Oz in the Wild West

The Oz novels of L. Frank Baum take the kinds of ideas that appeared in the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm and give them a distinctly American spin. One of the few ways Baum could have made them more uniquely American would have been to have put Oz in the Wild West. As it turns out, comic book writer and publisher Tom Hutchison of Big Dog Ink did just that with his series The Legend of Oz: The Wicked West. I met Tom at El Paso Comic Con a few years ago and bought the first two graphic novels in the series. Since then, I’ve purchased the next two. Given my read-through of Baum’s canon, I thought it was time to revisit Hutchison’s take on Oz.

The Volume 1 graphic novel largely follows the plot of Baum’s first novel and the 1939 MGM film. As one might expect from the premise, the settings and characters are changed to match the wild west setting. Dorothy is an adult and Toto is her horse. The Tin-Man is a Marshall who could really use a heart. The Scarecrow is a Native American “puppet” who is filled with straw and can’t speak. The Cowardly Lion moves more-or-less directly into the story, although he does wear make-up and a crown. The climactic showdown between Dorothy and the Wicked Witch of the West happens back on Dorothy’s farm in Kansas. Of course, it is presented as a western showdown, but water is still involved. I’ll leave it at that to avoid too many spoilers.

Volumes 2 through 4 of the series have largely followed the plot of the second novel, The Marvelous Land of Oz. Dorothy is on the sidelines of the action and we now follow the adventures of a boy named Tip. Although her adventures are on the sidelines, Dorothy’s arc is continuing the story as it wraps up in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Jack Pumpkinhead teams up with Tip. In this version, Jack is a former palace guard from the Emerald City who wears a pumpkin bandana to cover his disfigured face. Meanwhile, General Jinjur has taken over the Emerald City. Although the overall plot is inspired by The Marvelous Land of Oz, Hutchison draws in story elements and characters from several of the later Oz novels. We meet the Patchwork Girl and the glass cat along with their creator, Dr. Pipt. The Sawhorse has also entered the story.

Reading the Oz novels, it soon becomes clear that Baum did not plot any kind of story arc for the series as a whole. Each novel is written as something of a standalone story, though new characters introduced in earlier volumes appear in later volumes. One of the things I like about Hutchison’s adaptation is that he takes this vast universe of characters and weaves them into a tighter narrative arc. Hutchison recently ran a Kickstarter to fund the next few issues of Legend of Oz and I was one of his supporters. I’m looking forward to seeing where he takes the story after the first four volumes.

If you want to check out The Legend of Oz: The Wicked West, you can pick up the graphic novels at https://bigdogink.com. Also, watch Kickstarter. I gather Hutchison will be running another Legend of Oz campaign later this year and that can be an opportunity to pick up back issues. For those seeking out single issues, the Volume 1 graphic novel covers the original six issue mini-series. Volume 2 begins the on-going series with a new issue 1. The end of volume 4 coincides with issue 15. There are also two related mini-series. One covers the origin of the Scarecrow and the other is an adventure involving Tik-Tok.