Genre mash-ups have fully invaded our popular culture. From novels to films to television to comicbooks, the idea of merging juxtaposed narrative elements into a single piece has never been more in vogue. Even competing themes from various understandings of the human state are being reinvented for modern audiences to examine our shared conscious with new eyes.
In Image’s Peter Panzerfaust, by writer Kurtis Wiebe and artist Tyler Jenkins, we are presented with such a concept. Essentially the book is the Peter Pan mythology reinterpreted as a story about the early days of World War II. But while this seeming genre mash-up takes two divergent ideas, children’s literature and historical war literature, the result speaks more to our modern understanding of youthful innocence.
In its original state, children could enjoy J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan story for its flights of fancy, while adults could relate to Peter Pan’s desire to forego mature responsibilities. “Living in the moment” is the phrase that best encompasses Peter Pan and its themes from an adult perspective.
At the time of Barrie’s novels and plays, the belief that children were immaculately innocent was commonly held. As we grew older, that innocence vanished or was lost. In modern understanding, unadulterated romanticism has replaced childhood innocence as that which we lose as we mature. As our society has developed, particularly in the latter half of the 20th century, cynicism has replaced adventure and the pursuit of love. Even though general marketing in the marketplace perpetuates an idea of eternal youth, that pursuit is typically frowned upon and considered a sign of immaturity.
This is the very concept that Wiebe seems to be playing with in Peter Panzerfaust–while we understand war to be an especially horrible facet of our existence, the Peter of Peter Panzerfaust appears to smile in the face of violence and death as the Nazis invade France during World War II.
While the idea of pulp adventurers on romanticized quests is nothing new – there have been how many Indiana Jones movies? – the juxtaposition of Peter Pan or a Peter Pan like character in this setting should be unsettling. In literature, war has frequently been used to metaphorically examine our loss of innocence. So while this is a re-imagining of a character, there is a pivotal point being made about the pursuit of idealistic interests.
The characters in Peter Panzerfaust are not exactly men or mature, though their age approximation to the severing of our innocence into eventual cynicism serves the story well; these “lost boys” as orphans of a modern age meeting the embodiment of modern idealism (Peter Pan as an American). The contrast between Barrie’s boy that never grew up and the nihilism and existential dread of World War II is in fact rather beautiful in its simplicity and subtleness.
Subtlety is a perfect world to describe how Wiebe in his script and Jenkins in his panels infect their story with the Peter Pan mythos. Issue one is littered with subtle references to things that have been hallmarks of the legend. Examples: Peter’s first appearance instantly recalls his iconic visage framed in Wendy’s window; Peter and the boys fly, in that they are able to leap over a long distance from the roof of one building to another.
The pictures by Jenkins flutter from seriously detailed to longingly playful. There is a sense of danger and dread, but also an unyielding and damned flight of fancy quality to these panels. One admirable quality to Jenkins work is that he picks up Wiebe’s subtlety quite well. That subtleness that the script uses to illustrate the innocence of pulp adventure is visually strained into one telling characteristic: Peter’s smiles.
This first installment, however, barely visits these concepts before it abruptly ends. While the ending of chapter one is somewhat anti-climatic, the room for further development is obvious. If there is a flaw to this issue, it is right there in the very last panel. The full page is a very nice rendering when first glanced, but the upon further inspection, the page scripted by Wiebe, as well the angle Jenkins takes with his pencils, is something of a letdown. Yet, there is a distinct emotion as the last page is turned: when will there be more?