Final thoughts on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Anne Hathaway and I finished the book last week, so here are a dozen more observations with some SPOILERS if you haven’t read it yet:

  • Hathaway’s voice for the Scarecrow made see why Movie Dorothy said she’d miss him most of all, but some of Hathaway’s other choices are really odd. One of the two, main Emerald City guards sounded like Sylvester the cat and the other talked in a monotone that I imagine was meant to sound military, but was more robotic. She also gave some other characters strange accents that didn’t have a lot to do with their personalities or other character traits. She does some excellent voices too; it just seemed like she was running out of good ones by the end.
  • The Wizard’s voice is especially off-putting. He has a Southern drawl that – combined with Hathaway’s feminine voice – makes him sound like Dallas Royce on Suburgatory.
  • Still, in all other respects, Hathaway’s a wonderful reader and I highly recommend her reading of the story.
  • The flying monkeys are handled a lot differently than the movie and are even more cool. I didn’t think that was possible since they were always my favorite part of the film.
  • Related: the way the Wicked Witch of the West captures Dorothy is so much more awesome in the book. Yes, the monkeys come into play, but as a last resort after a few less-successful attempts in which Dorothy’s companions prove how badass they really are.
  • I don’t accept the Wizard’s assertion that he’s actually a good man, but just not a very good wizard. He’s used deception to enslave his subjects, force them to build the Emerald City, and then serve him in fear. He never repents of this or comes clean to anyone who doesn’t figure it out on her own. Nor does he allow those people to tell anyone else. He’s a class-A jerk; just like in the movie.
  • The Wizard’s gifts vary a little from the film and what he gives the lion is especially entertaining. Instead of a medal, he pours liquid into a bowl and tells the lion it’s courage. Baum never explicitly refers to it this way, but that makes the substance “liquid courage,” which is pretty awesome. Almost redeems the Wizard for me.
  • The book continues for a few chapters after the Wizard accidentally abandons Dorothy in Oz. The main quartet of characters (quintet, if you count Toto) travel South to visit Glenda the Good and see if she can get Dorothy home. It’s an episodic part of the book as they have random adventures along the way, but a couple of characters’ stories get tied up, so it’s worthwhile. And as with all the adventures in the book, they’re fun and interesting.
  • Glenda isn’t the same witch who met Dorothy in Munchkinland at the beginning. This is vital, because it fixes one of my biggest complaints about the movie: that Glenda knew the magic slippers could take Dorothy home the whole time and kept it from her. In the film, Glenda just appears occasionally to move the plot along without any believable motivation. In the book, she tells Dorothy how to get home as soon as she meets her. She’s much more Good.
  • My biggest problem with the film version though is that it’s all a dream. That isn’t the case in the novel. Oz is a real place with real borders; it’s just surrounded by impassable desert, so no one knows where it is or can get to it without flying (which was much more difficult to do when Baum wrote the story).
  • That leaves open a lot of possibilities for future stories, which of course Baum used. I’m definitely going to keep going, but I haven’t decided yet whether that’s via book, audiobook, or comics adaptations. I’m getting the Eric Shanower/Skottie Young comics either way, so I’ll probably start there and then decide later whether or not to read the original text.
  • The first of those comics should show up any day now.
(Image via Freaking News)
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Kill All Monsters!: Extended Cut

Outside of Robot 6 stuff, my most productive writing time this week has been working on some extra material for Kill All Monsters. We’re adding a couple of pages and some bits of dialog that’ll explain the world (and why the Kill Team is in Paris) a little more quickly than we did in the original webcomic pages. You’ll start seeing the new stuff in Issue #2, coming to Artist Alley Comics as quickly as we can get it produced and inserted into what we already have.

Is Merida Brave or not?

SPOILERS BELOW

I finally got around to seeing Brave last week and I have mixed feelings about it. My expectations were high, but not unreasonably so, I don’t think. Cars 2 notwithstanding, Pixar has an excellent track record and I loved how they marketed it as a female empowerment story without giving away much of the actual plot at all. That left a lot of room for surprises and I was hoping that Brave would do for girl power what The Incredibles did for superheroes and Ratatouille did for foodies.

There is a lot of girl power in the movie, but before I saw Brave I heard grumbling that it wasn’t empowering enough. That it maybe made its female characters look good by making all the male characters look super dumb. I decided to lower my expectations for the movie’s contribution to gender equality and just try to watch it as a movie about a girl who didn’t want to follow the path her parents had set out for her. Everyone can relate to that on some level, so I hoped that I could enjoy it just for its message around that. Unfortunately, I was disappointed there too.

