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Peter and Max by Bill Willingham

By Brian Prisco | Books | June 18, 2010 |

By Brian Prisco | Books | June 18, 2010 |

It is only recently that I’ve gotten deeper into graphic novels. I was put off by the superhero genre because I never knew where to start, and the mythology seemed to complex and everchanging to keep up with. Yet, I soon discovered that there were awesome graphic novel series that were encapsulated — short runs with incredibly stories. I started with Jhonen Vasquez, but soon branched out to Preacher, Watchmen, Sandman, and eventually Y: The Last Man and Runaways. And yet, my favorite quickly became Fables.

Fables dabbles in the realm of fairy tales, building a brutal and graphic legend off the original stories. The Fables — our heroes — have been forced out of the lands of their stories by a dire force called The Adversary, forced to live among humans in secret. All the characters are there, mixing Grimm with Goose with Scherazade effortlessly. But they’ve been radically transformed: The Big Bad Wolf is now a pseudo-Wolverine tasked to be Sheriff of the Fablelands. Old King Cole is mayor, the frog prince is a janitor. It’s imaginative and far reaching, morphing into a massive missive that deftly weaves new characters and stories as it grows.

Willingham decided to write a novel that incorporates the Fables legends while also acting as an aside to the comics. It tells the story of Peter and Max, two brothers who grow to a showdown of dire consequence. Peter is Peter Piper, and also Peter Pumpkin Eater, his blind wife is Bo Peep. And yet without seeming gimmicky, Willingham creates a masterful story weaving in several fables and crafting a brutal legend around Peter’s quest to defeat his evil brother Max.

While I really enjoyed the story, it didn’t necessarily work for me outside the graphic novel. I couldn’t understand why this needed to be a text-based novel and not illustrated. The story feels really stretched to fit the 300+ pages, and it kind of wanes in the middle. I wished it were better, because all the clever nuances that make Fables great are here, but the story simply can’t hold out the entire length of the novel. It’s not a terrible novel, and for fans of Fables, it’s a necessary read. But after having enjoyed much of what Willingham’s done with his characters, I was simply unimpressed by this effort.

This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. For more of Prisco’s reviews, stick around. He’ll have Jonah Hex up this afternoon.

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