’t it?” Pepper asks.
“That would be correct, Ms. Potts,” Tony says.
“I thought this was just supposed to be a simple vacation, Tony!” Pepper says, and then hangs up, presumably so that she can begin working Tony’s contacts to find the Muppets a celebrity host for the show that evening.
And that is about the time that Bunson puts some drops of something into a glass vial, gives it a shake, hands it to Beaker, and then dives out of the way as it blows up.
“Ack!” Tony says, diving under the desk.
“Meep,” Beaker agrees sadly.
As Bunson and Beaker work on clearing the smoke from the room, Tony decides to take a breather outside. He calls Steve.
“Please tell me you’ve found something,” he says.
Steve, it turns out, actually has.
He and the prawn had gone to some shady bar-type-place that was apparently a favorite with villain-type-people, and while Steve had been planning on working the ‘ask questions first, beat up the thugs later’ plan, Pepe the Prawn had started swinging as soon as they were in the door, and they’d had the answer they were looking for five minutes (three broken tables, seven broken chairs, and two smashed pool tables) later.
“How does a prawn break a pool table?” Tony asks, but Steve seems to be just as speechless as he feels.
So they’re making progress, which is good, because as soon as Tony hangs up the phone, Walter comes racing out into the courtyard, screaming.
“Fozzie has disappeared!” he cries. And then he faints dead away.
It’s actually not just Fozzie that’s disappeared: Gonzo, Miss Piggy, Rowlf, and Sam the Eagle all seem to have vanished, too. Or rather, they all stood up, walked away from their friends as if they were in a daze, and the next time someone went looking for them, they were gone.
Poof, just like that.
“Okay,” Tony says. “I have had it with Tex Richman, Evil Oil Baron and his schemes. That is it.”
Tony, Storm, and Spider-Man meet up with Steve, Thor, and Giant Girl, and, well, all of the remaining dogs, frogs, bears, people, and whatevers on the Quinjet.
Storm takes the controls. “So, where are we flying to?”
It takes them three and a half minutes to reach Brentwood, then another two to identify the building they’re looking for from their vantage point, a few thousand feet in the air.
They land in the dog park off of Barrington, and draw all sorts of stares as their group heads north towards Sunset, towards the abandoned restaurant that is apparently the Puppet Master’s new west coast headquarters.
When they reach it, Spider-Man starts laughing.
“The Clay Pit?” he asks. “Seriously? Seriously?”
The Puppet Master’s headquarters is in a two-story building that contains a strip of stores: Mailboxes, Etc., La Strada International Deli, and, until recently, The Clay Pit Indian Restaurant.
“Gary, Mary, Walter,” Steve says, “go tell the people in these other businesses to vacate the premises. When dealing with a villain of the Puppet Master’s caliber, we don’t want to risk any casualties.”
Giant Girl grows tall enough to peer through one of the windows on the second story, while Spider-Man crawls up the wall to peer into another one.
“I see Fozzie, Gonzo, and Rowlf!” Giant Girl shouts, because at that size, she can’t really do anything but.
“And I’ve got an eagle, a frog and a pig,” Spider-Man says.
Steve, Tony thinks, no doubt has a plan—and probably a good plan at that—but no sooner have Giant Girl and Spider-Man given their reports than Pepe the King Prawn (followed closely by Animal and a half-dozen fierce looking chickens in pink leather biker jackets) storms the door.
Tony can hear Animal shouting, “Bad man, bad man, bad man!” highlighted by a chorus of clucking.
“Avengers assemble?” Steve says.
The Puppet Master really is a fearsome enemy. He’s wreaked havoc with the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, and the Avengers, and has still somehow lived to fight another day.
Apparently, though, all of those teams of heroes, which all could rightly lay claim to the title of ‘Earth’s Mightiest Heroes!’ have nothing on a prawn, a creature of indeterminate origin with anger management issues, and a flock of chickens.
Pepe keeps the Puppet Master in a chokehold while Camilla and her cohorts peck at his face, hands, and eyes. Animal has his whole body wrapped around the Puppet Master’s leg, biting and clinging and continuing to shout, “Bad man, bad man, bad man!”
“Well,” Spider-Man says, “I’m feeling rather useless now.”
The lesson to be learned from this, Tony thinks, is that it’s apparently impossible for a super-villain to maintain precise mental control of his subjects in the face of such an onslaught.
“Note to self,” Tony says.
You learn something new every day.
And that is about the time that Beaker and Bunson run past them with a contraption made out of what looks to be saran wrap, Christmas lights, pipe cleaners, and a battery. They promptly pounce on the discarded figures made out of radioactive clay, encase them all in their contraption, attach the Christmas lights to the battery, and poof, the clay disappears.
“There,” Bunson says, echoing Beaker’s satisfied, “Meep.”
