Little Adventures in Oz volume 1

By Eric Shanower (IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-60010-589-0

We all know the story of The Wizard of Oz – or at least the bare bones of it as harvested to make the admittedly stunning 1939 movie classic – but the truth is that there is a vast surplus of fantastic wonders from that legendary 1900 novel by jobbing journalist and prolific author Lyman Frank Baum that remained unfilmed.

Happily this collection of superb and faithful extrapolations by rabid fan Eric Shanower draws heavily from the prose canon, restoring almost all of those glaring tinseltown omissions and alterations whilst keeping in play all those beloved stars the wider world knows. He does so with stunning skill, wondrous wit and mesmerising charm.

As superb an illustrator as author, Shanower (whose far too occasional “straight” comics work includes Prez: Smells Like Teen President, The Elsewhere Prince and the astoundingly ambitious Age of Bronze) produced five original albums set in Baum’s magic kingdom for independent publisher First Comics’ groundbreaking line of graphic novels, all codified as Adventures in Oz.

Between 1986 and 1992 he crafted The Enchanted Apples of Oz, The Secret Island of Oz, The Ice King of Oz, The Forgotten Forest of Oz, and The Blue Witch of Oz; since then going on to release a new prose work, numerous short stories and scholarly contributions to various academic and critical volumes on Baum and his creations.

In 2007 Shanower paired with Skottie Young at Marvel Comics to adapt the original Baum books in a stellar sequence which utterly reinvigorated the immortal franchise. That inspired the repackaging of his earlier one-man show and the comic tales were eventually compiled into a set of scintillating chronicles as Little Adventures in Oz. This initial volume reproduces the first and third so-very beautiful Shanower albums, repackaged and remastered in a splendid new edition, bundled up with a glittering hoard of visual treasures and behind-the-scenes gems to delight every devotee of the canon and lover of modern fairy tales.

The extraordinary excursion to miraculous lands and climes opens with a beautiful map of the incredible kingdom and its environs, before launching into 1986’s The Enchanted Apples of Oz.

Kansas expatriate Dorothy Gale is strolling along the Yellow Brick Road with Scarecrow and wise hen Billina when a magical castle materialises. Entering the sparkling keep, they meet stately Valynn who has in the courtyard ‘The Apple Tree’ which has sustained Oz since time began. Its enchanted fruits are what underpin the realm’s magic; allowing chickens to talk, imbuing inanimate objects with life and dangerously capable of breaking any enchantment…

Such a resource has made the place a target for evil-doers so for many lonely centuries solitary sentinel Valynn has defended the castle, most notably from sinister sorcerer Bortag

Touched by the guardian’s lonely plight, Dorothy takes her to see Queen Ozma, in hope of relieving her of the onerous duty. Bortag, however, has not ended his depredations and swoops down on his flying swordfish Drox, making short work of Scarecrow and Billina who have volunteered to guard the tree in Valynn’s absence.

His sack full of stolen fruit, the sinister scrumper then rushes to the edge of Oz – just where it meets the Deadly Desert – and feeds his plunder to a hideous sleeping hag. She is the legendarily evil Wicked Witch of the South and, horrifically, at first touch of the plundered pippins ‘The Witch Awakes’

Secrets are revealed in ‘Bortag’s Unfortunate Past’ as the homely Quadling mage is spurned by the monster he has loved for countless ages. She immediately returns to the tree and begins voraciously consuming Enchanted Apples. With each bite magic diminishes and the fabulous denizens of Oz become increasingly mundane. Billina barely has time to convince the jilted wizard to fix the crisis his unrequited love has caused before she reverts to a mere clucking fowl…

With all Oz’s mystical champions helpless before the Witch, it’s up to Dorothy and grieving, repentant lovelorn Bortag to stop the Witch’s brutal depredations. Luckily, they still have one advantage: ‘The Magic Belt’

Witty, wise, thrilling and potent with the narrative power of comradeship and redemption, this stunning yarn is followed by another lavishly-limned suspenseful thriller as The Ice King of Oz opens with ‘The Proposal’

The Emerald City is abuzz with excitement as a heretofore-unknown realm sends a diplomatic delegation to Oz. After the usual exchange of fantastic gifts the ambassador Popsicle drops his bombshell. The Ice King intends to cleave to other traditional forms of alliance by marrying Princess Dorothy…

The revelation is greeted with great surprise and a gentle but firm refusal which only results in ‘Treachery’ as the icy embassage vanishes overnight, taking Ozma with them as a flash-frozen prisoner.

A hurried council-of-war results in hastily-assembled rescue party, supplemented by new companion Flicker. Originally a human Candle-Maker, he was turned into a one of his own tapers by the Wicked Witch of the West. Only recently restored to life, he remains a man made of wax with a head fiercely aflame…

Transported in a magical vehicle by Glinda the Good’s sorcery, Dorothy, Scarecrow, tin man Nick Chopper and Flicker voyage ever southward to ‘The Land of Ice’ enduring many sub-zero perils until they broach the snowy wastelands and find themselves ‘In the Ice Palace’

However, after a calamitous confrontation against the cold commander’s amassed legions, our heroes seem doomed to remain ‘In the Ice King’s Power’ until Dorothy’s common sense and Flicker’s valiant determination find a way to pierce his frozen façade…

Compellingly, hypnotically illustrated and written with beguiling grace, this is a fabulous romp for devotees and newcomers alike, and this captivating collection also includes a vast treasure-trove of extras beginning with a sublime Art Gallery of original covers, painted cover studies, character designs, early concept-art, plus the first four pages of an as-yet unfinished tale entitled ‘General Jinjur of Oz’.

Word of Warning: do not read this. It’s utterly brilliant and causes a real wrench when you realise there’s no more and no conclusion…

Also included are a lovely painting of Dorothy and the Cowardly Lion, 5 pages of pencil art layouts for The Enchanted Apples of Oz, a gallery of Shanower Christmas Cards and a watercolour vignette disclosing ‘A Concise History of the Marvelous Land of OZ’.

If you still constantly crave to visit the lost lands of childhood wonder, this superb picture parade is probably your only passport to adventure…

© 2010 Eric Shanower. All rights reserved. © 2010 Idea and Design Works, LLC.