Review by Frank Plowright
Most people’s first encounter with the world of Oz remains Judy Garland’s quirky journey as Dorothy in the 1939 film, but that only adapts the first of L. Frank Baum’s Oz stories, and a further fifteen followed. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz launched the franchise, and was a phenomenon, comparable to Harry Potter, but a century earlier.
The film broadly follows the plot of young Kansas farm girl Dorothy and her dog Toto being transported to the magical land of Oz and immediately earning the gratitude of most citizens for landing her house on the Wicked Witch of the East and killing her. Dorothy’s only way home is if the magical Wizard of Oz grants her wish, and following the yellow road to Emerald City she picks up the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion, all of whom also have requests to make of the Wizard.
Much of Eric Shanower’s work in comics and as an illustrator has been connected with Oz, and this first collaboration with artist Skottie Young starts a run adapting Baum’s first six Oz novels. This opener differs from the broadly faithful film by restoring scenes cut for cinema. The Wicked Witch of the West, for instance, sends threats other than the famous flying monkeys, who themselves have a larger overall role and provide a greater explanation of their purpose.
Young’s illustrations are sketchy and loose, almost the polar opposite of Shanower’s own precise drawing, yet equally valid and attractive. Young designs his own characters rather than using the film versions, producing goofy, yet still cuddly alternatives, and a very unpleasant Wicked Witch, in places resembling Frankenstein’s monster. She may be a little too scary for the youngest readers. Young’s locations are just as refined, with the Wizard’s palace an especially imposing structure, with colourist Jean-François Beaulieu adding extra polish via colouring in great sheets of green.
It’s with the ending that the novel and this adaptation depart most from the film. This features an extended stay in the Wizard’s palace, followed by another adventurous journey back to Glinda, where the truth of the silver shoes is disclosed. Truth be told, the film’s creators produced a snappier and better ending. Baum’s version is very literally retreading the same path, extending the adventure when the threat is gone, and it just drags on too long. It’s his fault, not that of Shanower and Young for being faithful.
Qualms about the ending notwithstanding, Baum’s imagination and Shanower, Young and Beaulieu’s skills should charm any young reader well over a century since the original publication. Shanower and Young continue with The Marvelous Land of Oz, which can also be found combined with this as Oz: The Complete Collection. All six of their Oz adaptations are gathered together in hardcover as the Oz Omnibus.