Mar 17, 2009

"The Wizard of Oz" is visually wonderful, but it's a swift journey down that yellow-brick road

Eric Shanower, writer of five graphic novels about the land of Oz, is back with yet another, but this time the story isn't entirely his own. Published by Marvel, "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" is a comic book version of the Frank L. Baum children's classic, but its writing has a much different feel.

There is a long tradition of non-canonical works about Baum's fictional land, and people in all different areas of arts and media seem to love the idea of recreating the classic any way they can. It only seems natural that Marvel would give it a shot, and Shanower must have seemed like their best candidate in choosing a writer. His history with Oz not only includes the five Dark Horse graphic novels but his illustrations for another set of Oz comics as well. Unfortunately, a history with Oz doesn't necessarily produce an adeptness at retelling a great story.

Shanower's writing is rushed, to say the least. Of course, he is trying to fit a novel into an 8-issue comic series, but that's no reason for the speed through which he blows through the story, much the way his tornado already begins to blow through by the third of 32 pages in the first issue. Maybe the assumption is that readers won't mind, as they know the story so well, but when Dorothy expresses her desire to return home from Oz I have no clue what she is yearning to return to. The story really lacks a sense of who Dorothy is and where she comes from, despite the images we are shown of her Kansas home. Henry and Em are merely a "farmer" and a "farmer's wife," and we have no idea what their relationship to their niece is. It proves that you can't rely on the classic status of a story to carry the weight of it adaptation.

The saving grace in all this is the artwork drawn by Skottie Young. Much different from the style typically adopted by Young in his artwork for other Marvel comics, the images seem like a combination of artwork in a typical children's book and standard comic book art style. The outlines are bold but also rough and sketch-like. The characters each have their own visual quirks, bringing life to them in a way that Shanower has not. From the artwork alone you can see Dorothy's innocence and naivete, and even the artwork depicting the hideous evil witches shows a lightheartedness suitable for the children's story.

Dorothy's three famous companions have been refashioned rather uniquely and have gained softer appearances, even Tin Man, and the appearances, for the most part, suit the chara cters. Scarecrow has a much goofier style with his big belly, lanky limbs, drawn eyes, and stitched smile. Lion looks more cowardly than ever thanks to a frizzy-looking mane that surrounds his massive head. Only Tin Man's design seems to be lacking a bit, as his mustache gives him a harsher look than expected.

Aside from individual characters, the backgrounds and scenery created by Young and the colorist Jean-Francois Beaulieu are impressive. Images of Oz and Munchkin towns are vivid and exciting. Even the drab colors of the simple Kansas landscape were beautiful.

Overall, it isn't a bad choice for some of the younger comic readers and even some older art-oriented readers. Just don't expect to be wowed by an imaginative retelling of the well-known story.


  1. Your knowledge of the original Oz stories and its various reincarnations really is evident here. You show us why this wondrous original doesn't need dumbing down, but you acknowledge the art of the graphic elements.

  2. Marvellous post!!...The comic story about super hero is very nice to hear...Cartoon clippings are make as real comedy.....Thanks....