Boasting over 1,200 backers on Kickstarter, David Pepose’s latest comic outing proved to be a crowdfunding juggernaut back in August. As a fan favorite writer of series such as Spencer & Locke and Going to the Chapel, this served as Pepose’s first foray into crowdfunding. With a simple tagline of “a fantasy classic reimagined for comics,” the O.Z. campaign kicked off with a bang. Following such an immensely successful Kickstarter, David Pepose’s The O.Z. #1 truly delivers a fantastic fantasy debut.
Our story follows Dorothy Gale, an Iraqi war veteran, trying to cope with a normal life after a traumatic service career; that is until she’s swept off into the fantastical war-torn world of O.Z. From the get-go, Pepose’s premise serves as an imaginative updating of the classic Wizard of Oz tale. He cleverly reverses expectations to craft a wholly original narrative, while at the same time paying homage to what makes The Wizard of Oz so timeless.
While the story derives the bulk of its setting and characters from The Wizard of Oz, it never comes across as blatant knock-off. Right from the opening pages, the narrative immediately forges its own creative and original path. Pepose deftly strikes an excellent balance between clever riffs on the classic tale and original innovation. In turn, this leads to a fresh story that is enriched by tactfully echoing its source material.
Alongside the engaging narrative, The O.Z. delivers a challenging thematic thrust. The trauma and nature of war are what really formulate the thematic heart of the story. Pepose layers these thematic threads throughout his narrative and actively allows his characters to dialogue with them. Most obviously, this occurs through the protagonist Dorothy, whose behaviors and beliefs become primarily informed through her participation in the Iraq war. Dorothy is a character who struggles with her past actions, and her time in the O.Z. forces her to come face to face with her darkest fears. Pepose provides great character development in this debut issue that immediately draws one into Dorothy’s struggles.
One would be remiss to not mention the artistic talent behind the issue. Series co-creator Ruben Rojas updates both familiar and new characters in the world that come off as fresh and visually enthralling. Whether it’s the hulking stature of the Tin Man, the inventive design of flying monkey shock troopers, or the sinister scowl of the Scarecrow, all of the designs ooze modern innovation.
Paired with Rojas’ exceptional artwork is colorist Whitney Cogar. Cogar’s coloring really adds to the visually striking nature of the artwork and helps breathe life into the world. The entire issue seems steeped in a very muted palette that suits the story and thematic needs. Dusty browns and oranges tinge the wartime scenes both in the O.Z. and in Dorothy’s flashbacks which blurs the lines between fantasy and reality. Both Cogar and Rojas’ work blend together wonderfully to create a visual treat.
Taken as a whole, The O.Z. #1 provides a well rounded series debut. Its storytelling playfully riffs on established concepts while forging its own original path. Alongside this, the artistic talent behind brings the same level of creativity and innovation. From all levels, it becomes readily apparent that Pepose and Co. have truly tapped into something special here, and that makes this series all the more promising.
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