Saturday, April 29, 2017

Four-Color Fairy Tales: Peter Panzerfaust.

Pan.  Pan never changes.

Wait.  That’s not true.  Peter Pan changes all the time, depending on who writes him or is playing him.  Sometimes for better and sometimes for worse.

Anyway, moving beyond quotes from video games I’ve never actually played, I’m continuing my promise of taking looks at comics that depict children’s literature (not just fairy tales) in unique and different ways.  Today, we’re headed for the battlefield of Peter Panzerfaust.

Peter Panzerfaust is a comic from a few years ago written by Kurtis Wiebe, drawn by Tyler Jenkins and published by Image Comics, with various other folks on various creative duties because it takes a lot of work to create a comic book.  Peter Panzerfaust also happens to be a war comic based on the story of Peter Pan.
Yeah.  I bet that’s not a combination you thought you’d see.

The story is told largely in flashbacks as told by Peter’s “Lost Boys”, a group of teenage orphans that ally themselves with Peter.  The story in the first volume is told by the man who had once been nicknamed “Tootles”.  He tells about how during the Second World War, the Germans had taken the French town of Calais.  Shortly after the Calais orphanage is bombed, a lone American boy named Peter shows up to rally the remaining orphans and move them to a place where they can “hunker down”.  Peter gets them to safety only to find out that there are a group of British soldiers being held nearby.  Peter and the boys stage a daring rescue and then attempt to flee Calais.  It’s in their attempt to get out of Calais that they first encounter Kapitan Haken.  Haken is a rather chilling figure of a German military officer.  And like his theatrical and literary inspiration, he has a fascination with keeping “good form”.  The story goes on but I don’t want to tell it all here.  They meet Wendy, John and Michael Darling.  They live for a while at a farm house until being forcibly moved to Paris.  In Paris, the story picks up being told by Curly.  Curly’s story is a twist on Peter’s recue of Tiger Lily.  Only this time it’s one of the lost boys that is captured, Tiger Lily is one of the rescuers and the French Resistance is involved.

This is really a rather good comic book.  As strange as the initial concept might be, the creators own the seeming mismatch of ideas and make it work with skillful application.
The character of Peter himself is noticeably Peter Pan but older and made for a different setting.  He’s still a cocky, charismatic, youthful, fun-loving braggart.  But this Peter isn’t as thoughtless and selfish as his theatrical counterpart.

Over recent years, Peter Pan has gotten a decent amount of criticism.  People, particularly scholars and adult readers, have become more and more aware of the dark undertones in the story and worrying aspects of Peter’s actions.  Despite the vengeful pirates, wild beasts and mermaids that like to drown people, I think people sometimes wonder if Peter may actually be the most dangerous thing in Neverland.  After all, Hook only hates him out of revenge and the Darling children are only in such a dangerous place because of him.  Personally, my point of view is that Peter was intended not just a celebration of childhood but also a critique of it.  More antihero than hero, Peter was supposed to be an example of why growing up while sometimes regretful is also ultimately necessary.  But my interpretation of Peter as unwittingly tragic antihero doesn’t seem to dawn on many people in media.  So, they’ve chosen to remake Peter Pan and his darkness in different ways.  Once Upon a Time chose to turn him into a conniving youth-obsessed villain.  Meanwhile, the universally panned (pardon the pun) Warner Bros. movie Pan tried to turn Peter into a Harry Potter-esque “Chosen One” (Still can’t believe I watched that cinematic turkey in theaters.  Someday, maybe I’ll hate-watch it and then post a review).  Peter Panzerfaust, on the other hand, doesn’t feel like it’s throwing the baby out with the bathwater.  Wiebe and company does this first of all by putting Peter and company in a setting where you can be absolutely sure that Peter isn’t the most dangerous thing around.  The war was going to happen and the Darlings and Lost Boys would have been mixed up in it regardless.  It’s a setting in which Peter’s daring high spirits and borderline craziness go from being something questionable to something that may be the only thing helping everyone keep their lives and their sanities.  Sure, this Peter is more grown-up.  It is partially because he’s a young man of about 17 rather than a perpetual 10-year-old boy, but also because he’s in a situation where people would have to be more grown-up.  He also doesn’t completely lose his sense of danger.  Tootles describes running with Peter like being chased by a wild dog.  Dangerous but exciting.

The comic hosts a number of references to the original story.  Kapitan Haken, naturally, has his hand severely injured by Peter and replaced.  There’s a scene like the one where the Lost Boys try to shoot Wendy out of the sky, but in this case it’s the plane she’s on.  At one point, Peter claims to be searching for a woman named Belle (insert “Tinker” where you may).  One particularly nice touch, they changed Peter’s signature cry of pride and victory.  Instead of crowing like a rooster, this Peter howls like a wolf.

I recommend this comic.  I’ve only read two volumes but I’m up for more if I get the chance.  It seems it may have caught other people’s attention as well, seeing as BBC Worldwide is interested in making it into a television series.  Before heading out to the comic shop or hitting up Amazon, keep in mind that it is a violent war comic and is rated “M” for “Mature Audiences” (so, not for the kiddies).  Beyond that, happy reading!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Fairy Tale Fandom Book Report: Once Upon a Galaxy.

