It’s all too common for modern readers to look into the works of the past and see things that may or may not have been intended in the fullness of time. What we may see as a delicate, subtly woven metaphor to rail against some then-incumbent wrongdoing the author may have added as nothing more than a narrative flourish. How much exactly did L. Frank Baum intend to comment on women’s suffrage, transgender issues, and the monstrosity of the pun? I can’t safely say, given how little I’ve looked into the man and his life and how much it seems as though the original intent behind The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was to tell a delightful American-grown fairy tale and little else. Nonetheless, it’s awfully difficult to read the first sequel to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and not take away from it certain insights or opinions on gender politics. Reading Marvel’s second graphic novel adaptation, I can only use the first adaptation as a guideline for assuming that the text and story of this book are as close in tone to the source material as the first was, as it has been a very, very long time since I’ve read The Marvelous Wizard of Oz. I remember how much I liked Jack Pumpkinhead, which remains as true here as it does in my memory (not to mention Return to Oz), and his unflappable optimism brushing up against his existential ennui and terror of rotting (or perhaps that didn’t stick out quite so keenly in my younger mind), and I remember for reasons unfathomable that the Scarecrow stuffed himself with money rather than straw, and yet those were the only details that stuck out to me when I began to read this adaptation.
Which is partially why I was a bit blindsided by the all-female army that marches on and overthrows the Emerald City in their pursuit to escape their handmaiden lives, quite honestly. It’s hard to say that Land of Oz’s portrayal of gender imbalance is especially nuanced, even for a children’s book from the turn of the last century. General Jinjur and her girl’s army of revolt are after an escape from hardship every bit as much as they are after pretty jewels to plunder from the Emerald City and use great sewing needles in place of swords, relying on the expectation that the masculine defenders of the city could never hit a girl. Later at the City’s inevitable liberation (thanks to some mousey cliches), some women are thankful since they’ll no longer need to endure their husband’s cooking now that turnabout has come about. Play the rimshot and pull the curtain aside. But for all the hoary tropes and old-fashioned yuks that make up the revolting conquest of the Emerald City, there’s yet something sly about the entire exercise that makes it all a fairly clear parody of the suffrage movement, gently tweaking rather than outright mocking. Jinjur’s takeover is mostly a catalyst to send the Scarecrow (now the deposed king of the Emerald City) onto a journey with protagonist Tip and his own living-object companions of Jack Pumpkinhead and the Sawhorse to go and find the Tin Woodsman, overthrow another wicked witch (or at least mean sorceress, to not overstate the matter), and eventually restore the rightful ruler of Oz to the throne. Jinjur’s takeover is also an excuse for an excellent comic cover.
The beats in the story of The Marvelous Land of Oz are fairly similar to the ones in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz while never quite crossing into the realm of the carbon copy. Like Dorothy before him, Tip travels the length and breadth of Oz with two animated objects and a remarkable resident of Oz’s wildlife (in this case my personal favorite, the highly magnified and thoroughly educated Woggle Bug, who suffers no end of abuses at the tip of Tip’s tongue for his quite correct opinions on punning) to oversee the end of a witch with the help of Glinda the Good and the queen of the field mice somewhere along the way. We catch up with the old friends in the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodsman, though Dorothy is safely back in Kansas and the Lion nowhere to be found. We fly on a miraculous lump of couches steered by a severed head, as is par for the course in Oz, and then (spoilers for a hundred year old book) the whole thing ends with a remarkable statement that I think a lot more people could take to heart.
“I hope none of you will care less for me than you did before. I’m just the same Tip, you know — only — only –” “Only you’re different!” And everyone thought that was the wisest speech he’d ever made.
It turns out that the missing princess of Oz, Ozma, was Tip all along. The witch Mombi disguised the princess as a boy when she was just a baby, and raised her as such from that time on. In Ozma’s reappearance (or, if you like, coming out), there’s only acceptance that though she might be different, she’s still the same. It’s a simple and quick message in a childen’s book that some people still haven’t managed to get a century and change onward.
As I already waxed poetic about Skottie Young’s artwork in my review of Marvel’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, I’ll simply say that there’s more of the same at play here, and that that’s a wonderful thing. I still love both his artistry of Oz itself and the character designs he brings to life, somehow conveying the Sawhorse’s ill-temper and sarcasm with his cold, knotty eyes and keeping Jack perpetually joyous. General Jinjur is a particular favorite, having all the smirk and petulance of a young Dolores Umbridge as she stomps about Oz and the Emerald City in her pursuit of a revolting monarchy. Jean-Francois Beauleau’s colors pull everything together once again, shading the Emerald City in a wash of greens and shading out the dark whispers from Baum’s upbeat tale whenever they’re required. A beautiful as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was, The Marvelous Land of Oz continues that tradition while never exceeding it in any particular way. It’s the work of a more confident team, doing exactly what they were supposed to do, and it brings the story to life in a way that I wholeheartedly recommend. A wholehearted recommendation is exactly what I offer, in fact. I think The Marvelous Land of Oz is a fine follow-up to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, neither upsetting the status quo by changing things dramatically nor wholly resting on its laurels as a tale, and whether you read it as a novel or with Skottie Young and company’s pretty, pretty pictures, it’s an enjoyable fairy tale with something for people of all ages to come away with. Even if some things may be digging a little more deeply than intended.