Feb 28, 2012

[Comics] The Marvelous Land of Oz (Marvel)

The irony is not lost on me that while I have not officially read any of the original L. Frank Baum Oz books yet, I have been making progress with the Marvel Comics adaptations of the same stories. Maybe it just works since I'm a more visual person than I realized. Or more realistically it's because I save my "reading time" for the more serious novels that I still have in my never ending reading queue.

And you know you bad a reading queue can get for any bibliophile, yes?

But to be fair, their first adaptation for The Wonderful Wizard of Oz wasn't just very Oz-ian in terms of feel but it was quite the visual masterpiece. And it was nice to see that the same creative team appear to be behind the helm for all the Oz comics for now, which works perfectly fine by me. If you're going to adapt a timeless children's book series, this is definitely the way to go about things!

And this book was certainly interesting on quite a number of levels. And this goes beyond just the few characters I remember from the Return to Oz movie. Oh joy.

The Marvelous Land of Oz is a graphic novel adaptation of the L. Frank Baum of the same name. The comics were written by Eric Shanower and illustrated by the significantly talented Skottie Young. For all purposes, this story is a sequel to the original Wizard of Oz book.

We first meet tip, a young boy who is under the "care" of and old witch named Mombi. She's definitely not one of the good witches given he rather abusive nature towards Tip. In effort to make a friend for himself, Tip builds a man out of branches and gives him a pumpkin for a head to somehow scare Mombi. But Mombi isn't fazed by Jack Pumpkinhead and instead brings him to life using her magic powder. She then threatens to turn Tip into a statue - a threat he takes to heart and thus causes him to decide to run away.

So he steals Mombi's magic powder and escapes with Jack in the hopes of finding a better life. They eventually encounter a sawhorse and Tip brings it to life as well in order to provide Jack with a faster means of travel versus his spindly legs. But Jack a the Sawhorse end up speeding ahead without Tip on their way to the Kingdom of Oz. And the adventure's hardly begun at this point.

I can't get over the art style of Skottie Young for this comic series. I mean seriously, his art style has a touch of manga to it without going totally in that direction. It still maintains some Western sensibilities about it from a kind of cute Enid Blyton kind of way (and I don't quite know how that description popped into my head). Overall the various elements of his style plus the beautiful coloring by Jean-Francois Beaulieu all come together to create an Oz for a new generation of readers. And it doesn't feel overly like we're cheating the books here - even the original stories were rather visual in their own right after all.

And I totally loved the visual style for Mombi. Forget how she was depicted in Return to Oz (which actually was a mix of several Oz characters).  Here she's the short old crone but she doesn't seem all that helpless given her physical stature. At the same time, she isn't the kind of scary that'll give you nightmares night after night. She's unmistakably evil but in just the right proportions for children to appreciate her. Or something along those lines.

Moving on though, the story is certainly a quirky one that is a tad hard to appreciate. I'm not sure if some of the narrative build-up was lost in the translation into a comic book, but some bits just didn't flow as well as they could have. And it's hard to explain the awkwardness without revealing some potentially spoiler-y plot elements right off the bat, so I'll avoid that bit for now. Just saying that the narrative didn't go as smoothly as I would have liked and I'm not sure if that's the fault of the original source material or the comic.

Overall though, the book remains quite the enjoyable read and you'll probably want to go for the graphic novel compilation at this point so you don't have to struggle collecting all 8 individual issues before being able to read the whole story at once. I've been tempted to get the books as well, however I hate the fact that they all seem to be coming out in different sizes. Come on Marvel! This is supposed to be a series of books that we can display on a book shelf! The least you guys could do is maintain certain book proportions!

The Marveous Land of Oz remains another great addition to Marvel's Oz collection of titles and a worthy addition to the Oz lore overall. Thus it rates 3.5 objects being brought to life with magic powder out of a possible 5.

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