As a boy growing up in an age of Star Wars, Dungeons & Dragons, Pokémon, and all the goodies of a late-20th century childhood, The Wizard of Oz just wasn’t an appealing film. I guess I was much more into little monsters stored in pokéballs or the rebirth of the Star Wars saga in my pre-teens than I was interested in Judy Garland and her ruby slippers. Yet, it would be hard to ignore the cultural impact of both the 1939 film and its children’s book predecessor by L. Frank Baum, who created one of the first truly American fairy tales for kids way back in 1900, and which spawned a Broadway hit musical in 1902 and 13 more books over the course of 20 years. In the U.S., Oz and its organ-deficient inhabitants are hot stuff.
The trade paperback I’m reviewing here is a magnificent, thoughtful Wild West re-envisioning of Baum’s world collecting issues #1 through #6 of Tom Hutchinson et al.’s The Legend of Oz: The Wicked West—Volume 1 published by up-and-coming comic book collaborative Big Dog Ink (Shaharazad, Critter, Penny for Your Soul, etc.) and available for just $17.99.
This collection features an introduction written by a descendant of L. Frank Baum, in which he writes that The Legend of Oz: The Wicked West is one of the six great comic books in history—he doesn’t say what the other 5 are, but I was intrigued! After reading the intro., I turned the page and quickly began to gobble up this book.
The premise: Our Dorothy goes by Gale, her last name, and is a saucy, sharp-tongued, regular ole Annie Oakley, who’s been stuck in Oz for three years. Hutchinson follows his heart with the narrative, and poses some interesting questions, like why didn’t people steal the golden bricks off the Yellow Brick Road? Well in this Oz, they did, and that’s primarily why Gale hasn’t found her way to the Emerald City yet! Along the way Gale meets with flying gorillas who can transfigure into humans, she gets into bar fights, joins up with a heartless lawman (Tin Man), a straw-stuffed magic puppet who looks like Pocahontas (Scarecrow), and a lion in drag (The Cowardly Lion). Also, Toto’s a horse.
Naturally, there’s a Wicked Witch of the West, who ‘s drawn like one of the creepiest hags I’ve ever seen inhabit the panels of a comic, and she is wont to pontificate on her evil glory, showcasing some of Hutchinson’s best writing in the book. Gale’s ruby slippers are replaced with ruby sidearms, and the two go toe-to-toe in a truly Western shootout. It’s been a while since I read a real page turner, not totally sure of where the writing was going or what shocking artistic reveal would let me further explore the new Oz, but The Legend of Oz: The Wicked West did more than deliver.
As noted, Hutchinson is a talented, at times poetic, writer, and he’s a nice man, too (I had the chance to meet him and purchase this TPB at Emerald City Comicon a few months back). And while Alisson Borges (a man) and Kate Finnegan’s artwork isn’t the most inventive, it certainly brings Oz to life, working wonders with panel layout, green shading, and inventive character design (like I said, that Witch! And the Cowardly Lion is a charmer).
Big Dog Ink probably isn’t in your comic book scope, but they should be, and if you haven’t explored this Western version of Oz yet, I would highly recommend purchasing this TPB or subscribing to the current on-going series, Volume 2. I’ve got a whole stack of Volume 2 issues at home just waiting to be read, and I already know it will be an adventure as a fun as the first.
Story: Tom Hutchinson Art: Alisson Borges and Kate Finnegan
Story: 9 Art: 7.75 Overall: 9 Recommendation: Buy