Road to Oz

Adapted by Eric Shanower
Based on the novel by L. Frank Baum
Art by Skottie Young
136 pages, color
Published by Marvel

It’s no secret that one of my favorite childhood novels was Ozma of Oz, and that I thought Eric Shanower and Skottie Young’s adaptation of the book was fantastic. Even better, having only read the first three Oz novels as a child, I’ve been delighted that Marvel has continued to hire Shanower and Young to create adaptations of the books that followed. Road to Oz is the fifth Oz book, and it’s also a very peculiar one. Shanower himself notes in the introduction that many fans consider it one of the weakest Oz novels. So should you read it? Now that I’m done, I’d have to say… yes.

The plot of Road to Oz is a meandering one that wanders even more than the titular road. Dorothy and Toto get dragged along by a new character, the Shaggy Man, into a route that suddenly begins to head in strange directions and deposits them in the vicinity of Oz. On the way they meet multiple new characters and creatures, even as anyone and everyone is apparently desperate to be invited to Queen Ozma’s birthday party. And if this doesn’t sound like much of a plot, you’d be absolutely correct. That’s the big weakness of Road to Oz, in that there’s virtually no plot whatsoever. It’s just a handful of characters stumbling through a series of random events until they find themselves at the conclusion of the book, where there’s a birthday party and everyone goes home.

Here’s the thing, though. Having since dipped into a copy of the original book (thanks to the joys of Project Gutenberg it’s legally available for free), I quickly learned two things. First, the book’s text is dry and uninspired; the fact that L. Frank Baum tried to end the Oz series with the next volume (The Emerald City of Oz) is unsurprising, as it feels like Baum is already tired of these books. And second, where charm is lacking in the original book, it is wonderfully on display here. Shanower’s pacing in Road to Oz feels much better than in the original; it flows smoothly, and he knows when to linger and when to speed up. Shanower’s script also amplifies some of the stranger moments in the original novel of Road to Oz, like the Shaggy Man’s casual stealing of Toto at the start of the book. In the novel it’s presented in such a matter-of-fact manner that it’s hard to comprehend why it happens; here, Shanower gives Young a bit of a motive to show through the art, and one that ties into later revelations about the Shaggy Man when we get to the conclusion of the story.

Even then, of course, there are still some parts of Road to Oz that Shanower simply couldn’t fix. The nonchalant way that first Button-Bright and then the Shaggy Man get their heads transformed into those of animals feels out of the blue, and the way in which they’re suddenly restored still feels equally sudden. It’s a less than ideal sort of storytelling, and you can tell that Shanower is doing the best he can with slightly weak source material. Still, where Shanower can’t perform the heavy lifting, Young’s art usually can. Like all four of the previous adaptations, Young’s illustrations here are clever and charming. Polychrome in particular looks lovely, a swirling mass of colors that is just as entrancing through the fluid outline of her body as it is the colors contained within. Dorothy also gets some great expressions here, especially when getting irritated at the profoundly annoying Button-Bright. And when get to the conclusion of the book, the party is far more interesting in the graphic novel than in the original book, thanks to Young’s illustrations of all the guests, many of whom are just mentioned in passing without even an explanation. (Considering a lot of the throwaway references to the guests were supposed to make people want to read Baum’s non-Oz novels that they appeared in, I must say that Shanower and Young do a better job of cross-marketing than Baum himself did.) I still have no idea who Queen Zixi of Ix is, but I love the way she looks in Road to Oz and now I feel the need to find out.

There’s no denying that Road to Oz is my least favorite of the five Shanower and Young adaptations of the Oz books, but it’s really not their fault at all. Baum’s book may have been a bit of a dud, but Shanower and Young transform it into something far better than where it first began. The original might not have been much to talk about, but Shanower and Young give the comic version of Road to Oz some real charm. And that, in the end, makes it worth it.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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