Saturday, July 15, 2006

Definitely not in Kansas

This was going to be a review post, but it was transformed by circumstance into sort-of a hybrid review / link-post.

It started when I tripped over, I think via Comics Worth Reading (although I've lost the reference), a project that's been being published for a while now called Dorothy. This is a series of graphic novels, I guess, that feature a retelling of the Wizard of Oz story. It looks like a straightforward modernization / updating, with a pretty hip-looking Dorothy, but the most unusual aspect of the project is that it is a photo-comic (the 'model' for Dorothy is promoted as a bit of star). Don't go thinking Comic Life or cheap fumetti crude, either; the gallery shows a great deal of talented rendering work on top of the source photos. I think I would like to get my hands on one of these.

Well, this project made me think about an item that is actually in The Last Shortbox: The Oz Squad, a different kind of spin-off of the Oz myth. This was an action series from the early nineties that featured a superspy Dorothy, a not-so-cowardly Lion who was also able to transform into a human, a Tin Man who was essentially Robot Man (real close to the Cliff Steele variety, in fact), and a Scarecrow who was a chain-smoking, punk-styled, nihilist detective-type. No, really:

Now, being a scholar-type, I did a lit review prior to starting the post and found that Dave across the Sound at Dave's Long Box did a write-up on this series a year ago. Check it out, then come back; I'll wait.

First of all, I have to say that I beat Dave's collection because I have the first four in issues in the series. Hah!

Now, I think Dave's review got the series down well; his line about its being an intersection between Wizard of Oz and Commando is pretty accurate. But it was neither of those things that attracted me to the series; I am not a particularly big Oz fan and I don't like excessive violence in my comics (or movies). What was (or could have been) cool was the alternate reality that writer Steve Ahlquist created.

The heroes are members of Gale Force, a division of the CIA whose charter it is to investigate incidents related to U.S. - Oz relations. Apparently, Oz has joined the community of nations to some extent; travel and trade may be infrequent, but they do exist, and someone has to respond to the social, economic, and political consequences of intercourse with a magical realm suddenly existing in the 20th century.

And Oz isn't the only magic around: when Rebecca Eastwitch (the current Wicked Witch of the East) is auctioning off stolen Tik-Tok technology, the bidders include representatives of mainland China and South Africa, as well as one of Santa's elves and a delegation from Liliput. It is this last group that provides the most charming visual of the entire series:

The idea of Lilliputian' riding service dogs, complete with "Please do not pet me" signs, is genius. Unfortunately, there's not enough of this genius to go around: the world is not nearly as well-developed as Will Shetterly's, (it's even a bit unclear if Dorothy works for the U.S. C.I.A. or an Oz C.I.A) and all too frequently the story wanders into standard nineties grim 'n' gritty mayhem.

Speaking of which, look at the cover again: doesn't that have more a goofy feel to it, from the Charlie's Angels pose struck by Dorothy, and Face from the A-Team standing next to her (that's actually the Lion, not Dirk Benedict), to Cylon-eyed Tin Man and the comically grumpy Scarecrow? I think that's the note this comic could have struck more successfully.

And perhaps it did - one of the things I found out in my research was that the series actually lasted ten issues altogether. The artist changed with number five, but apparently the stories didn't get much better. Who says this? The same site that says the Oz Squad is making a comeback!

Apparently, the original writer and a new illustrator are readying a new version of the series for the 21st century. It looks pretty cool, and the site was updated last just a few days ago, so it's not dusty. I wonder if Dave knows?

Well, that revelation was not the last surprise on the yellow brick road leading to this post. The site that had the Oz Squad news was actually an Oz comics compendium page; as such it talked about Lost Girls, Alan Moore's reportedly pornographic story about Dorothy, Wendy (from Peter Pan) and Alice (the Wonderland / Looking Glass one). Now, I hadn't paid this project much mind (since I think Moore is a great writer but a crazy man who gets enough attention from the rest of the world and doesn't need any more from me), so I was only vaguely aware of its content; when I read a summary, though, something clicked: I had seen these three women meet in another story. It's a web comic called Cheshire Crossing, and here's a grab:

The premise of the story is that the young ladies are being kept in some sort of institution that wants to make use of their unique abilities; rebellion and hijinx, of course, ensue. There are some nice touches - one of the warders at the institution is a hardcore Mary Poppins - but generally, the girls have grafted-on generic action story personalities, the writing is pedestrian, and the art hurts my eyes, so I never really read it. Somehow, I'm guessing Moore's version will be more popular.

And now we have reached the Emerald City.

Bonus note: I own a DVD copy of the Wizard of Oz, and I don't know why. My brother gave it me one birthday. It is not one of my favorite movies, nor, to my knowledge, one of his; it was never a family tradition to watch it and as far as I know it has no significance in either of our lives in any way. I have no idea why he gave it to me.


Anonymous said...

If you would like to do a review on any of the chapters, drop me a line and I'll pop 'em out to you.

Anna Warren Boersig, Chief Operating Officer
Illusive Arts Entertainment, LLC

Anonymous said...

"Next up on Troll Dwarfs with Tommy Guns, we compare Attack of the Clones to Pink Five Strikes Back."

Anonymous said...

The first four issues of Oz Squad are now available in a collected edition. Include in the package is Lil' Oz Squad and the Millenium Oz Squad Special. With annotations by the author and a new wrap around cover by that guy who is illustrating the new series.

There's also a Who's Who page showing off what the new versions of the Oz characters will look like.