Review by Frank Plowright
Road to Oz opens with a strange, excessively whiskered elderly gentleman arriving at Dorothy’s Kansas farm and asking for directions to Butterfield. As they’re complicated, Dorothy feels she’d best accompany the gentleman, whom she rather rudely refers to as Shaggy Man.
In the 1907 novel L. Frank Baum wasn’t very interested in describing the Shaggy Man, presuming his name alone was enough to provide a visual impression, and leaving it to original illustrator John R. Neill to design him. Skottie Young takes that already interesting look and exaggerates the tattered clothing for an amazingly ragged design as seen on the sample art. Young’s a little more restrained when designing other new characters, although all have the necessary charm.
Eric Shanower’s script makes a few small changes for a smoother adaptation, but it’s another very faithful transfer to comics. Pretty well every early Oz book is Dorothy on a journey meeting fantastic new characters, and ending up in Oz after outwitting any threats along the way, and Road to Oz follows that template. However, Baum’s story contains more than a hint of social satire about the civilised foxes who dress themselves grandly and attend the theatre. As ever, Dorothy gathers a band of fellow travellers as she makes for Oz, having learned of Ozma’s birthday party, and they include Polychrome, daughter of the Rainbow, and the utterly dim Button-Bright, who’s always getting lost. The strangest encounter is with the Scoodlers, who remove their own heads and throw them at people. Each Oz book has one slightly more scary threat, and they occupy the role here, drawn by Young with great angry expressions.
There is a repeat when Dorothy again ends up at the Deadly Desert, introduced in Ozma of Oz, where the dust turns any living flesh to dust in an instant, but Baum supplies a novel new way to cross the desert. There’s the usual sentimental return for a host of previously introduced favourites toward the end. We’re toured around them and catch up on what they’ve been up to. Characters from Baum’s non-Oz books make guest appearances in the final chapter, attending Ozma’s party, Santa Claus the most prominent.
While great favourites, Baum’s original books work to a template, and it’s more than arguable that having Young’s visual accompaniment to the stories raises the quality. All six of his and Shanower’s adaptations are combined in the Oz Omnibus, with The Emerald City of Oz the next release.