Review: Peter and Max, Bill Willingham

I won Peter and Max from Cecelia of adventures of cecelia bedelia – thank you!  I was having a terrible day, and when I got home I had not one, BUT TWO packages on my doorstep.  One was Peter and Max, and the other was a package of two books and a bookmark from Jeane.  It was amazing.  It caused my day to stop being terrible, and be awesome instead.  (True story.)

If you haven’t read Fables, you should really do that.  In fact, go do that now, and when you have finished, you may come back and we can discuss how we are going to cast the television show they will eventually make of this graphic novel series.  I already have cast most of the parts in my head, but I am not satisfied with some of them, and I am willing to negotiate.  (Don’t you wish the lovely and talented Enver Gjokaj were taller?)

Peter and Max is a prose story, with occasional illustrations by Steve Leialoha, about Peter Piper and his brother, Max, who you pretty quickly figure out is the Pied Piper of Hamelin.  The story goes between the past, exploring Max and Peter’s relationship and Max’s descent into evil, and the present, as Peter tries to find and stop Max.  There are rats and thieves, and (spoiler, sort of!) Bo Peep is an assassin, and the pipes fight, which is cooler than it sounds.

When, about twenty pages in, I flipped back and read the end, and I thought: Well, that’s going to be an anticlimax.  All the build-up to the Final Battle Against Max and it’s not – let’s just say it’s not quite as Gandalf-and-the-Balrog-or-Harry-and-Voldemort-epic as maybe I was expecting from how scared everyone sounded about Max being back in town.  However, when I read through the book, and got to it properly, I found it was not an anticlimax at all.  Action-wise, I was right, it’s anticlimactic; but as far as the emotional journey of the book goes, I think it works just perfectly.

I think if I had to pick one thing about the Fables series that I do not love, it’s how everybody acts tough all the time.  I mean everybody acts tough, every single character, which I guess you are meant to put down to their all having lived so long?  But when I read the dialogue – and it’s more noticeable in a novel than in the comics – the characters all sound a bit the same.  I liked Peter and Max, but the flaws of the comics were present in the novel, and in the novel they jumped out at me more.  I suppose because I didn’t have the pretty drawings to distract me?

Other reviews:

adventures of cecelia bedelia (thanks again!!)
Stainless Steel Droppings
Vasilly
Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist
The Written World
with Tales of a Capricious Reader
Largehearted Boy

Tell me if I missed yours!

  • I can definitely see how a comic book character can have flaws in prose- the genre lends itself to a certain campiness that doesn’t translate well. (I cut Heroes so much slack over the years for this very reason.)

    • Well, I don’t know if it’s something that would hold true across many different comics; but I think that Fables works better as a comic. I thought it might be because the comics have all these visual clues to remind us that these are characters familiar to us from fairy tales, so it’s easy to keep them straight. Whereas with a book, they’re just people, and their voices matter more.

  • She

    I want to read both of these so very much, but my library is seriously lacking in that department. My housemate loved Fables and is recommending it as something like the Sandman series. I need to use some of my birthday wishes to get them.

    Also, Enver Gjokaj = lovely, indeed.

    • Do get them! I think they are not quite as – as epic, and with the themes, as Sandman, but they are a lot of fun. Though I’m not sure about the newest batch, because they have a whole new storyline. I will have to wait for the storyline to resolve itself before I make a decision.

  • So glad to have cheered your day!

    • You really did – and I’m enjoying Looking Forward To It, though it’s not quite what I expected. I’m saving Plutarch’s Lives for a rainy nasty day – which we are having a lot of, but the rain always seems to happen when I am at work, never when I am cosy at home in bed. 😛

  • I LOVE Fables…with big squishy hearts. However, I haven’t jumped on this bandwagon just yet. I have a hard time imagining Willingham jumping into prose, so I’ve held back. Your review gives me hope, though! And Bo Peep as an assassin? Freakin’ awesome.

    • I was not expecting to like Fables – it seemed too gimmicky, and it is a bit, I guess, but it’s so much fun that I mostly don’t mind. I say go ahead with Peter and Max. Willingham is not quite as good with prose as he is with comics, but Peter and Max is still worth a read.

  • Wait, who have you cast Enver Gjokaj as? And how short is he? Hmm, although, maybe I don’t want to know… don’t ruin my illusions!

    I did see some speculation somewhere casting David Boreanz as Bigby, which I can almost see, although he’d have to turn down the comedy and turn up the surliness.

    I’ve been meaning to get to Peter and Max since I heard about it last fall, but it never seems to make it up to the top of the priority list. I know I’ve got at least one friend from whom I can borrow it, though, so maybe if I actually had it in my hot little hands I’d be more likely to read it.

    • I haven’t necessarily cast him as anyone, but it suddenly occurred to me that he is gifted and fantastic and has a slightly craggy face to be Bigby. He’s not short! He’s like 5’9″, he’s not Michael J. Fox or anything. And wouldn’t Ben Barnes be a fantastic Prince Charming?

      • Okay, 5’9″ is not that short. Taller than me, at least! And I totally agree re: the gifted and fantastic, but Bigby always struck me as being older than that.

        I always pictured James Marsden as Charming, but Ben Barnes would work too.

        (Also, Buffy-era Sarah Michelle Gellar as Goldilocks would be hilariously perfect, I think.)

  • Thanks for adding to my TBR! I’ve read really good reviews of Fables all around.

    • I hope you can get it! It’s fun – though if you do start it, be prepared for it to get quite dark later on.

  • anna

    oh, Jen, there’s a new Cinderella miniseries, just thought you’d want to know

  • So you really DO read the end before the middle!

    • Oh, I absolutely do. I do all the time. I am addicted to reading the end before I read the middle – reading the end nearly always makes the middle better. TRUTH.

  • I can see what you mean about the characters acting tough, but in the comic it works for me because it makes the moments of vulnerability stand out more – with Rose and Bigby, with Ambrose, with Rose Red, with Boy Blue, etc. But I can see how that plus the voices thing would be more of a problem in a novel.

    • I like the moments of vulnerability too, and I think they can work really well, but I feel like their levels of toughness should vary a little more. I mean they are thousands of years old and all, but still. (I need to reread Fables! I kinda miss Snow & Bigby!)

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