May 14, 2012

[REVIEW] The Oz/Wonderland Chronicles: Book 2

 RATING: 10/10 CHET BAKERS


I pointed out in my review of the first book that it is abundantly clear that the creators of the series, writer Ben Avery (The Book of God, George R.R. Martin’s The Hedge Knight) and and artist Casey Heying have a real true love of the source materials.   That it is impossible to have created something as wonderfully complex as this without that love.  Without that innate understanding of the characters.

And that is also abundantly clear with this extension of the series.  Book 2, comprised of "The Jack and Cat Tales" series follows a thought that writer Avery had, as he discloses in the "Previously on" section, whereas he wondered what would have happened had Tumnus come out of the Wardrobe.  What if Tumnus had come OUT of Narnia and INTO our world?  What sort of adventures/misadventures would he find himself getting into?

In this case, it's Jack Pumpkinhead and The Cheshire Cat who have teamed up with a friend of Dorothy (not to be confused with The Friends of Dorothy), Mae Mannering to explore the world.  To, as Mae puts it, "go where the road takes us".

In the meantime, in the aftermath of what is being referred to as "J-DAY", the climactic events of the first book where the Jabberwocky rampaged across Chicago, there are hearings going on demanding explanations, and bounty hunters on the loose for Oz and Wonderland citizens residing in our world.

See, when the Jabberwocky wreaked havoc, it opened up portals which allowed them to travel here to see what our world was all about.  When the Jabberwocky was defeated, the portals were sealed up, however many of the characters were still here.

And these hunters have been tasked to bring them back across the line to their respective worlds. However as with most things with this series, things are not as they seem, and there are many people with ulterior motives that are not perhaps alligned with everyone.

Jack Pumpkinhead's desire to come here to Earth was born out of an interesting thought.  All the humans that end up traveling to OZ  such as The Wizard and Dorothy, they all felt the need to eventually go home to the Earth world.  And while Oz was a "wonderland", Earth was a "land of wonders".

He felt like he needed to know what was so wonderful that it kept pulling the humans back away from such a magical place like Oz.  And so the book opens, ten months later after the events of Book 1 with some of the inhabitants of Oz and Wonderland stuck in our world unable to get back, and many not wanting to go back, and seemingly being hunted down, with Jack Pumpkinhead and Cheshire Cat roaming the city of Chicago, Illinois.

There are portals all over the country, but not all the characters are friendly like Jack and Cheshire.  Some have bad intentions, as is the case when some mermaids attack some girls in a park at a fountain.

As with the first book there are numerous characters from OZ that were not in the classic film "The Wizard of Oz", such as a favorite of mine, "The Patchwork Girl", who distraught at Jack's decision to leave Oz for our world, finds a portal and comes after him, not understanding the danger that was facing those who crossed over, and the danger that awaited her dear Jack.

Patchwork Girl had an Oz book all of her own, titled "The Patchwork Girl of Oz", and is truly amazing.  And when when I saw her taking part as a sidewalk artist in Venice Beach, it brought a smile to my face. If ever there was someone who was perfectly suited to performance art in Venice Beach it would be Patchwork Girl, who without bones in her body, is able to contort and twist her body into impossible positions, eliciting oohs and ahhs from the crowd, and gaining a lot of money via tips.

The storytelling is done in a non-linear fashion and jumps from from present day to events that preceeded "J-DAY" that clue you in on certain character's motivations, and even back to events happening DURING the rampage of the Jabberwock.

Another thing thing that I really liked was how each book was drawn in a different art style, and so the same character will be drawn differently in each section bringing a whole new sort of feel to it.  It's similar to what the Wachowski's did in their Animatrix series where they had 9 stories with 9 different animators, each bringing their own unique style and visual flairs to the project.  So some of them looked beautifully digital, others looked hand drawn, and so on.

I think this adds to the overall attraction of this series and points out, as if it needed to be, that it is a truly unique and wonderful series.

Like the previous book, this one is full of twists and turns and some genuinely shocking moments. Certain characters' fates are not what you would expect, and much like the first book there's a major character twist in the final pages that I didn't see coming, and left me muttering, "wait...what? oh wow."

Also it was interesting to see how they explained away the gigantic Jabberwocky running roughshod over Chicago after it was all over.  With the modern day press, it was easy to come away from the first book thinking "how are they going to explain THIS away? It'll probably be a massive government cover-up or something", as that's typically how these things are done.  However as with many things with this book, not everything is as you might expect.

While the cynical political junkie side of me thought "I'm sure Pat Robertson will find a way to blame it on Gay Marriage", it was shockingly enough not that at all.  And while the explanation in a way could be predictable, it's not exactly what you will probably expect.  At least it wasn't what I expected.

Avery teased in the introduction that there will be more stories, which is a welcome thought for me.  I absolutely adore this series and everything about it. I am not sure of the time frame for a new book, as this one is just now being released on May 22nd, but whenever the new stories come, wherever they takes us, whatever the adventures, I will be there.  And if you are a fan of excellent writing and art with a literary bent, then you'll be there as well.

In closing, I am forced to give this another perfect score.  I don't give perfect scores out often, but there's just nothing to be found wrong with this.  The storytelling and writing is just amazing, the artwork  is fantastic, especially a few pieces in the back from Matt Martin who's cover for Jack & Cat Issue 3 just blew me away,  and it had genuine surprises and thrills throughout.   There's nothing else you can really expect.

And clocking in at 184 pages this thing is packed to the gills with story, with bonus stuff at the end of the book such as character sketches, unused storyboards and alternative artwork.   Very cool all around.

The Oz/Wonderland Chronicles will be released on May 22nd 2012, and you can buy them from the official website which is linked at the bottom of the list of links underneath this.  Or by clicking HERE.


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