If you never read more than the first couple of Oz books as child, then like me, events in “Emerald City of Oz” #1 might be a bit of a surprise. I had no idea, for instance, that Dorothy, Aunt Em, Uncle Henry and Toto eventually all moved from Kansas to Oz. I certainly had no idea that the evil Nome King from “Ozma of Oz” ended up in a return appearance to prepare to invade the land of Oz. But as Eric Shanower and Skottie Young adapt L. Frank Baum’s sixth Oz book into a comic, it’s great to know that this is just the start of the story and there’s still got lots of plot ahead.
What’s nice about “Emerald City of Oz” is that it feels like a mixture of old and new wrapped up into a single package. Baum ditches the familiar “Dorothy finds herself in Oz once more” story structure, moving her and her family permanently into the Emerald City. It’s a surprising change but one that feels quite natural. If given the opportunity, wouldn’t you rather live in the fabulous land of Oz instead of (as depicted in Baum’s books) a dreary part of Kansas? At the same time, though, the villainous Nome King shows up trying to get revenge on Ozma, Dorothy and Oz in general. It makes sense; he wasn’t truly defeated in “Ozma of Oz,” and he was such a great character that I can see the temptation to bring him back.
Shanower’s adaptation of “Emerald City of Oz” feels well-paced. I like that he isn’t afraid to have “Emerald City of Oz” #1 kick off with an extended Nome King sequence, rather than shift things around to start with Dorothy and company. He and Young know just how much page space to allow to everything; that opening page with the Nome King’s face taking up the top half is hysterically funny, and things just roll forward in a smooth manner from that point on. The different nomes look great, with their oversized helmets and buck teeth. At the same time, the extremely hairy Guph manages to look distinctive and different from the rest of the crowd, enough that he’s ridiculous and interesting all at once. Watching him lounge on the Nome King’s throne is a great moment, and a reminder of what a good artist Young is. The best is when Em and Henry enter Oz, though. The splash of energy around them as they’re suddenly teleported in is a perfect frame for the startled and near-terrified looks on their faces, and as we then zoom in for a closer look, the disbelief gets all the better. These Oz adaptations are lucky to have such a strong creative team.
“Emerald City of Oz” #1 is a fun start to this latest conversion from novel to comic, and here’s the thing that I feel some people might otherwise be missing: these aren’t just for kids. Baum, Shanower and Young keep this a truly all-ages story, one that I’d appreciate at 10, 40 or even 70 years old. With gorgeous art from Young and colorist Jean-Francois Beaulieu (just check out those pastel shades in the Whimsies’ city, for instance), the series has some truly sharp visuals. Tell everyone it’s for a young kind you know, if you must, but buy it for yourself. You won’t regret it.