I have become very interested in the concept of traditional Disney fairy tale characters stumbling into our non-magical world. Because of this, I really enjoy Once Upon a Time and the comic book series Fables. They are both have very different takes on traditional fairy tale characters. For example Cinderella in Once Upon a Time is a young girl who continued to work in service positions in our world while the Cinderella of Fables is a female James Bond. I really enjoy seeing how authors redraw the lines around these characters that we think we know while staying true to their basic nature.
Recently a friend recommended that I check out The Oz/Wonderland Chronicles by Ben Avery and Casey Heying. My friend knew I enjoyed Fables, had heard good reviews of the series, and I am friendly with author Ben Avery (ironically it was not Avery who told me about this series and when I asked him if I would enjoy it before I ordered it, of course he hedged his bets). One of the hooks that led me to pick it up was the fact the main characters have been underutilized in Fables and Once Upon a Time, Alice and Dorothy. Dorothy you say? Yes between Oz The Great and Powerful and Return to Oz, we need to see Dorothy as Disney canon.
The Oz/Wonderland Chronicles Book One collects issues 0 through 4 of The Oz/Wonderland Chronicles. In this adventure we meet a Dorothy and Alice that are all grown up, going to college and sharing an apartment in Chicago with three other roommates. Dorothy has moved off the Kansas farm following the death of Uncle Henry and Alice has moved from the United Kingdom and her strict family. Their world is turned upside down when a destroyed Jack-O-Lantern shows up on their doorstep. The Jack-O-Lantern is actually Jack Pumpkinhead from Oz, coming to warn Dorothy of a new witch which has taken power in Oz, stolen all magical items she can gather, and has arrested or sent on the run all of Dorothy’s former friends (who Dorothy does not remember). Alice is pulled into this adventure as they discover in Oz that the witch’s plan involves transporting the Jabberwocky from Wonderland through our world and into Oz. The fates of all three worlds is in the hands of Dorothy, Alice and their newly remembered old friends.
I do not want to keep making comparisons to Fables, but it is impossible not to for me. I would say compared to Fables this story line is not as action packed, though a fight in downtown Chicago between armies from Wonderland and Oz against the Jabberwocky is action movie material. There is a lot of dialogue as the girls go through a journey of self-discovery and remembering. It is a very cerebral book as one puts together the pieces of who these characters are. As smart as Fables is, The Oz/Wonderland Chronicles relies more on drama and not action to move the story forward. A big difference is the Between Kids are not allowed to read Fables. There are plenty of adult situations, blood and sexuality in that universe. I would be more comfortable with the Between Tween picking this up, no naked werewolves here! And the Between Tween picked it up, flipped through the art, pointed out images that were enjoyable and then handed it back to me without reading the entire volume. Honestly, I think that despite this being a safer version of fairy tales in our world, it is meant for an adult audience who has worked though self discovery themes a few times. If I was to continue making comparisons with Fables the characters also do not overlap greatly, with neither Dorothy nor Alice major characters in that series.
I really enjoy how the authors use characters that are part of these original stories but that we have not generally seen in other media. For me a highlight was Jack Pumpkinhead who was a new character for me, yes I know he is in Return to Oz. I really enjoyed his confrontation with the gnome king in our world. Additionally, I liked the addition of Hungry Tiger and his constant requests to eat. I enjoyed the Wizard of Oz, who has returned to our world to become a college professor. However, he comes off as an action hero to me, complete with guns a blazing. The Wizard is more solider than con man in this version. I also like how they introduce us to content about the characters we think we know well, like why is the Scarecrow not just smart, but sharp!
The only real criticism from me is some art. For example it was difficult for me to distinguish between the three roommates. They just did not stand out to me. And I would have liked them to be more individualized since the character biographies in the volume make it clear that Alice and Dorothy are not the only ones with childhood adventures! Also there is one sequence where Alice’s image to me morphs into a version of the roommates/adult Dorothy. Her hair even darkens. I would assume the artist has a reason for this change, but I am not really a visual detail guy so it just caused me some minor confusion. Maybe this is the reason I like superheroes, costumes! In a room full of blonds, I always know the guy in orange is Aquaman!
In the final summary, if you like Once Upon a Time and/or comic books I would suggest exploring The Oz/Wonderland Chronicles. The story has familiar Disney characters while also introducing you to the bigger worlds of Carroll and Baum in an interesting way. But with adult themes, you may want to direct the kids to other kid friendlier titles (though this is more kid ready than Fables). Personally, I plan to check out some additional volumes of this universe as I see the potential of this first story in building on itself into new directions.
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