Oct 21, 2011

[REVIEW] The Oz/Wonderland Chronicles Book 1


A few years ago I discovered a comic series called "The Oz/Wonderland Chronicles" that was published by BuyMeToys.  To  be honest, I had never heard of BuyMeToys prior to finding this series, and actually I had always thought that was a fictional name used for the store in the Kevin Smith film "Mallrats".

I remember that they had made up some clever, sometimes naughty, names for stores in the mall in that film, such as a carpet outlet called "Rug Munchers".  However, it appears that it is, in fact, a real place, and it was founded by Casey Heying (the artist for Oz/Wonderland) and his wife Kelly and is based in Indiana. 

I actually ordered some of the issues from them a few years back and Kelly was extremely nice to me and we actually talked about various things as she was doing the order.  Kind of a strange thing getting good customer service, I suppose.

So the title of this series intrigued me and it made me want to know more.  Described as "an irregular series", it was published at the rate of around an issue a year.  This series covered five issues, along with some side issues, and involves Dorothy Gale (from The Wizard of Oz) and Alice (From Alice in Wonderland) as college age roommates in Chicago.  They have both grown up and moved on from their past, and they have no memories of their time in Oz and Wonderland, respectively.

Unknown to them, there is a new Wicked Witch in Oz, and she has some diabolical plans to destroy both Oz and Wonderland, along with our world as well.  They are soon recruited from a figure from Dorothy's past to return to their fantasy homes away from homes, and make a stand against overwhelming odds.

I don't want to ruin the excellent storyline here, so I will leave it at that, however there are some points that need to be mentioned, so as to explain why I love this so much.
Upon reading this trade paperback which collects the main series of Oz/Wonderland Chronicles, I was struck by a few things.   First, it was interesting to see that the creators of this series, Ben Avery and Casey Heying, are clearly TRUE fans of the Oz and Wonderland series.   

This is never more clear, than when you realize that many of the characters in the Oz/Wonderland Chronicles are secondary and background characters from the series.   In fact, for those who have not read any of the books, and have only seen the 1939 classic starring Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale, you would probably be confused as to who all these characters are.

Characters such as Jack Pumpkinhead (I suppose a sort of Scarecrow type character, which is a giant Pumkin on top of a wooden body brought to life), Princess Ozma, the Wheelers, Tik Tok and even the flying couch are all characters from other Oz books by L. Frank Baum, and were not featured in the original film.

However true fans of the series would recognize these, if not from the books, than from the 1985 (kinda/sorta) sequel put out by Disney called "Return to Oz".  Return to Oz starred Fairuza Balk, who is probably best known for her roles in American History X, as Edward Norton's racist girlfriend, or the 1990's sci-fi witch movie "The Craft".

Return to Oz was an interesting film and I remember it coming out when I was ten years old and thinking that it was kinda scary, at least for a ten year old.  The film was a lot darker than the original, and revolved around Dorothy's return to Kansas after her adventures in Oz.  All she can talk about is her friends in this fantasy land, and Aunt Em and Uncle Henry think she's losing it.  They take her to a doctor who practices a sort of "shock therapy".  Here is where it gets dark and very tense, particularly for children.   While trying to escape this evil doctor, she ends up getting back to Oz, setting up a new danger that she has to help fight.

In this movie, there are all these new characters that were not in the original, but were from three other books that Baum wrote involving Oz, and along with those characters, there are also other side or background characters from Alice in Wonderland featured in the Oz/Wonderland Chronicles as well.

I think that this is pretty stellar stuff all around.  The storyline is excellent, with many twists and turns and genuine surprises throughout, where even when you find out the ultimate revelation in the story, it's still such a surprise as, at least in my case, I hadn't even seen that coming.

Another interesting aspect to this is the subtle little nods to other classic works, particularly with Alice & Dorothy's other female roommates in Chicago.  While they didn't really go further than a quick little aside or reference, it appears at least two of her roommates are Wendy from Never Neverland, and Lucy from Narnia.

This story is so chock full with "easter eggs", if you will, for the literary nerds out there, and still is able to appeal to not only those who are very familiar with the original source material, but also those who perhaps only know these works from the Judy Garland version of Oz, and the animated Alice in Wonderland.

I do think, however, that it really works best for those who come in with prior knowledge of the secondary characters from Baum's other Oz books, as I imagine it may seem strange to read a book about a world you think you know, and suddenly there's all these other characters such as the Nome King and Tik Tok from the Royal Army of Oz that you don't recognize.

I would actually recommend that anyone looking to purchase this, to do so, but before reading it to search out the "Sequel" to Wizard of Oz called "Return to Oz", to get familiar with these characters.

You can also go to the Return to Oz fansite, which is an excellent site dedicated to all things Return to Oz related,  that will definitely get you caught up including Character info. the entire soundtrack and a ton of other interesting information about this cult classic.

As for the other aspect to the Oz/Wonderland Chronicles, the artwork by Casey Heying, I was completely blown away.   The art and illustrations in this series was top notch!  The colors used and the imagery just leaps off the page to combine with the excellent writing to make this a can't miss read.

Along with the excellent artwork in the book, there are also a series of variant covers, a staple in the world of comic books it seems, with a number of excellent artists including Alex Ross who's split image with the faces of Dorothy and The Wicked Witch (on the right) is one of my top three images from the entire book.   There is also an additional several pages after the story is wrapped up, with sketches and other extra illustrations from the series that make this a well advised purchase.

All in all, this is an excellent book that collects a fantastic - if maddeningly infrequent - series, with excellent storytelling and illustrations that elevate this above many other offerings out there.  Another aspect to this that elevates this work, is that Heying and Avery are clearly true fans of the stories and characters.  You don't create something like this, with such attention to details, and with the inclusion of the characters they did without an undeniable love for the source material.

As you read it you get the idea that this is not simply some book they decided to write to make money, this is something they both were very much in love with, and they have treated the source material respectfully as they have not only acknowledged it but expanded on the worlds that are involved here.   Often you see people expand on literary classics and you read it and get angry because your memories of these classics are sullied by the attempts at capitalizing on the popularities.

This is not the case with the Oz/Wonderland Chronicles, and I think that those who truly love the lands of Oz and Wonderland, will agree that this does the originals justice, while also laying the foundation for more stories involving Dorothy and Alice.

My lone frustration with this resides with the fact that once I finished it and set it on the shelf I, for hte first time, noticed the "Book 1" on the spine.  That's when it hit me that this story was not done.  I was flooded with a sense of frustration and happiness.  Frustrated because seeing as how infrequent the series gets released, I will have to wait awhile for the conclusions, and happiness because after reading the sizeable release of Book 1, I was not wanting it to be over with.

Now I just need patience, something that was never given to me by the Wizard.




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