Marvelous Land of Oz #1-4

Written by Eric Shanower
Art by Scottie Young
Based on the novel by L. Frank Baum
32 pages, color
Published by Marvel

Growing up, I think I read L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Ozma of Oz about 50 times each. The first and third of Baum’s Oz books, both have formed the basis for a lot of different Oz-related projects over the years. But until now, I’d never actually read the second book, The Marvelous Land of Oz. I knew the basics of what happened in it (thanks to Ozma of Oz, which is incidentally a top-notch book that everyone should read) but I hadn’t gotten around to reading my free copy courtesy Project Gutenberg. Fortunately for me, Marvel was happy enough with Eric Shanower and Scottie Young’s adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz that they’re now publishing Shanower and Young’s The Marvelous Land of Oz, and it’s definitely the strangest of the three Oz books that I’ve come across so far. And when I say strange, I mean that I love it.

For people who have never experienced more than the film starring Judy Garland, or only read the original book, it might come as a slight surprise that Dorothy isn’t in The Marvelous Land of Oz. (She does return in Ozma of Oz, though, so don’t be afraid that she’s gone for good.) Here our hero is Tip, a young boy raised by the witch Mombi who flees her guardianship and travels to the Emerald City with two magically animated creatures, Jack Pumpkinhead and the Sawhorse. What follows is a strange, rambling story as Tip and company encounter various obstacles, attacking armies, and bizarre creatures. And of course, all the while, Mombi keeps popping up as we try to figure out why she’s so obsessed with Tip. There’s not a huge goal set out at the beginning of The Marvelous Land of Oz like in some of the other books; here, instead, it’s more of a bizarre travelogue and adventures along the way. Baum is really having fun showing us, indeed, the marvels of Oz.

I found myself surprised in a good way at just how much Shanower has managed to keep of Baum’s witty dialogue and humor in his adaptation. Shanower is of course no slouch when it comes to Oz; he’s been known for many years as a scholar on the subject, as well as having created five original Oz graphic novels. After reading the first four issues of The Marvelous Land of Oz, I went and read the first half of the original novel and as a result I can say that Shanower’s managed to preserve the same level of charm and fun that exists in the original. Some of the snappiest moments of the book are perfectly preserved, like when Jack Pumpkinhead assumes that (coming from a different land than the Scarecrow) the two don’t speak the same language and so an interpreter is summoned. The end result is a sequence where Shanower keeps the farce running smoothly, as a servant "translates" what’s being said by Jack as a series of increasingly rude and insulting comments. And of course, Shanower understands the language of comics, so it’s well paced from page to page. My only complaint along this front is that as this is (wisely) being created primarily for a collected edition to be on sale for years to come, some of the ends of the issues aren’t that great on the "to be continued" front, but Shanower does the best he can to avoid messing up the pacing of the book as a whole.

Young’s illustrations are icing on the proverbial cake. I’ve loved Young’s art for quite a while now, and his work on the Oz adaptations is a great match for his skills. His character designs hearken back to the original takes on the characters by John R. Neill, but at the same time he’s got his own twists and sparkles added onto the art. I love the gigantic mustache that sticks out on the Emerald City soldier’s face, for instance, to say nothing of the Tin Woodman’s large bushy metal mustache that droops out from under his nose. It’s fun to look at all of the little character details, like how he draws Jack Pumpkinhead’s mouth to really look like a moving jack o’ lantern, or the careful addition of wood grain on the front of the Sawhorse’s snout. And of course, Young’s good at all of the regular aspects of drawing comics; expressive characters, a good sense of motion, and strong page layouts. Young is the kind of artist that in an ideal world can writes his own ticket to do whatever project he wants, and I’m delighted that he’s working on these adaptations.

This is a beautifully produced series, from top to bottom. Even little touches like the cover to #3 appearing like an old Soviet propaganda poster are noteworthy. Best of all, there something for readers of all ages to enjoy. Younger readers will enjoy the overall story and adventure, while older readers might snicker when the gatekeeper responds to Jinjur’s, "We are revolting!" with a calm, "You don’t look it." These days I’m trying to be a little more prudent about which books I buy (due to a general lack of space), but I’m more than willing to make an exception for adaptations this fantastic. Highly recommended, both this series as well as the previous one.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

1 comment to Marvelous Land of Oz #1-4

  • Darrell

    I’m very much hoping this series will continue for years to come.
    I’m especially excited to see the rest of book characters in this new style.