The world today, particularly the comics community, seems so cynical. We like our stories to be realistic and gritty. Our characters sensible and deep. We’ve left whimsy and flamboyance to our children because we appreciate supposedly better things. We’ve grown up.
But last year saw the launch of a comic book series which showed us that stories can be whimsical and gritty; that characters can be flamboyant and deep. A series that refused to grow up and taught us to believe in fairies again. From Image Comics’ sister company Shadowline, that series was Peter Panzerfaust, a World War Two reimagining of Peter Pan, by Kurtis J. Wiebe and Tyler Jenkins.
In the first volume, we were introduced to the magnificent, larger-than-life eponymous hero and his struggles in Nazi-occupied France via the remembrances of one of the elderly Lost Boys (a group of French orphans Peter takes under his wing). It was a glorious, old-fashioned adventure; fun, but unafraid to show harsher realities. In that vein, and very much in keeping with superhero tradition, this second volume sees Peter face this version of his classic nemesis: Kapitan Haken, AKA The Hook.
Indeed, this volume gets very dark. While it does serve to amp up the peril, it is a little disheartening to see the wonder drain out of Peter. If that was writer Wiebe’s intention, he succeeded, but failed to really draw anything from the radical change in tone. It feels like darkness for darkness’ sake.
And while I was enraptured by the first collection, I did feel that Jenkins’ artwork was a little underwhelming. Here, even moreso. He captures landscapes and scenery perfectly, evoking the spirit of the narrative, but his figures seem awkward, stiff and are often difficult to tell apart. I realise that specific criticism on a WW2-era book has unfortunate connotations, but I assume it’s purely coincidental. Moving on…
These story differences could, I suppose, be put down to the change in narrator. The framing device of the story, which is more interesting and expanded here than in the previous volume, sees a man — hinted to be Peter’s son — tracking down the Lost Boys in the present day and interviewing them about their experiences. Last time it was Tootles, here it is Curly.
Despite my criticisms, the series is not out of pixie dust yet. While dark thematically, the character of Haken is superb. He is very much a time-transplanted Captain Hook — while not as theatrical as that role usually is, you can see signs of him reigning it in, only unleashed in anger at Peter.
Curly also makes for a better audience surrogate than the flavourless Tootles. He is more actively involved in the plot, pretty much serving as Peter’s second-in-command. Although he is narrating and could thus be lying, I suppose. But that uncertainty just adds to the whimsy.
Peter’s relationship with Wendy is explored more; we see that, in his bleakest moments, she is there for him as an equal with her own tragic past. It never feels forced, as it could easily do.
Other elements from Peter Pan are brought in here, such as the fierce Tiger Lily and her “Braves” — French resistance fighters. It is a clever reinvention, and she quickly becomes one of the strongest characters in the series (sadly, most of the Lost Boys and Wendy’s brothers aren’t up to much).
And the framing story I mentioned early is becoming more and more intriguing. Just when you think you know a classic story, they make you wonder how it’s all going to end.
While Hooked strays a little far from Neverland, there’s no denying that this is one of the most inventive, enjoyable, and powerful series out there right now.