Writer: David Pepose
Illustrator: Ruben Rojas
Colorist: Whitney Cogar
Letterer: DC Hopkins
WHAT IS IT?
Buoyed by a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign last year (almost 800% funded,) The O.Z. is a dark(er) take on The Wizard of Oz that takes a stark look at warzone politics, deflated dreams and the generational trauma of endless, extended war. There’s a brutal struggle going on in the shining land of Oz, and Dorothy Gale’s too old to deal with it.
Good thing her granddaughter, a veteran of the ceaseless War on Terror struggling with her own demons, comes home to Kansas in time to be whisked off to another combat zone.
Think Zero Dark Thirty or The Hurt Locker meets, well. L. Frank Baum. Want to learn more about the book, or the creative team and process behind it? Read the interview we did with David Pepose last year.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
A re-imagined trip to Oz in which the original Dorothy’s defeat of the Wicked Witch and the Man Behind the Curtain leaves a power vacuum after she returns home to Kansas.
The Scarecrow thinks he’s the man to fill it. Chaos ensues.
Two generations later, Dorothy’s eponymous granddaughter returns from her tour in Iraq with a healthy case of PTSD and no direction in life. Cue the tornado. Oz isn’t what it used to be by any means, but now Dorothy has to survive the Occupied Zone (O.Z.) - and become the hero she never thought she could be.
The characterization. Pepose crafts a believable and sympathetic protagonist in Dorothy, and her war trauma feels authentic enough to carry us through this first issue. Pepose has a knack for hitting the spots we need to hit in short order, and there's very little narrative fat here.
The world-building. Pepose’s strength is in the twists and takes, as we’ve seen in Spencer & Locke. Nothing here feels particularly gimmicky or groan-worthy, and there’s a subtle tinge of nightmare to Oz that needs to come through in any send-up, no matter how wry. The O.Z. goes for this deadly serious vibe but doesn’t drop the imagination along the way, and the world introduced in this first issue holds a lot of promise.
The character design. A key point in selling this comic is how unique the visual riffs can get while grounding us in something familiar. We want to see flying monkeys that are recognizable as the iconic film chimps, but Rojas throws in some Kubrick-ian flair that pings the right kind of absurd. The Tin Soldier is a great hodgepodge of shrapnel and war-zone detritus, and the Scarecrow’s a predictably spindly threat with a bit of a sinister, feminine edge.
The color palette. Cogar goes hard on moody browns, blues and yellows and pumps up a bit of grey during the tornado that’s a nice callback to the film’s muted hues. It also functions as a visual liminal space or beat before we transition to the Occupied Zone, though that palette’s appropriately war-torn as well. Cogar also picks the perfect emerald later on to sell the aesthetic.
Hopkins has a big challenge in this book in balancing Pepose’s narration and Rojas’ preference for tight layouts. Placement and font choice are difficult given how clean Rojas’ line can get - we don't want to err on the side of slick, but Hopkins does good work to keep everything readable. There’s a stylish font switch for the exposition in “Yellow Brick Roadkill,” and a few poppy sound effects when the action starts to keep us entertained and remind us we’re still reading a comic. In a good way.
Bonus: Pepose always throws in a page-turn twist that gets me, and The O.Z. doesn’t disappoint. The care the creative team invests to make sure that the plot spots are both emotionally valid and novel shows, and this one has an excellent pay-off.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK?
TW: Suicide attempt. It’s earned, but people should be aware that it’s within the first few pages. Because of that and the general subject matter, this book might not be the best for younger kids. The original film is its own brand of strange horror, however. If your older kids have a level take on violence in media, this is an option that shouldn't be discounted.
There are a few spots where less narration might do the trick. Rojas’ sequential sense is strong enough that we can get some of Dorothy’s anguish from the initial montage, for example, and we don’t always need to read it as well as see it.
Rojas goes sketchier for the flashback montage in Oz, and while the style’s a great visual break there are a few anatomical and facial details that break down. This could be down to the digital format, too.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
If you’re a fan of comic remixes of beloved stories, Pepose’s work in general is the thing for you. The O.Z. delivers his signature storytelling brand in fine style, and Rojas, Cogar and Hopkins’ aesthetic makes for a solid and immersive reading experience.
If you’re a fan of war comics that don’t feature a grizzled dude toting twin bazookas, and you’re interested in something with a bit more nuance and imagination, The O.Z. is for you.
Finally, if you’re a fan of The Wizard of Oz or L. Frank Baum’s extended universe, check this one out. There are narrative decisions here that aren’t far off from Baum’s classic kind of weird, and the comic promises more cameos and interesting surprises in the next two issues.
WHAT SHOULD I READ NEXT?
If you like the writing:
Spencer & Locke by David Pepose and Jorge Santiago, Jr.
Babyteeth by Donny Cates & Garry Brown
Dark Red by Tim Seeley & Corin Howell
If you like the art:
Ruin by Darker Sho & Ruben Rojas
Engineward by George Mann & Joe Eisma
Join the Future by Zack Kaplan & Piotr Kowalski
ABOUT THE CREATORS
David Pepose (@Peposed) – Writer
Prolific: Among other things, Pepose has two volumes of Spencer & Locke under his belt with a third planned, and is currently writing Scout’s Honor through Aftershock Comics
Multi-talented: Pepose is also a former comics journalist and L.A. vet, and has three Ringo nominations to his name
Ruben Rojas (@ruben__rojas) – Artist
Outlander: Rojas hails from Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Spain
Multi-talented: Rojas is also a talented graphic designer, and you can contact him for commissions!
Whitney Cogar (@smashpansy) – Colorist
Name Recognition: You might’ve seen Cogar’s work in the seminal Giant Days, as well as Steven Universe, Over the Garden Wall and many other titles. She also recently worked on Oh My Gods!
Cogar’s Kenny Omega profile pic on Twitter is still the best. That’s all!
DC Hopkins (@dc_hopkins) – Letterer
Prolific: Hopkins has done work for BOOM!, Disney, Dark Horse, IDW, Scout Comics and more
He’s also a staff letterer at AndWorld Design
HOW DO I BUY IT?
The image(s) used in this article are from a comic strip, webcomic or the cover or interior of a comic book. The copyright for this image(s) is likely owned by either the publisher of the comic, the writer(s) and/or artist(s) who produced the comic. It is believed that the use of this image(s) qualifies as fair use under the United States copyright law. The image is used in a limited fashion in an educational manner in order to illustrate the points of the author and not for the purpose of entertainment or substituting the original work. It is believed the use of this image has had no impact on the market value of the original work.
All The O.Z. characters and the distinctive likeness(es) thereof are trademarks of and copyright David Pepose or their respective owners. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.