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!

1 comment:

  1. What a cool concept! I agree with you that Peter is both a celebration and a warning about youth. He is fearless in the way only a child can be, but his logic is simplistic, and only growing up can add nuance and complexity to a person's worldview.

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