Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Lastest Oz Reading

And oh, there has been a lot of it! At long last, I've cleared out all of that other inessential reading of things not having to do with Oz, and gotten back to my latest round of Oz stuff. Naturally, the comics order came i, too, so let's start with the comics:

  • Fables #138. We're taking a break from the regular storyline in this issue to see what Geppetto has been up to recently. Ooh, this does not bode well for the future! But no Oz. Next!
  • Tales from Oz #2 features the backstory of the Cowardly Lion. If I'd had any doubts before, this issue makes it very clear that Zenescope's version of Oz has absolutely nothing to do with the books. Here, the Lion is a prince among a race of Lionmen, but because he prefers reading and beauty over fighting, his father and brother label him a coward. Of course, as he grows up, everyone learns that there is more than one kind of courage. This reminded me a lot of The Lion King and some of the Klingon issues Worf had to deal with in Star Trek: The Next Generation. There were a lot of cliches in this one, but it was also well presented, with very few skinny scantily-clad women with large breasts, and may be the best Oz work Zenescope has produced so far.
  • There were two issues of The Legend of Oz: The Wicked West in this month's order. First, Issue 15 wraps up the story of the flying monkeys and the golden cap, and then Gale has her first encounter with one of her old friends since returning to Oz. The Tin Man certainly knows that there's something different about her this time, and in Issue 16, we find out what! Glinda comes to confront Gale about her recent actions, and discovers that Gale is now the Wicked Witch of the East and West. With that much power, however, comes that much corruption, and Glinda warns Gale that there could be big trouble coming. Gale also has some words with Tip, and Glinda tells Gale about some of her predecessors as the Wicked Witches (with a very surprising guest appearance).
  • Speaking of comics, one of the books I read was Fables Volume 5: The Mean Seasons. This is a collection of three short tales, spread out over seven issues of the original comic book. The first is our first look at what Cinderella really does (and ties in nicely with her two miniseries, notably the very Ozzy Fables Are Forever), one about one of the Big Bad Wolf's adventures during World War II, and the main story, which deals with the election of a new mayor and its aftermath, while Snow White and Bigby must cope with becoming parents. Bufkin makes a few appearances, as does a little blonde girl among the witches of the thirteenth floor who will later be revealed to be Ozma, but that's it for the Oz content.
  • My short story for the weekend (and very possibly the last for a few weekends) was "Lost Girls of Oz" by Theodora Goss, another selection from Oz Reimagined. Oh, this is a fun one! Intrepid San Francisco reporter Eleanor "Nell" Dale goes undercover to find out what has happened to several missing girls, and discovers a covert underground (literally!) method of taking them to Oz. Having read the Oz books as a child, she's intrigued, and goes herself, only to become part of Ozma's army to invade the United States! Sadly, we never get as far as the planned invasion of California, but I really want to see that! (Gee, this is the second consecutive story in this book where I wanted to read the sequel. I think they're doing something right!) Ozma actually has very good reasons for invading the Great Outside World, and it would be interesting to see if it could succeed. This is an epistolary story, by the way, told in a series of letters Nell writes to her sister Dottie, and it's clear to see why Nell is such a successful reporter, because she really has a way with words. Again, this is not a traditional, Baumian Oz (although Goss clearly knows the books well), but that's the whole point of this collection. It didn't stop me from enjoying this story!
  • It took some work, but I managed to get ahold of the 75th anniversary Wizard of Oz special issue of Life Magazine. Lots of nice pictures, lots of good background (much of which I already knew, but there were still a few surprises), and it even talks about Baum and the books, and previous and later adaptations (yes, even Return to Oz). I can't help thinking, however, that a good pass by an Oz expert could have made this even more invaluable, as there are a few tall tales that have been debunked, but are still presented as established facts here, notably it's initial box office and critical reaction. Still, it was a fun read, and makes for a nice addition to my collection.
  • Nelebel's Fairyalnd by L. Frank Baum. Many years ago, Michael O. Riley started the Pamami Press as a way to combine his love of L. Frank Baum and hand-made small press publishing. The very first book he put out was an edition of "Nelebel's Fairyland", a short story Baum wrote for a San Diego high school newspaper. Most of the copies were bought up by a single individual, and that was the last anybody ever heard of it! So when Riley decided to revive Pamami Press a few years ago, one title he put out was a new edition of "Nelebel's Fairyland". Other than that first edition, I've managed to get all of the other Pamami Press books, so it's nice to finally have this one to add to the set. It's a gorgeous little book, clearly put together with love and care. You can see and feel the impressions the type made into the paper, and the illustrations and colors are used very nicely. What makes this edition special is that Riley had access to Baum's original typescript, which had some small differences to the published version, and Riley took advantage of that. If all you want is the story, there are less expensive and more accessible ways to get it, but this is a beautiful little artifact.
  • And finally (for now), a flipbook reprint edition of two of Baum's rarest titles, The Army Alphabet and The Navy Alphabet. The latter was reprinted a few years ago, but this is the first time The Army Alphabet has been reprinted in over a century, and also the first time the two have been available together. There's a good reason they're so scarce: They're not that good! Each is a pretty straightforward turn-of-the-century alphabet book, with a rhyme to go with each letter. This is clearly written in the aftermath of the Spanish American War, as there are some callbacks to that conflict. Baum did manage to slip in a few sly bits of humor, however, and while he's clearly not a hawk, he's also a patriot who is proud of the work of the armed forces. The best reason to get this is, in my opinion, the illustrations of Harry Kennedy. He does a fine job with some bold, poster-like work that still has fine details. Charles J. Costello's hand lettering also deserves praise (although his lower case q's look an awful lot like g's). Publisher Marcus Mébès includes a note about the technical issues involved in putting this edition out, but I can't help thinking that a scholarly introduction, putting some of the words used into historical context, would have improved this volume. Still, it's great to have them both available again in such a nice edition.
I've already started my next book (Hint: It's another Rachel Cosgrove Payes historical romance), there are a few more in the pile (including my next reread of a book I already own), and I'll likely have a few more reactions in the coming days and weeks.

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