Shanower's third Oz graphic novel, The Ice King of Oz, was a culmination of many story ideas he'd had for an Ice King story over the years. Sometimes a story has to be written a few times to work out everything, but Ice King wasn't that simple.
Shanower had conceived the story as an Oz story, but rewrote it without Oz for his high school's literary magazine. He later re-developed it as a huge Oz story, but was not able to write it out due to school. Later, he returned to the story for an assignment at the Kubert School to create a cover and first page for a children's book, now without Oz elements again. (You can see it in the Adventures in Oz hardcover edition.) When he was planning the third graphic novel, he turned to the story once again.
So, yes, it was an Oz story, then it wasn't, then it was, then it wasn't, then it was.
The Ice King of Oz was the first of Shanower's works I ever saw. My father found it at the library and showed it to me. I didn't take much interest, being interested mainly in Baum's books at the time, until he opened it and showed me it was a COMIC. I wondered if there were any more, and yes, they also had Secret Island. (Told you they had a lot of copies of that one. Not now, though. I checked.)
Ozma receives a request from the Ice King to send a delegation to ensure peace between their countries. The Ice King is a powerful magician, so Ozma decides a peaceful connection would be wise and accepts the offer. Everyone in the palace works hard to greet the visitors (a seldom seen event, but Shanower writes and draws it brilliantly, I LOVE Jellia's exasperated look), and their effors pay off when the delegation arrives.
The Ice Imps (people who appear to be made of ice) from the Ice King's domain present two gifts. The first is an ice statue of Ozma, which bears an enchantment to prevent it from melting. The second is an engagement ring... for Dorothy! Dorothy rejects the offer, as she is very young and doesn't even know the Ice King. Ozma seems to agree by suggesting it should be discussed after they have established stronger connections with the Ice King.
The next day, Dorothy, the Tin Woodman, Billina, and Glinda meet by the Sawhorse and the Red Wagon, and note Ozma's absence. Jellia arrives and says she couldn't find Ozma in the palace. The Scarecrow arrives and says he played cards with the Imps in their suite the previous night but left his hat. When he returned, the Imps had gone.
Glinda takes them to the Magic Picture, which shows Ozma asleep in a block of ice carried by Ice Imps in the Ice King's domain. Glinda calls a council for the evening while she and the Wizard plan a way to rescue Ozma. At the council, she announces that Dorothy, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Woodman are best suited for the task and will leave for the Ice King's domain in the morning.
As everyone leaves, Jellia extinguishes the candles, but one begins to moan and change shape. Jellia reveals she took it from the Wizard's workshop. The Wizard says the candle had belonged to the Wicked Witch of the West. Just then, the candle finishes its transformation into a short man made of red wax with flames for hair. He introduces himself as Flicker, the Candle-Maker, and explains that when he defied the Wicked Witch, she turned him into a candle. Apparently, because he was a candle for so long (going by the dating, it would have been at least 87 years), the transformation hasn't completely worn off, so he's still wax and flame. He decides to join Dorothy's quest.
The next day, Glinda prepares a magic unicorn-headed flying device for the party to ride to the Ice King's domain in. It's a long journey, but when they reach it, the flyer shatters against a magic barrier, leaving our friends scrambling to get back on solid ground. Later, they are warned to get away by a seal, who tells them not to go to the Ice King.
Dorothy notes that Flicker is shrinking. Just as a candle gets smaller as it burns, so is Flicker. Dorothy hopes they can find Ozma and get back to Oz so Glinda can help Flicker.
As they journey on, the weather gets worse and a blizzard whips up. The Scarecrow finds an entrance to a fissure in the ice, where they find an outcropping looking into the Ice King's throne room, filled with Ice Imps around the Ice King's throne, which he shares with an icy Ozma. The outcropping gives way, sending them down to the Ice King's throne.
Ozma rejects her old friends: she's been enchanted. The Ice King refuses to give up Ozma, and when Dorothy and her friends refuse to leave without Ozma, he orders the Imps to leave. He attempts to destroy them by dropping huge icicles on them, which the Tin Woodman can break, but they pin down the Scarecrow.
The Ice King makes it colder, which freezes the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman, and then he cracks the ice floor to reveal water, where Dorothy nearly drowns, but manages to hold onto the throne's base, remaining defiant. Flicker jumps across ice to the throne, where he flares his hair up in an attempt to melt the Ice King. It doesn't work and Flicker melts to about six inches tall.
However, Flicker's sacrifice and heat did thaw the Ice King's heart, and he realizes his wrongdoing. He re-freezes the floor, and thaws the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman and frees Ozma from his spell (and apparently removes the water from Dorothy's clothes). He decides he will attempt to be a better, kinder King, and uses his magic to return our friends to Oz.
Back in Oz, Glinda manages to prevent Flicker from shrinking further, coming at the cost of making his hair flare up anymore. Dorothy tells him that she likes him just as he is, so he makes up his mind to be content. Both Ozma and Dorothy hope that the good they did for the Ice King remains.
The Ice King of Oz is a great little Oz story. The plot is clear and easy to follow and also exciting. The Ice King's fate is appropriately Ozzy, and Flicker is a great character.
The coloring in Ice King shows a shift in what the publisher was now capable of. In the previous graphic novels, colors were largely solid areas. Now Shanower could create delicate color details that the reader could see replicated. (The Adventures in Oz collection did an even better job of this.)
This is definitely one of Shanower's best! If you don't own it, you're doing yourself a disservice.