Bill Willingham's Fables fairy-tale comics cover as much ground as a pair of seven-league boots, and his new novel, Peter and Max, is a milestone in the excellent series: it works both as an infinitely readable standalone for Fables newbies and as a seamless addition for devoted followers.
The "Fables"—like Snow White, Prince Charming, and the Big Bad Wolf—are immortals in our modern-day world, refugees from their war-torn magical homelands.
Peter and Max chronicles the epic sibling rivalry between the storied Piper brothers—Peter, who at one point picks a pickled pepper, and Max, his jealous older brother who wreaks havoc in Hamelin. When Peter Piper and his crippled wife, Bo Peep, receive the unsettling news that Max is in their world, up to his old evil tricks, Peter sets out to defeat his brother in an epic battle that started long ago in a land far away.
There's an interesting juxtaposition between reading Willingham's comics and reading his novel. The prose is slower to digest, yielding time to enjoy Steve Leialoha's illustrations, which are wonderfully reminiscent of reading Andrew Lang's Fairy Books—each picture a perfect glimpse into the story. Willingham's writing style works well with the updated fairy tales—full of beautiful old words like surcoat, barding, carnelian—while using his broad imagination to add depth and polish to dark stories about pumpkin eaters and little lost sheep that lurk in the back of your brain.