And thus begins the happy reunion, complete with frog-pig kisses, Camilla working her way into Gonzo’s arms, and Sam the Eagle looking at Steve with something akin to hero worship.
“I, Sam the Eagle, just got rescued by Captain America,” he says. “My life is now complete.”
And that, Tony thinks, as all of them walk back down the street again twenty minutes later, is that.
Except, of course, it’s not ‘that’, because this is not the end of the story.
Because, of course, Tex Richman, Evil Oil Baron, is still on the loose.
Tony, the rest of the Avengers, and all of the Muppets, arrive back at Muppet Studios an hour and a half before show time.
Pepper had beat them there, and Tony’s going to have to give her another raise because she has managed to round up a veritable ‘who’s who’ of Hollywood for the telethon, everyone from Robert Redford and George Clooney, to Jack Black and Seth Rogen, to the Kardashians and the Old Spice Guy.
(“I tried to tell Kris Jenner that we didn’t need her family here, that we knew they were far too busy for such a minor fundraiser,” Pepper whispered, “but Nikki Finke mentioned the telethon on Deadline and Harvey Levin put it on TMZ, and Kris insisted.”)
Which is why, half an hour before show time, there is not a seat to be had in the entire theater, there’s a line of limos and sports cars stretching a mile in each direction, and Kermit is saying, “Mr. Stark, I really don’t know how to thank you.”
“It was nothing,” Tony says. Then, because he needs to give credit where credit is due: “Pepper is very good at what she does.”
But despite Pepper being very good at what she does, immediately following the opening act, Tony hears an explosion and the power goes out.
All of them rush outside to find Tex Richman, Evil Oil Baron, standing on his car, his arms raised skyward in a sign of victory.
“Maniacal laugh!” he says, stretching his arms even higher.
“Zut alors!” Miss Piggy wails. “If we don’t get the power back on, we can’t do our show, and if we don’t do our show, we can’t raise the ten million dollars!”
“Leave it to me,” Mary says.
“Is there a reason you can’t just buy the studio?” Pepper asks Tony quietly as they watch Gary hand Mary various and sundry tools.
“Article 21, Clause 6 says that the money has to come from the Muppets,” he says. “Otherwise, I think this story would have been over approximately 10 pages ago.”
Two minutes later, the power is back on, and the phones have started ringing again, and the money on the pledge board is starting to climb at a steady pace. And the money keeps coming in as they make it through:
• Fozzie’s awful jokes (with Jack Black as his foil),
• the Smells Like Teen Spirit barbershop quartet (which also involved Justin Beiber’s hair actually getting trimmed),
• a rendition of Cee-Lo’s Forget You done by Camilla and her hens, Lady Gaga, and Taylor Swift,
• Gonzo’s attempt at doing Kardashian bowling,
• and a Josh Groban accompanied Rainbow Connection, and—
And it’s all going well.
Too well, it turns out, because Tex Richman, Evil Oil Baron, is apparently even more determined than Tony gave him credit for.
Because at 11:55, after Walter’s whistling serenade has brought them to within just pennies of their goal…
The phones go out.
“My phone is out,” Selena Gomez says.
“Breaking news,” the Newsman says, “all of our telephones are out.”
“Maniacal laugh,” Tex Richman says from the doorway to the theater.
“I’ve won!” Tex Richman says as he makes it to the stage. “The Muppet Studio is mine! The Muppets are MINE!”
“Not so fast,” Pepper says as the clock ticks closer to midnight, and she’s got her phone out, pressed to her ear, and suddenly a phone in the balcony rings.
Spider-Man, whom Tony hadn’t noticed sitting there (mashed as he was between two monsters), brings a cell phone to his ear. “Muppets Telethon, your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man speaking.”
“I’d like to pledge ten million dollars,” Pepper says, all eyes and cameras trained on her. “That should be enough to save the studio, right?”
“Whatever I’m paying you,” Tony says, pulling her close, “it’s not nearly enough.”
Tony’s seen the Muppets go crazy on TV and in their movies, but nothing prepares him for the sudden deluge of three-foot tall frogs and dogs and bears and pigs and monsters and whatevers catapulting through the air. Thor has hoisted Gonzo and Camilla onto his shoulders; Spider-Man and Giant Girl are hugging it out in the middle of the telephone area; Storm has made an actual rainbow touch down on the stage.
Yeah, Tony thinks, there are definitely worse ways he could have spent the day.
Tony keeps his arm around Pepper as they walk across the room to where the police are handcuffing Tex Richman. Tony smiles at him.
Tex Richman just glares.
When they exit the theater after the show, they find that the streets are packed with people – not waiving signs for the various celebrities who are still in attendance, but for the Muppets themselves.
“We did a good thing today, friends,” Thor says from Tony’s shoulder as they watch the Muppets go from excited to speechless and back to excited again.
“Mahna mahna,” Tony says.