Okay, so this book has been on my shelf for a while and I’ve just gotten around to reading it.  I picked it up at a fantasy book store.  You know, the kind of store that sells fantasy novels, board games and Dungeons and Dragons modules.

The book is Once Upon a Galaxy.  It’s a science fiction anthology edited by Wil McCarthy with a whole host of contributors, published in 2002.
Now, if you’ve been around Fairy Tale Fandom for a while, you know I have a soft spot for sci-fi fairy tale retellings.  So, how does Once Upon a Galaxy stack up?  It’s kind of a mixed bag, really.

There are some stories in here that I really like.  “Ailoura” by Paul Di Filippo is a really solid sci-fi take on “Puss in Boots”.  “Nanite, Star Bright” by Tanya Huff is a neat twist on “The Shoemaker and the Elves”.  One of my favorites is “The Control Device”, which is basically “Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp” if Aladdin was an Imperial pilot from Star Wars (or something similar) hiding out from the new regime.  Others weren’t so great.  “The Nightingale” and “The Emperor’s Revenge” were Andersen-derived stories that just seemed to drag on and on.  Another story, “He Died that Day, In Thirty Years” didn’t really seem to even have anything to do with fairy tales.  I certainly couldn’t pick out any parallels or motifs.  Don’t get me wrong, some of them had some good ideas.  “The Goldilocks Problem” outlined how conditions on a planet need to be “just right” in order to support life.  However, it was more of an interesting science lesson than an interesting story.  “Sleeping Beauty” by Bruce Holland Rogers deals with the question of how much everything would change while someone was under a sleeping curse, just set on a much more cosmic scale.

To tell the truth though, I’m kind of okay with this.  I’d rather see interesting new ideas that don’t quite pan out than old, tired ideas that don’t pan out.  In a perfect world, we’d have good ideas that work out swimmingly.  But I’d rather not ask for the moon if I can help it.

However, maybe the stories being a mixed bag is just something you have to expect with multiple author anthologies.  Outside of literature, you don’t see anthologies much anymore.  Not in movies or television or comic books.  Maybe varying quality is one of the reasons why.

I’m not going to tell you to stay away from this book.  However, I’m not going to tell you to seek it out either.  I told you what I thought and my opinions are purely my own (though I’ve gotten rather good at expressing them).  If you do read it, maybe you’ll see something in them that I didn’t.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Fairy Tale Media Fix: The Tale of Tales (2015)

Okay, back in the blogging saddle!

The Tale of Tales!  Matteo Garrone’s 2015 film inspired by stories from Giambattista Basile’s fairy tale collection of the same name.  The film stars such talents as Salma Hayek, Toby Jones, John C. Reilly and Vincent Cassel (huh.  Cassel was in a surprising number of European fairy tale movies around that time).
While Basile’s book was a much longer, more complicated affair featuring a framing structure and five days of stories being told, Garrone’s film is just three tales that sort of touch alone the edges.  The first story is about a queen who is so desperate to have a child that she resorts to eating the heart of a giant sea serpent to get it.  The second story is about a bored king who becomes preoccupied with raising a flea until it’s the size of a calf.  The third story is about a lecherous king and two elderly sisters who will go to great lengths to become his next conquests.

This movie is not like most other fairy tale films you’ll see out there.  First of all, it’s rated R.  In fact, it’s the first R-rated fairy tale movie I’ve ever reviewed/reacted to on Fairy Tale Fandom.  And as this is a fairy tale film aimed squarely at adults, he expects the audience to do more work in figuring out what the whole thing is about.  In family fairy tale films, the themes are usually outright stated or even sung.  However, if you ask me, what Garrone has put together is a fantasy film about the costs of obsession.  The obsession with having a child.  The obsession with sating one’s own lust.  Even the obsession with raising a giant flea.  It’s a very different approach for a fairy tale film, focusing instead on characters’ faults and failings rather than on their triumphant “happily ever after”.  All of the characters in question make choices related to their obsessions that have unexpected negative consequences for those around them.

I’d like to say this movie is a good representation of Basile’s book, but I’m not sure I can.  Like I said, the movie cherry-picks certain stories that fit a specific theme.  The essence of Basile’s book came through in its framing story and the power of the storytelling depicted therein.  Also, Basile’s book had a kind of bawdy, rustic sense of humor to it (I mentioned the use of toilet humor in another post).  The movie plays everything about as seriously as a heart attack.  Though, the sight of the giant flea is funny in kind of a strange way.

The movie itself is fine.  The stories are faithful to the originals in content if not always in tone.  The actors do a fine job playing their roles.  I liked the creature effects for the sea serpent and the giant flea, though I think they could perhaps have been more creative with the ogre they had in one of the stories.  I will say that the way the stories changed from scene to scene could leave you a little lost, but maybe the director was just trying to make sure you were paying attention.

The Tale of Tales is not a fun movie.  I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this for a fun Friday night on the couch.  However, it’s also not really a bad movie.  It was good enough and interesting enough and different enough that I thought it would be a shame not to have a copy for my own movie collection, if just to use as a reference for future posts.  Whether any of you, my faithful readers, will like it is down to personal taste.