Cannonball Read V: The Legend of Oz : The Wicked West Vol. 1-2 by Tom Hutchison, Alisson Borges and Kate Finnegan
Target: Tom Hutchison’s The Legend of Oz: The Wicked West Volumes 1 and 2. Art by Alisson Borges and Kate Finnegan. Collecting the original miniseries and Issues #1-5
Profile: Comics, Fantasy, Western, Oz
After Action Report:
The Legend of Oz: The Wicked West is a truly stunning graphic novel. Pitched as a reimagining of the L. Frank Baum masterpiece in a ‘Wild West’ setting, The Wicked West manages the difficult task of remaining true to its roots while exploring new territory. But what stands out is the strength of the characters. Both fresh and familiar, these new iterations of the much beloved Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion are the driving force behind a story that is incredibly dynamic and compelling.
The Legend of Oz : The Wicked West Vol. 1 - Over the Rainbow opens with Dorothy, who goes by her last name in this adaptation, making her way towards the Emerald City. It has been three years since a twister pulled her and her horse, Toto, from their Kansas home and dropped them on the Wicked Witch of the East. The Munchkins gave Gale the witch’s ruby spurs and gem-encrusted pistols as a reward and she’s been on the yellow-brick road ever since. But the road has been pulled up by bandits and Gale has been lost for years. Being lost has kept her off the radar for a while, but when she stumbles into a saloon filled with flying monkeys, the hunt is on again.
Gale doesn’t meet any of her traditional traveling companions until after the start of the first issue, which does odd things to the pacing of the story, (what was she doing for the missing three years and why does everything happen in the few days after the start of the book?) but does help to make things feel motivated by Dorothy’s actions, as opposed to the movie which casts Dorothy in the role of a passive heroine who things happen to. Her fight with the flying monkeys sets off the chain of events from the original book and the movie, starting with meeting the Tin Man.
The Tin Man is, predictably, a lawman, who seems to have lost his passion for the trade. The Scarecrow is a mysterious and silent woman with a distinctly Native American design. She’s still made of straw, but she seems to be more of an avatar of nature than a human construct. The Lion is probably most unusual of the new cast. He is a literal lion (no talking) with a tiara and heavy face makeup. The reasons behind this aren’t entirely clear, but it’s implied that he is the equivalent of a lion cross-dresser. These new imaginings contrast nicely with Gale’s image as a tough young female gunslinger, more serious but comfortable at the same time.
As wonderful as these new companions are, and I really do love the concept of the Scarecrow, the best aspect of this new story is Dorothy’s independence. Stranded far from home, she has become a strong, determined protagonist who can overcome the obstacles of Oz. It is telling that she confronts the Wicked Witch of the West alone, and on her own terms in the conclusion of the first volume. And her role in the subsequent series is pretty spectacular.
The first volume collects a miniseries that covers the events of the movie, or the first book of Baum’s extensive series. The second volume moves on to adapt the story of The Marvelous Land of Oz and expand on the setting created by the miniseries. Readers who are familiar with the Oz canon will recognize General Jinjur, Mombi and Tip from that book. Hutchison did a fantastic job of linking the very recognizable events of the first book with those of the second, and many of the strange or new elements of the first volume are actually foreshadowed events of the second. While Gale fades to the background for much of The Wicked West: South, the new story is incredibly interesting to anyone who hasn’t read Marvelous Land.
The top-notch storytelling is supported by some spectacular artwork. The westernized Oz is incredibly vibrant, as befits the setting, but also feels gritty and real. Borges’ characters are wonderfully detailed, from the Wicked Witch of the West’s broomstick/rifle, to the southern belle version of Glinda. The scenery is equally stunning and special note should be made of Katy Finnegan’s coloring which really brings the Land of Oz to life in a way that can only really be matched by Technicolor.
The one artistic quibble I have doesn’t have anything to do with the actual comic, but rather with some of the bonus materials included in the collected editions. The back of both books have a number of the original issue covers, and some of the special edition convention covers. A disappointing number of these cover images really do a disservice to Gale’s character, depicting her in revealing costumes including unrealistic corsets, half-dresses and in one egregious instance, a bikini with an ammo belt.
I do understand that sex appeal is a key marketing tactic, to the comic convention crowd in particular, but these images degrade the legitimately inspiring message of a Dorothy who can shoot with the best of them and isn’t afraid to take on the Witches one on one. Her normal design is much more appropriate; stylish, but emphasizing her muscles rather than her breasts. I’m sure more than few copies of these books were sold on the strength of these overly-sexualized images, but they really do detract from the reality of this Dorothy Gale and should be scrubbed from any sort of mass-market version.
I love The Wicked West. That’s one of the reasons the alternate covers are so disappointing. But the story and the core art is wonderful. It is a version of Oz perfectly suited for a modern audience, and it feels truer to the original than the disappointing ‘Tin Man’ miniseries, which treads some of the same ground. And perhaps most importantly, The Wicked West is interesting. I sometimes think that people can be their most creative when there are restrictions on that creativity. Hutchison proves that, at least in this case, even an old story told time and time again can be exciting if you just look at it in a new way.
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