Thursday, August 25, 2011

Shanowerthon: The Blue Witch of Oz

After the excellent The Forgotten Forest of Oz, Shanower decided to take a break from the Oz graphic novels. Any writer who works on one thing for awhile often wants to get away from it. (Like Baum and Thompson...) But finally, he decided to come back and do a fifth, which would, like Forgotten Forest, mix some mature themes with classic Oz. Also, Shanower decided this would be the final graphic novel. He wanted to get away from Oz.

However, before First Comics could publish it, they ceased operations, but luckily, Dark Horse decided to pick up The Blue Witch of Oz, and published it in late 1992.

The story finds Dorothy and the Scarecrow visiting Glinda. Dorothy is wondering why, if there were Wicked Witches of the East, West, North (Mombi), South (Enchanted Apples), and Good Witches of the North, South, and West (Gloma from The Wishing Horse of Oz), why isn't there a Good Witch of the East? Glinda seems to recall something, and researches the Great Book of Records, where she discovers the unfortunate tale of Abatha, which she relates to Dorothy and the Scarecrow.

Abatha was a Munchkin girl who married an astronomer named Dash, and they had a son named Star. Dash had researched how to travel to the nearest star, and did so, promising to return in ten days, but when he did not, Abatha began to study his magic and became a Good Witch, hoping to one day either find or follow her husband. However, one day, Star was magically kidnapped by magic stronger than her own. She left to find her son, and was eventually advised to talk to Flinder, a magician who lived in the Great Gray Gillikin Swamp with his son Javen. Flinder was Dash's brother, so Abatha went to see him, but while she was there, she was sure she'd found Star when an enchantment was placed on them.

Well, we know what Dorothy does when she hears a story like this, time for an adventure! She and the Scarecrow head to the Great Gray Gillikin Swamp, where their way to Flinder's castle is impeded by moving islands, flamingo-like birds that look like bushes, and alligator logs. In the swamp, they meet the Glass Cat, who leads them to a ruined castle that restores each night. Inside, they find Abatha confronting Flinder, but they seem completely oblivious to Dorothy and her two companions. The two magicians are interrupted by Javen, who Abatha thinks is Star, especially when she sees a star-shaped scar on his face. Suspicious of Flinder, Abatha prepares to cast a spell on him, while Flinder tells her stop, casting a spell himself. Suddenly, the three people freeze and the castle turns into ruins again.

The next morning Dorothy and the Scarecrow discover that the same thing happens every night from a bush-bird. Dorothy finally realizes that Flinder and Abatha's spells combined, making them repeat that night over and over, and then stopping. The Scarecrow suggests that maybe they could turn the magicians away from each other, since they're oblivious to any observers. That night, they find they cannot budge them, but the Glass Cat jumps in between the spells at the right time, making them deflect from each other, breaking the enchantment.

Surprised at their present state, Abatha and Flinder continue their argument, until Dorothy tells them to stop and mentions Glinda. Flinder grabs Javen and runs, creating a magic vine to escape over the alligator logs with, but trying to battle Abatha, Javen falls into the water. Abatha rescues him with a magic thread, and Flinder returns, confessing tearfully that Javen is, in fact, Star.

Flinder reveals that he and Javen were going to go to the nearest star the same night Dash left, but something went wrong and only Javen was taken. However, despite this revelation, Star still sees Flinder as his father. Flinder rejects him, but Dorothy convinces them to go with her to the Emerald City where Ozma can settle the matter.

Ozma assures Flinder and Abatha that she will do all she can to find Javen and Dash, and will allow Abatha to practice magic as a Good Witch. Flinder will become the royal wainwright for the Red Wagon. As for Star, she leaves the decision of who he will go with to him. Star chooses Flinder, because he has been a father to him for many years. However, he says he will visit Abatha sometimes, and recognizes her as his mother.

Once again, the story had a revised ending. Originally (and yes, this can be seen in the hardcover edition of Adventures in Oz, you should have bought a copy when it was still in print!) Star decides to go with Abatha, but really, this feels a bit too much like a standard happy ending. And as the ending Shanower went with shows, it doesn't make sense considering that Flinder raised Star as his own son. The final version's ending isn't the entirely happy one we're used to in Oz, but it does make sense character-wise, and brings up the question of child custody. Perhaps the ending isn't entirely Ozzy, but it definitely is good.

The story leaves a big loose end with the unknown fates of Javen and Dash. Glinda says she can find no record of them, suggesting they may still be traveling, which makes some sense considering what we know about space travel. I once had the idea that maybe the two would meet on the star they were heading to and Dash would mistake Javen for Star, but that seems a bit repetitious to me now. Maybe someday Shanower might resolve it, or maybe not. Personally, I think having it open isn't a fault, just a tantalizing mystery.

Now, while Shanower had planned to get out of Oz, it didn't happen. History has proven that if you write or illustrate Oz stories that people love, you're in it for life. (Baum, Thompson, Neill and Snow are prime examples.) It's not that Shanower didn't go on to do other things, he did, but he has still turned out a lot of Oz output since the five graphic novels, and even before and while they were running. And yes, we'll continue looking at more of his Oz stories.


James C. Wallace II said...

Being an astronomer myself, I should like to read this story. It sounds intriguing...

rocketdave said...

This story was definitely a somewhat bittersweet way in which to end the series. I'm a little sorry I didn't learn about the hardcover before it went out of print. I enjoyed these comics, though probably not quite enough to shell out some exorbitant sum for it through an Amazon seller or eBay, just to see the extra stuff. All the stories felt true to the spirit of Baum's work, but are perhaps a bit more sophisticated in the sense that they all seem to deal with deeper and more complex emotions than Baum, such as in the previous story in which the water of oblivion was sought by one character as a way to end their emotional pain rather than just it being employed as a convenient plot device or deux ex machina.

Robert Hardy said...

I got the paperback version when it came out in 1993. It was a pleasant surprise to see it on the shelves in Forbidden Planet as I'd had the impression that 'Forgotten Forest' was the last Oz graphic novel. Shanhower's art seemed to have developed since the first in the series ('Enchanted Apples') with richer qualities of light and shade to the pictures, and there were some complex themes which couldn't be easily resolved.
I'd felt sure that the mysteries left at the end surrounding the fates of two characters would be resolved in a sequel, but Ozma's wave of farewell on the back cover seems to indicate this really is the end. Ah, well, we can imagine what might have happened...