Feb 14, 2012

[Comics] The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (Marvel)

It's funny how there are so many "classics" out there in terms of the literary world that it seems next to impossible to find the time to read them all. At one point in time or another, I've had to deal with people who assume that you've read so-and-so title since "everyone else has" or something to that effect. And I'm not talking about New York Times Bestsellers - these are the older books that eventually become required reading in schools around the world.

For one reason or another, I have not managed to read the original Oz books in their entirety. In fact, I have not even read the titular book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz that kicked the entire franchise for the most part as well. And this is definitely something I want to address this year - in fact I've already downloaded most of the original books via my Kindle given they're already free as public domain books.

But before that, I stumbled across these Marvel-created adaptations of the various Oz books and was rather impressed with the quality of the work. Maybe I just enjoy the whimsical art style of Skottie Young or something, but there's just something about these comics that nicely capture the spirit of Oz visually without relying solely on the 1939 movie.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a 2009 limited comic book series that spanned 8 issues as published by Marvel Comics. The series obviously based on the L. Frank Baum book of the same name as adapted by Eric Shanower with art by Skottie Young. The series won the 2010 Eisner Award for Best Limited Series or Story Arc and Best Publication for Kids.

You should probably know this story already, but let's follow the review format and post a summary anyway.

Following the original story (of the book and not necessarily the movie or The Wiz), we begin with one Dorothy Gale of Kansas living a rather boring life with her Uncle Henry and Aunt Em. But everything changes when a twister takes their entire house, with her and her dog Toto still inside, off to some strange land. The house eventually sets down in Munchkin Country in eastern Oz where it accidentally lands on the Wicked Witch of the East.

Dorothy meets the Cowardly Lion, from The Wond...
Image via Wikipedia
Beyond the gratitude of the now liberated Munchkins, the Good Witch of the North arrives and advises Dorothy that the best person to help her get home to Kansas would be the Wizard of Oz. And thus she embarks on a journey to the Emerald City by following the Yellow Brick Road. But things aren't all sunshine and happiness given the Wicked Witch of the West, whose sister was killed during Dorothy's arrival, is out to get her revenge on the little girl.

Skottie Young's whimsical visual styling really fits well with his vision of the Oz aesthetic and gives the story a lovely sense of character that can appeal to a rather wide audience. Thus we get every sense of the kind of fundamental goodness paired with the enthusiastic curiosity of a child in every panel with Dorothy. An each character has a fun look to them that balances the original character concept with Young's own dynamic art style. This aspect of the series is what I enjoyed the most and it eventually led to me following all of the Marvel Oz comics just to see what he'd pull out of his hat next.

And as much as the visual appeal does work for children, it does not mean this is a comic solely dedicated to younger readers. I'm totally serious when I sat the title crosses generational lines in terms of readers, more likely because of the almost universal appeal of the core Oz stories. After all, Oz is a classic piece of a lot of our childhoods and it taps into that sense of magical wonder that we all experienced as children. And thus the book has a little something for everyone - it just cuts through all your cynicism and relates to that inner child that remains in all of us.

And I really appreciated how the comics followed the books as closely as I can determine. Thus you get a more holistic view of the original Oz story - one that we often omit given the way the movie was crafted and the various other cartoons that have appeared over the years. And it was all done in a manner that didn't just involve great art but well thought out dialog that never feels too wordy or even too dated, considering the time this was originally written.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a great initial forray back into the Oz universe through comics and it presents an interesting potential new franchise for the comic-reading world. And I totally had to rate this a full 5 flying monkeys out of  a possible 5.

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