Warning: Minor spoilers for The O.Z. issues #1 and #2.
In The O.Z. issue #2, we re-enter a decidedly different Land of Oz, reimagined as a warzone known as the Occupied Zone. Full of militaristic twists on the themes and characters from the famous movie, this comic isn’t exactly a family friendly singalong. Instead, with an art style well suited to both the animal-based characters and the wartime setting, we get what feels like a Saturday morning cartoon for older kids who enjoy action/adventure war films.
The creator-owned and Kickstarter funded comic is basically a six-issue miniseries being put out in three installments of two chapters each, written by David Pepose with art by Ruben Rojas, colors by Whitney Cogar and lettering by DC Hopkins.
Issue #1 established how this fantasy land of talking animals, munchkins, witches and magic fell into a state of constant warfare just after the original Wizard of Oz movie ended. It followed protagonist Dorothy Gale, granddaughter of the original Dorothy and struggling Army veteran, on her journey to the O.Z. The first issue ends with her decision to join the resistance against the evil and tyrannical dictator who now rules the land of Oz.
Issue #2 picks right up with the action, following Dorothy and the Tin Soldier from one action sequence to the next. There aren’t many scenes of characters catching their breath or having down time. The action is dynamic yet clear, with a good mix of perspectives and angles. If anything, some pages are a bit too full, but Pepose and Rojas are trying to show a lot of action in a limited number of pages.
At times, especially in the second half, the fast pace of the story sadly doesn’t leave space for more logical setup. Fortunately, each set piece is cool and entertaining and that’s reason enough for it to happen. You probably won’t be complaining about plot holes in the end.
One of the comic’s greatest strengths is the fantastic character designs. I wish I could buy action figures of each character to pose on my desk. It’s only unfortunate that the flying monkey soldiers who stole many scenes in issue #1 don’t appear in this issue.
As I said before, the art style makes me think of the cartoons I liked as a child and teen in the ’90s, but in a wartime setting. The care given to background details in buildings, props and extra characters makes the world come alive.
Whitney Cogar does an equally excellent job on colors, especially in creating lighting effects and explosions. Many scenes and characters have a certain theme color, which saturates the panels but doesn’t consume them.
In the story, Pepose continues to explore themes that came up in another one of his works, Scout’s Honor. The similar military themes are obvious and there again seems to be a hint of an anti-war message. The O.Z. is very much about Dorothy’s struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder caused by the horrors she saw and also took part in as an Army soldier in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But, at the same time, every soldier in the comic is depicted as an honorable hero, fighting for the poor, weak and oppressed against a tyrannical evil. In fact, the very positive image of soldiers often outweighs the anti-war message.
There isn’t too much depth to the exploration of this theme. Sure, at one point Dorothy admits that she questions whether the resistance’s fight is good or worth it, but the conversation doesn’t get much deeper than that. For the most part, there are obvious good guys and bad guys. But, that’s just fine; I like comics with obvious good guys and bad guys.
Also similar to Scout’s Honor, the protagonist is a female in a role typically reserved for masculine power fantasies. To boot, in The O.Z., Dorothy very obviously has a darker skin tone, even though we know she is the granddaughter of the very white original Dorothy Gale. To his credit, Pepose doesn’t make this a story about Dorothy’s gender or race. She’s simply a darker-skinned woman soldier who is the protagonist of this story. Her commitment to her friends and family along with her willingness to sacrifice herself to defend the oppressed despite her struggles with PTSD, make her a character to admire.
Whether you should pick up a copy of The O.Z. #2 probably depends on how much you are willing to pay for it, because these kinds of crowdfunded comics often come with a heftier price-tag than a normal double-sized issue. Apart from that, I would definitely recommend this story and the creators are worthy of support. Let yourself get lost in this war-torn fantasy which will remind you just enough of the land of Oz you know, while taking you on an action/adventure you never would’ve expected.
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