What’s with all these Wizard of Oz adaptations these days? I can’t have been the only one who was taken for surprise when ads for an animated feature began popping up this year. Didn’t a Disney movie just come out that took visual cues from the 1939 classic? Oz seems to be experiencing a Renaissance lately… though, really, it’s never gone out of style. It’s the American fairy tale, full of characters unique to the heart and soul of U.S. culture. Dorothy Gale even hails from Kansas, located smack dab in the middle of the country. Its main exports include wheat and heroes.
One of the latest attempts to reexamine the story is The Black Brick Road of O.Z. by Daria (who hails from Russia, pretty much the opposite side of the world as Dorothy’s Kansas). I know what you’re thinking: “The Black Brick Road of O.Z.? Sounds like yet another emo retelling of the Wizard of Oz story. How original. Do you collect those Todd McFarlane action figures too?”
Thus, it was to my surprise when it turned out this webcomic isn’t significantly darker than the books themselves. Sure, there are moments like the Tin Man getting his body destroyed and having his heart placed in a jar. And yet, while those scenes are somewhat dark, they are played rather whimsically. The inescapable candy-colored palette does a lot to brighten the mood as well. It looks like something straight out of My Little Pony, which kind of contradicts the artistic decision to to make the titular road black. The traditional Yellow Brick Road would’ve have complemented the scenery perfectly. (Yellow, pink and purple? Totes adorbs!) The various comic versions of The Wizard of Oz have certainly gone far darker than this.
It’s continuing evidence on what a huge influence Homestuck has become among emerging webcomic creators. The cracked sensibilities of Andrew Hussie are reflected here, where gothic moodiness and bubblegum cuteness seems to hang in the balance. There are times when that aesthetic is woefully inappropriate. For a child’s fairy tale, though? It’s an excellent fit. Sure, this Dorothy’s Kansas is less a windblown Dust Bowl and more a Strawberry Shortcake village. It’s little wonder that, outside of a slight concussion, Dorothy (who thinks her name’s Dolly) has little trouble adjusting to the slightly stranger world of Oz.
Where I don’t think The Black Brick Road of O.Z. quite succeeds in replicating Homestuck elements is when Daria attempts to incorporate interactive storytelling. One happens early on in the comic, when Dorothy finds herself in the crashed remains of her house. It’s displayed in an isometric view reminiscent of adventure games. It also resembles how Homestuck dropped its characters straight into a Sierra-style adventure game. You can click onto several hotlinks around the room to see visual representations of Dorothy’s backstory.
I suppose doesn’t ever need to go into much detail. The Black Brick Road of O.Z. is a somewhat-faithful retelling of The Wizard of Oz, something that every kid should know by heart already — thanks to either L. Frank Baum’s novels or the movie in constant rotation on one of the Turner channels. It should be a surprise to absolutely no one that Dorothy was, say, raised by an elderly couple. (What is a surprise: Uncle Henry and Auntie Em were totally into steampunk.)
The sudden appearance of a video-game sequence, however, feels tonally out of place with the rest of the webcomic. Homestuck can get away with this because, from the beginning, the entire comic was steeped in video game symbolism and language. Most of The Black Brick Road of O.Z., though, plays out like a standard comic. Sure, there are elements of absurdity, such as when the witches each have their own televised segment with an unseen interviewer. But switching up the format to where, suddenly, you have to click around the screen? It’s jarring, and not in a good way.