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Review: ‘Peter Pan’

Peter PanPeter Pan
Writer: Blake Hoena
Artist: Fernando Cano
Stone Arch Books; $6.95

For adults, who have spent most of their lives occasionally experiencing different presentations and interpretations of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan story in various media, the most interesting aspect of any new telling might simply be in seeing how its creators choose to depict the cast of characters. The theater has its traditional depictions, and the 1953 Disney film, which has long since unseated Barrie’s stage version as the preeminent one, had its own depiction, so any new versions generally try to distinguish themselves by departing from these as dramatically as possible. Artist Fernando Cano, who draws Stone Arch’s condensed, graphic novel version of Barrie’s 1911 Peter and Wendy, certainly does so.

Peter’s abandoned the green pixie gear for a more scavenged and hand-made looking ensemble. The Darlings are all blonde. Tinkerbell has black hair and big butterfly wings. The Lost Boys look like they’re wearing skinned Pokemon rather than animal skins. Smee and the pirates look more like shaven gorillas in their cartoonishly menacing bodies. Hook looks closest to his Disney incarantion, but he’s traded in his luxurious mustache for a mustache-less beard.

This version isn’t for adults, however, and so the creators’ decision to stray as far from possible from the Disney designs isn’t necessarily done to stand out, but simply to remind–or, more accurately, reveal–that there’s more to Peter Pan than what Disney’s done with him and the rest of Barrie’s treasured characters and concepts.

After a brief, four-paragraph prose introduction entitled “All About Peter Pan,” writer Blake Hoena and artist Cano re-tell Barrie’s novel in just six short chapters, about 60 pages total. Differences from the Disney and Barrie’s play (which the Peter novel is based on, of course) are emphasized, like a bit more attention being paid to the Neverbird.

Adaptations don’t always serve Barrie’s “Red Indians” well, and how to handle them remains problematic to this day. (The 2015 film Pan raised ire by casting Rooney Mara as the Native American Tiger Lily…or would that be Native Neverlander…?) Here they are referred to as “Indians” and are depicted rather inoffensively, with Hoena even giving Tiger Lily a bit of agency in her role…although that may be simply to tone down the menace of the pirates a bit (here she’s to be executed for sneaking aboard Hook’s ship, something no one is allowed to do).

In general, the violence is toned down quite a bit; Pan and Hook still go at each other with dagger and sword, but most of the comic’s combat is brief and playful-looking, and Hook’s off-panel death is signified only by a large “GULP” that appears just off-deck, after he falls overboard just above the crocodile.

The comic offers such a condensed version that it makes a pretty poor replacement for Barrie’s novel, but it does do a pretty decent job of providing a bridge between it and young readers, whose experience with the subject matter is likely limited to bowlderized adaptations.

Cano’s art is probably the biggest draw here. His style is highly animated, so much so that his characters all look like they’ve either just jumped out of, or are ready to jump into, an animated film adaptation (an impression helped immensely by the rich coloring). The action, at least that which remains, is incredibly kinetic, and there’s a really great panel that runs across two pages at the climax featuring the agile Peter dodging a series of swings from Hook’s blade.

The lettering is less than ideal and doesn’t seem to fit organically into the panels, but rather looks pasted upon them, but it’s unlikely to trouble–or even catch the attention–of too many young comics connoisseurs.

As with the other, mostly adventure-focused classics adapted in this line, the book includes a glossary of potentially new words and Common Core-aligned reading questions and writing prompts.

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J. Caleb Mozzocco About J. Caleb Mozzocco

J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.

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