Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Wonderful Wizard of Oz Hardcover Review



Last month, Marvel Comics release a hardcover collection of the recently completed Wonderful Wizard of Oz adaptation by Eric Shanower and Skottie Young. I was lucky enough to snag a copy at my local comic book shop and would like to share my thoughts on this beautiful collection with y’all. As a longtime fan of all things Oz, I was immediately drawn to the eye-catching artwork and the faithfulness of the adaption, though I’ve got loads of other reasons why this book is essential reading for all comic fans and is one of the strongest releases of 2009. Hit the jump to find out exactly why I’m offering up so much praise for the book!


THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ
Written by L. Frank Baum
Adapted by Eric Shanower
Art by Skottie Young and Jean-Francois Beaulieu
Letters by Jeff Eckleberry
Covers by Skottie Young

Marvel’s adaptation of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz closely follows the original children’s novel by L. Frank Baum, which isn’t terribly surprising considering that the writer of the comic is Eric Shanower, who has written and illustrated a number of Oz books and graphic novels. Shanower’s reverence for the source material is clear from the beginning and is something that should be taken into consideration by readers from the very beginning, especially if their only exposure to the Land of Oz is the classic 1939 MGM film.

The story opens with good-natured Dorothy Gale and her dog Toto being caught in a cyclone and deposited on top of the Wicked Witch of the East in the territory of the Munchkins in the land of Oz. Having freed the Munchkins from the tyranny of the witch, she gains the adoration of the Munchkins and learns from one of the Good Witches that the Wizard of Oz, located in the Emerald City at the center of Oz should be able to help her return to her home in Kansas. Along the way she meets up with the brain-seeking Scarecrow, the heartless Tin Woodsman, and the cowardly Lion, all of whom join Dorothy on her quest to meet the Wizard in hopes of gaining that which they seek as well. From there, Eric Shanower continues to follow the plot of the book closely with the group encountering the likes of vicious kalidahs and brave field mice on their way to the Emerald City.

Fans of the film that have never read the books may be a bit confused on the various plot elements that were changed for the movie but are included in here, including how things transpired in the Emerald City, the role of the flying monkeys, and how early on the Wicked Witch of the West is defeated by Dorothy. However, Shanower does a great job of establishing each of these plot points in a clear and direct manner so that no prior knowledge of the original story is necessary.



This brings up an interesting point about how well-adapted the story is for the comics. The story reads seamlessly in trade, closely resembling the ups-and-downs of the novel while following the larger arc of Dorothy’s quest to return to Kansas. What is most impressive, though, is how each section of the story (basically every single issue of the miniseries) is plotted so that some sort of trial or tribulation is developed and resolved in each issue. Shanower is incredibly efficient in his execution and balances the story well so that it has an ongoing epic feel rather than building to one major conflict and resolving itself into a drawn out denouement.

Unfortunately, while the balance of how the story flows is fantastic, the pacing of the actual scenes is a bit inconsistent. In order to develop background for the characters and to move the story along, Shanower relies a lot on narration and exposition, which doesn’t always gel well with the more dialogue-heavy scenes, giving certain parts of the book a herky-jerky feel. This is also do in part to the fact that some scenes are incredibly heavy on dialogue, while others are filled with silent panels or sparse exchanges. Again, this does lead to some stop-start-stop reading that can be frustrating at times.



Shanower’s character-writing is top notch. He clearly has a great understanding of how the characters should be presented and how they should interact with one another. There are no “out of character” moments because he follows the source material so closely. Each character’s voice is distinct and their personalities are clear, though this can also be largely attributed to the simply wonderful work by artist Skottie Young.

The biggest draw for me, even as a huge fan of the Oz mythos, was the art of Skottie Young. From the very first page, readers are drawn into the world of the book thanks to Young’s simply brilliant character designs. Each character is distinctly familiar, but uniquely presented; you’ll know they belong in this story at first glance, even if you’ve never seen them look this way before. The designs range from the whimsical children’s book brilliance of Dorothy to the downright disturbing and horrifying Wicked Witch of the West and run the full spectrum in between. Each character is energetic and expressive, which helps move the story along. Readers can find themselves easily getting lost in the art thanks to how amazingly Young brings the Land of Oz and its inhabitants to life.



While Young’s designs are clearly amazing and are worth checking out the book for alone, he still backs it up with strong storytelling throughout the book. Young keeps his layouts simple with a strong conformity to a grid-style, rarely layering panels. This keeps the storytelling clear and makes the book that much more accessible to new readers who may be drawn to the book not because it is a comic, but just because it is a fun adaptation of the original story. He keeps things fresh, though, by using a variety of layouts within the grid mentality and by mixing up his perspectives.

Credit also must be given to the great coloring by Jean-Francois Beaulieu who brings Young’s great work to life with a well-chosen color palette that perfectly matches the tone of the story and the art. Young has been getting lots and lots of praise for his work, but Beaulieu’s contribution must not be forgotten as his work is an essential component to the success of the art.

The presentation of the hardcover is precisely what the story deserves. The hardbound volume comes with an attractive dust jacket that is a bit thicker than Marvel’s standard and the paper stock is of a premium quality with a slick matte finish. The story is prefaced with an introduction by Shanower and is followed by an art “appendix” that includes a cover gallery, design sketches, and art annotations from Young. While the extras are by no means exhaustive, they do give some insight into the creative process and are a nice bonus on top of the already excellent story.



Verdict:
Must Read
. As a long time fan of the L. Frank Baum’s Oz “franchise,” I really appreciate the reverence and respect that this adaptation pays to the original source material. Eric Shanower goes to great lengths to be faithful to the original story while still remaining accessible to readers who may be discovering the Land of Oz for the first time. The highlight of the book, however, is Skottie Young’s simply amazing artwork. His designs perfectly capture the wonder and whimsy of the story with a completely unique twist that should be considered the new standard for how the characters and the world they inhabit should be presented. I’ve loved Judy Garland’s performance since I was a child, but I’ll take Young’s energetic and lively Dorothy Gale over all others any day. Whether you are a die-hard of the original literature, a fan of the 1939 film, or a newcomer to the Land of Oz, this adaption is required reading.


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7 comments:

Randallw said...

Have you seen the Deadpool issue where the Tin Punisher shoots a Munchkin?

Van said...

I totally agree, I just got this in the mail last week. I got it to read to my daughter (alright, I got it for me, but that was my excuse).

It's a gorgeous book, Skottie Young's art is outstanding, etc.

Anyone with the slightest interest, and especially anyone with a little girl, should get this immediately.

workin on it said...

I read it in singles and plan to pick up the Hardcover as well. Can't wait for the sequel!

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