Review by Ian Keogh
This is reportedly Eric Shanower’s favourite of the five Oz graphic novels he produced, and with The Forbidden Forest of Oz he steps away from the template he’d used before by weaving a fairy tale that concentrates far more on his own creations than the regulars of Oz. As he’s already proved he has a great way with a fairy story, this isn’t any hardship.
The story begins with Wood Nymph Nelanthe banished from the great forest she and others have protected for centuries for the crime of kissing a man. The consequence of banishment is that she’s no longer immortal, and on pondering matters she concludes that she’s been harshly done by and the solution is to destroy the forest in the company of her new allies the trolls and the dragons. So what does this have to do with the Emerald City and those who live there? Well, Nelanthe requires a potion, and the messenger sent to obtain it from the Emerald City inadvertently returns with Dorothy and Toto. They’re followed by the Scarecrow and the Sawhorse.
Shanower’s story is one of trickery, regret and redemption, and there’s a far greater element of tragedy than is found in his other Oz adventures, while continuing to slot into L. Frank Baum’s moral code. As ever, the art is spectacular, and the pity is that the dragons eventually have only a relatively small role to play. As drawn by Shanower these are imperious and terrifying. There’s just a single panel of five of them setting about some unlucky troops, but it’s insanely detailed and spectacular. So are his forest scenes, as seen by the sample page, which is a rare example of Shanower diverting from traditional comic art to channel the spirit of classic children’s book illustration.
Dorothy and the Scarecrow are the Oz characters Shanower relies on the most, starring in all his original stories, and his Dorothy is plucky, adventurous, fiercely loyal and resourceful. Here again she’s essential to a successful resolution. Shanower uses her as the voice of common sense, and that of humanity to comment on the foolishness of following tradition for tradition’s sake when it’s no longer relevant.
Originally released in 1988, IDW issued an oversize treasury format edition in 2012, featuring background material that reveals the story to be constructed by fusing a tale Shanower had conceived in college with an Oz plot in progress. The larger presentation of the art certainly does it no harm, and there are several pages of pencils and sketches included. Forgotten Forest is also gathered with the remaining Shanower Oz stories in the single volume Adventures in Oz, which has now been split into two hardbacks with Forgotten Forest to be found in the forthcoming volume two. It’s alternatively available in the second Little Adventures of Oz, but in a pocket sized format reducing the beauty of the art. Shanower’s final Oz graphic novel is The Blue Witch of Oz.