Book Review: Peter & Max

peter&maxby Michael D. Pederson


Peter & Max: A Fables Novel
by Bill Willingham, Illustrated by Steve Leialoha
Vertigo/DC Comics, 368 pp.

I’ve been hearing plenty of good things about Willingham’s Fables series for DC Comics’ Vertigo line. My comic collecting got waaaay out of hand over the years though and I’ve since limited myself to only picking up trade paperback collections and graphic novels. Even so, I still haven’t gotten around to purchasing any of Willingham’s series yet. So when a new novel came out set in the Fables universe, it seemed like a great place to get started. I was also lucky enough to get a copy of it for Christmas this year (thank you Lucy!).

The back story: Imagine that all of the tall tales, fables and fairy tales that we grew up with have some basis in reality. They’ve been handed down to us over the years and are usually cleaned up and Disneyfied, but deep down there’s a grain of truth behind each and every one of them. Now, in the present, the genuine personalities behind these stories are living amongst us, hidden away in their own communities.

Peter & Max gives us the true story behind the Piper family—Peter Piper; his brother Max, better known as the Pied Piper; and Peter’s wife, Bo Peep. The backstory here turns out to be one of sibling rivalry; Max is insanely jealous of his more talented brother Peter and longs to possess Peter’s magic flute, Frost. The rivalry and pursuit span several centuries and crosses several worlds, culminating in a showdown between the two brothers in the modern world. Along the way we get to tour the hidden community of the Fables and go behind the scenes of several classic children’s stories. Willingham’s versions of these fairy tales are not necessarily written for children (they tend to be quite dark, though always with some humor) but they definitely appeal to the little child still tucked away inside of each of us.