Caliber Oz

Last year, while reading L. Frank Baum’s Oz novels, I occasionally searched the internet for more information about the novels, Baum, and other adaptations. I came across an interesting looking comic book series and made a mental note to come back to it. The Oz series was published by Caliber Publishing starting in 1994. Written by Stuart Kerr and Ralph Griffith, with art by Bill Bryan it ran for 21 issues. In addition to the 21-issue ongoing series, there was a one-shot book called “Freedom Fighters” and a few mini-series. I recently purchased a bundle of the Caliber Oz comics and took a look.

A sample of the covers from Caliber’s Oz series

Set some 90 years after Dorothy Gale’s famous sojourn to Oz, comic book dealer and collector Kevin Ross, his best friend Peter Stevens, and his girlfriend Mary Warren open a book they find in a box of comics purchased at a yard sale. A whirlwind comes out of the box and transports the three to Oz. However, this Oz is occupied by the Nome King and proves darker and grimmer than the Oz we know from the novels. Soon after they arrive, Peter, Kevin and Mary are set upon by a band of warrior Munchkins. Peter and Kevin are driven into the Deadly Poppy Field and the Munchkins pursue Mary. Fortunately, Peter and Kevin are rescued by their dog Max and Jack Pumkinhead comes to Mary’s rescue.

Mary goes on to join the Oz Freedom Fighters, who include the Hungry Tiger, General Jinjur, the Wogglebug, the Sawhorse and other familiar Oz denizens. Meanwhile, Kevin and Peter battle the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion who have all been ensorcelled by the witch Mombi. The interior art for Caliber’s Oz is all in black and white which suits this comic’s darker tone. It appears that characters can die in this version of Oz, though some characters are also quite old. A brief explanation is given later in the series that seems as consistent with the Oz novels as the rules Baum himself followed in his novels.

One difference between the comics and the novels is that the writers set this Oz in a separate reality from our own and often refer to Earth as a separate place. The novels seem to imply that Oz is a hidden land on Earth, though in Baum’s own comic series, he did seem to imply that Oz existed somewhere other than the Earth, so I can buy into this. Overall, I do like the idea of a story where contemporary people go to Oz and find out what’s happened and I like that they find a land that’s recognizably the one from the novels.

As with other favorite Oz adaptations, I like how this series utilizes characters from all of Baum’s novels to fill out the world. Overall, the characters seem true to Baum’s version, even if they are darker versions of the original. Despite the comic having a darker tone and featuring several battle scenes, it steers clear of graphic violence or sexual content. I was also glad to see that it remembered to throw in some humor to break the tension from time to time.

Most issues of Caliber’s Oz comics are available in digital form on Comixology or direct from Caliber Publishing.

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