Monday, April 18, 2005

OZ SQUAD #1-3 Brave New Words, 1992

I can’t decide whether I love or hate Oz Squad.

I have issues 1-3 in this indy black and white series published by Rhode Island’s own Brave New Words; I’m not sure how many issues there were in the series total. Created by Steven Ahlquist, Oz Squad is a violent action comic set in Frank L Baum’s Land of Oz.

You heard me.

Most of the characters we’re familiar with through the books or Wizard of Oz movie have been upgraded into lethal superheroes. The Lion, is a surfer shapeshifter dude who morphs into a big ass super-lion with a healing factor. The Tin Woodsman is a robotic killing machine with a buzzsaw and blasters and shit. The Scarecrow is a tactical genius who stabs people. And Dorothy Gale, the character immortalized by the bat-shit crazy Judy Garland? She's a bad-ass spy and mistress of the martial arts with a "wish belt" that allows her to teleport between Oz and The Real World (the planet, not the MTV show - although that would be funny). Together, our heroes work for an elite CIA unit called... wait for it... Gale Force.

Again, I'm torn. The inner-D&D geek inside of me likes the idea, but it seems gratuitously irreverent. Ahlquist is obviously familiar enough with Baum's Oz to riff on some of the concepts and characters, but I don't sense any respect or even affection for Baum's work. After the initial shock/novelty of seeing the Oz characters swearing and killing people wears off, one realizes that Oz Squad is all style with little substance. Wow, I say that like it's a bad thing. I am talking about a comic book, aren't I?

Here's a panel that kind of distills the essence of the series, where Dorothy confronts the Wicked Witch of the East, aka Rebecca Eastwitch:

In the first issue, Tik-Tok the clockwork man's "morality spring" runs down and he goes on a killing spree in Kansas. Gale Force is dispatched to take him down, but before they do, Tik-Tok kills a lot of people, including most of a hospital. The big showdown takes place on the roof of the hospital, where Tik-Tok is throwing babies from the maternity ward to their death. Fun!

Here's a panel where the Tin Woodsman confronts Tik-Tok. Notice the baby:

I'll bet Frank Baum would have loved the baby-throwing scene, it perfectly captures the wide-eyed sense of wonder that have made his Oz books such enduring classics. {irony} But hey, fuck Baum, right? It's public domain, we can do whatever we want with his characters.

To be fair, rampaging Tik-Tok is kind of creepy, and the baby-throwing scene makes sense within the context of the story. It establishes how truly ape-shit homicidal Tik-Tok has become and how little he thinks of "flesh peo-ple." And that would be fine, I could buy that, if they hadn't thrown THIS little joke into the mix, where the crowd outside the hospital tries to catch one of the babies. Behold:

Man, there is nothing like a dead baby joke to punch up a comic book. This sequence gets Dave Campbell's What-The-Fuck?! Award for April 2005.

Issues 2 and 3 of Oz Squad involve the Wicked Witch of the East trying to sell the plans for Tik-Tok to the highest bidder in Baron Munchausen's castle. Gale Force infiltrates the auction and chaos ensues. Tin Man and Scarecrow fight a bunch of flying monkeys, some of whom have rocket launchers, while Lion and his buddy Tiger battle a Kalidah, one of my favorite creatures from the Oz books. Lots of carnage, lots of tough guy dialogue.

I don't know, I think I've talked myself out of liking Oz Squad. I wonder who the publisher's target audience was for this book? People who love The Wizard of Oz and the film Commando equally, I guess. That would be me.


tomthedog said...

Maybe I can talk you back into liking it! It's such a bizarre series, so totally inappropriate, yet I really enjoyed letting go and rolling with the craziness. The Tin Man has laser cannons? Sure, fine. Why not? I liked the sick humor, I liked the hard-boiled/fairy tale dialogue, I liked seeing flying monkeys getting shredded. Now I want to go reread these comics!

Have you read the Dorothy photo-comic yet? Another jarring new take, but I like it, too.

David Campbell said...

No! Tom the Dog's trying to trick me! I... I... okay, I admit I kind of liked it. See? That's how on the fence about Oz Squad I am. One part of me is jealous that I didn't think of it first, and the other part thinks it's blasphemous creative necrophilia - and I mean that in a nice way.

Next I want to see Uzi Smurf and Clifford the Big Red Lycanthrope.

Trouble Consultant said...

Eleven years later, the "Dark Oz" meme reaches Todd McFarlane:

But she remembered touching that leather for the first time and the shock that traveled down her spine. In the journey ahead, Dorothy would never forget that feeling...

David Lee said...

For a little background on the series and brief synopses of each issue, check out this Oz Squad page.

N said...

In the space of about half a second, I was, in succession, outraged, appalled, bemused, wary, grudgingly accepting, and then laughing at that baby-catching thing.

So I understand yr ambivalence.

David Campbell said...

TC, I can't believe I had never seen that McFarlane Dorothy. That's... something.

David Lee, thanks for the link. Oz Squad publishing again in 2005? I am so there.

Johnny B said...

Gee, I managed to ignore these the first time around.

But they're so aggressively wacked-out that you can't help but admire, even as you deplore...

Trouble Consultant said...

David Campbell: TC, I can't believe I had never seen that McFarlane Dorothy. That's... something.

Weirdly enough, American McGee had earlier announced his own plans for a Grim N' Gritty™ multimedia Oz series. The project is still alive, according to McGee's blog.

Penny Arcade posted a great comic parodying the artistic pretense behind McFarlane/McGee's reimaginings, but legal threats forced them to remove it from their own site. You can find mirrors by Googling "penny arcade," "american mcgee," and "strawberry shortcake" :)

Re the baby-throwing:
Is it wrong of me to wish they had thrown in a callback joke involving the Hungry Tiger?

Mark Hale said...

Oh, man, someone save me from looking for these on eBay.

Steve Ahlquist said...

I quote:

This sequence gets Dave Campbell's What-The-Fuck?! Award for April 2005.

As the writer creator of Oz Squad, I humbly accept this award... wait aminute, I wrote that 13 years ago!

Oh well. I'd like to thank my agent, my publisher, and my grandmother for always being there... hold on, I need a tissue... And I like to thank the academy and Dave Campbell...

David Lee said...

The first four issues, plus the Millenium Special and Lil' Oz Squad are now available in trade paperback.

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