L. Frank Baum’s Oz universe has been a mainstay of popular culture for nearly 100 years, with the whimsical world being returned to consistently in multiple media endeavors to the delight of young and old alike. Like most, my first introduction to Oz was the 1939 film starring Judy Garland, which would air as an event on television on a yearly basis. While the technical accomplishments were lost on me watching the film in the 1980s, my parents would reminisce around the fact that when Dorothy enters Oz for the first time and is treated to a technicolor world, it was also the first time they had seen moving pictures in full color.
The World of Oz was never one that captured my imagination, but it seemed to be omnipresent in literature and film as I was growing up. I only learned later that many tales were shaped in the fictional universe, with the film being only a single interpretation of Baum’s craftsmanship. That in fact, many creators have toyed about in the land of Oz, giving their own spin to the classic piece of children’s literature. The recent series of books from author Eric Shanower and artists Skottie Young and Jean-Francois Beaulieu is yet another welcome addition to already expansive realm.
The new collection from Marvel collects the Road to Oz and The Emerald City of Oz comic adaptations from the aforementioned creators. My four- and five-year-old daughters have yet to see the quintessential 1939 film, and so this was their first introduction to the world and its curious characters. It’s easy to forget that while this world was made for children, many of Baum’s creations were quite terrifying. They love The Nightmare Before Christmas, and this collection of Dorothy’s adventures sits comfortably alongside Tim Burton’s classic. On more than one occasion, they lingered on pages featuring twisted characters like Jack-Pumpkin Head and other misshapen figures.
Eric Shanower should be commended for the tight scripting present in these adaptations. Both stories are light on exposition and text, but ample characterization and plotting is packed into each minimalist page. Skottie Young, already a favorite artist of mine at Marvel, carries the brisk narrative effortlessly, giving each page an unearthly stir present in all prodigious pieces of fairytale fiction. His designs are welcoming yet foreboding, capturing the wonder and dread one would experience on the road to Oz. Each story collected also feels complete, providing a fitting conclusion to each arc while inviting the reader to consider future adventures of Dorothy and her companions.
I appreciate that Marvel published this book and brought two excellent creators on board to craft it. While my weekly pickups often revolve around the X-Men, with their deep lore and continuity to consider, books of this nature provide a welcoming access into comic books and showcase some of Marvel’s talent to a young, impressionable audience. My daughters were so taken by the book, I ended up sharing the recent issues of Strange Academy, knowing that the same energy and purpose present in that Young book would also grab their attention.
While Marvel’s Oz series of books is collected in a larger omnibus trade, this compact collection is an excellent book to give to younger readers and may hook them into the world of comics in a way superhero books may not.
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