Review by Ian Keogh
Eric Shanower would later produce prose and illustration novels about Oz, and write scripts drawn by Skottie Young, but The Blue Witch is the final Oz graphic novel he both wrote and illustrated. In it he answers a question that may have plagued many viewers of the filmed Wizard of Oz: why aren’t there any good witches of the East and West? It turns out there are, and consulting the Great Book of Records reveals the answer. It’s the good witch of the East who’s the subject of the title.
From there the story leads to a quest for Dorothy and the Scarecrow as they learn of the good witch of the East, or at least up to a point because even Glinda’s Great Book is fuzzy on many details. The quest requires crossing a swamp largely unexplored except by those who live there, and then discovering just what enchantment has been powerful enough to prevent being recorded in Glinda’s book. Shanower creates an interesting conundrum, and while his introduction of Bungle the vain glass cat from Baum’s novels at first seems too coincidental, it works when the bigger picture is revealed.
A strength of Shanower’s art is that of delivering likeable characters, essential when depicting a fairy tale world. Joy and innocence are the defining personality traits, and even the villains he creates aren’t entirely threatening. He’s respectful of Baum’s cast, and the progression only ever applies to his own creations.
Shanower’s transition into Oz novels is slowly signposted over his five graphic novels, and The Blue Witch is far wordier than any of his previous work, with long descriptive passages recounting the past, and more dialogue. It’s also less satisfying, as while there are some customary ingenious moments, Shanower leaves questions unanswered and elements hanging, which is an odd lapse. It’s further puzzling that he would name the story The Blue Witch, yet never refer to her as such, while his colour scheme makes the connection clear. There’s still enough good to well outweigh the bad, but there wasn’t the diligence applied to this book that there was to its predecessors.
This edition is still easily found, but the appeal and quality of Shanower’s work has stood the test of time, and The Blue Witch of Oz has seen several 21st century reprintings. It’s combined with the four previous Oz stories as Adventures in Oz, or it’s alternatively available in the later hardcover Adventures of Oz Vol 2, gathered with The Ice King of Oz and The Forgotten Forest of Oz. Little Adventures in Oz vol 2 retains this and The Forgotten Forest, but is less desirable due to its pocket sized format.