The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
Written by L. Frank Baum
Comic script by Eric Shanower
Illustrated by Skottie Young
Colored by Jean-Francois Beaulieu
Lettered by Jeff Eckleberry
Published by Marvel
Superb. Really, it’s just superb.
I mean, that’s really no surprise. The source material’s strong; I didn’t read it until my mid-20s, so it never had a chance to impact on my life as it did on Eric Shanower’s, but L. Frank Baum’s novel is still a whimsical treat. And having Shanower handle the script? Brilliant move. He’s not only a first-rate cartoonist (his Age of Bronze is arguably the best comic being published today), but he’s also an Oz connoisseur of the highest order (check out his Adventures in Oz). He understands the material and treasures it, and he knows how to tell a story in comics.
When the book was first announced, the choice of Skottie Young as illustrator concerned me, but I see now that Young is an ideal choice to capture the light-hearted absurdity of Oz. I love being proven wrong. Young’s loose line work and bigheaded exaggeration breathe charming life into all the characters, filling each with expressiveness and cuteness rarely seen in mainstream comics.
Young’s storytelling, moving from panel to panel, is basic and clear, opening the story up for casual readers, and his use of splash pages to drive home the big moments – the first appearance of Oz’s forms, for example – makes for several powerful moments. The sketchbook section at the end of the book shows that the creators considered many models for each character, and they chose well in every case. The pussycat Lion, the straw-stuffed, slightly askew Scarecrow, the mustachioed woodsman, and the innocent youth of Dorothy Gale, each is designed to create immediate empathy and allow for maximum expressiveness.
Colorist Jean-Francois Beaulieu adds a fairy tale softness to the entire book, though in certain sequences, notably within the Emerald City where greens run amok, the coloring threatens to overwhelm Young’s line art. On other pages, the soft palette lends an ethereal quality to the Kansas prairies and forests of Oz, and the muted aesthetic adds a creeping dread to the Wicked Witch’s domain.
By hewing to Baum’s novel, readers are treated to a much more involved and detailed journey than they’ve experienced in any screen version. Each of Dorothy’s companions receive ample opportunity to exhibit the very trait they claim to lack; the Lion in particular received short shrift in the 1938 film, and his bravado after being captured by the Wicked Witch is a great moment for the character. Small touches about Ozian life and big, fun, childish ideas – such as the Emerald City being green only because everyone wears green goggles! – are retained. The result is a strong reminder just why The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is considered a classic, and proof that Shanower and Young made the correct choices in being as true to the source material as possible.
Garnering critical accolades and bestselling status, Shanower and Young’s take on L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz deserves every scrap of praise it’s received. The creators honor Baum’s work, with Young making the characters his own without going too far from W.W. Denslow’s original illustrations. Whimsical, adventurous and just a hair creepy, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz remains a true classic.