Brave has a lot of great pieces to play with. At the center of the film is the relationship between Merida and her mom, Elinor. Merida’s dad goes along with whatever the Queen says, but it’s really Elinor who has plans for Merida to be a traditional princess and follow the proper path towards marrying a noble son. Merida of course bucks against that and comes up with a way to change her fate (she hopes). Her plan involves some supernatural elements that I won’t reveal, but look really cool. In fact, the whole movie looks really cool, but that’s no surprise to Pixar fans by now.

There’s a great story in there somewhere about having the courage (hence the title) to change your destiny. It’s just that Brave never finds that story. There’s magic, but there are no rules to the magic, so things just happen and don’t make a lot of sense. Surely it’s not spoiling anything to say that Merida and her mom eventually resolve their conflict, but it’s impossible to pin down exactly when they do that. The whole story feels hasty and haphazard.

Since the central story is about Merida and Elinor’s relationship, I paid the most attention to that and how the conflict is resolved, but I couldn’t figure out where it happens. There’s a cute montage showing them getting along after some tense interaction, but no moment where either gets any insight to the other’s way of thinking. They have to work together to solve a particular problem and somewhere indefinable along the way, they decide to compromise. One gives a little, which leads the other to give a little, and by the end of the film, they’ve found their middle ground. It’s enough to keep the story moving, but the message is no deeper than a call for compromise. I wanted dramatic revelations where mother and daughter finally understand each other. That never happens.

The title doesn’t really work either. Merida gives a speech at the end about having the bravery to change your fate, but that’s not actually what happens in the film. She’s led to major decisions either by her own stubbornness or supernatural forces. Bravery implies courage in the face of fear, but there’s never a moment in which Merida actually seems afraid of her future. She’s angry about her mother’s plans and refuses to go through with them, but she never resigns herself to that future long enough to let it frighten her. The only thing she ever seems afraid of (destiny-wise) is compromising with her mom. She does learn to do that, so that’s brave, but it’s the opposite of what her monologue claims. Is she brave because she compromised or because she changed her destiny? The movie shows us that its the former while claiming its the latter. Brave has a lot of cool stuff to work with – and you can enjoy it for those separate things – it just never puts everything together in a way that makes sense.

Superheroes are not Comics

My Twitter pal R. M. Rhodes wrote a lengthy post for Gutter Brawl on what he calls “The Scarlet Genre.” He’s talking about superhero comics and asked if I wouldn’t mind commenting on his thoughts.

Though he doesn’t directly explain it in the article, it’s obvious that Rhodes picked the title of his piece in reference to the scarlet letter that kept prejudiced people from interacting with Hester Prynne. His assertion is that the comics medium has become confused by mass audiences with the superhero genre and – like Prynne’s embroidered mark – it keeps people who don’t like superheroes from interacting with all comics, regardless of genre.

Rhodes talks about how comics creators, publishers, and vendors need to market comics differently to correct that misperception and let the mass audience know that they have other choices. That’s all good and I agree with him to a certain point. Comics marketing is traditionally poor when it comes to reaching people who don’t already read and love comics. We can do better.

I disagree with him on a couple of things though. First, with the idea that mass audiences are turned off by comics because they think that all comics are about superheroes. The crazy successes of movies like The Avengers, The Amazing Spider-Man, and The Dark Knight Rises show that mass audiences do, in fact, love superheroes. That adoring audience almost never translates into new readers of superhero comics, but that doesn’t mean that there’s a problem with the genre. As Tom Spurgeon points out, comics people love to analyze this stuff and figure out What’s Wrong With Us, but it’s really as simple as “a lot of people like superhero movies and not as many like superhero comics.” I talk to superhero fans all the time who love these characters every bit as much as I do (often more than I do), but simply prefer to watch them in movies or on TV. They’re just not into comics.

The reverse is also true. There are a lot of eager comics readers who don’t care at all about superheroes. I don’t have numbers, but non-superhero publishers like IDW, Image, Dark Horse, Fantagraphics, Drawn and Quarterly, First Second, Archaia, and BOOM! seem to be doing very well with comics across a wide range of genres.

In fact, what I said about movie fans not becoming comics fans seems to be a problem limited exclusively to the superhero genre. The success of The Walking Dead alone proves that there’s a huge audience willing to check out the comics that inspired their favorite TV shows and movies. Comics retailer Mike Sterling has written about how comics movies do in fact drive interest in the comics they’re based on (especially if they’re written by Alan Moore, but there was also huge demand for Sin City and Hellboy comics when those movies came out).

Where non-superhero comics have the advantage (specifically, non-corporate-owned superhero comics) is that it’s much easier to find the story that directly inspired the film or TV show. Every time a new Marvel movie comes out, we see a gazillion lists posted (all different from each other) about which comics to buy if you want to read more about the character. Corporate superhero comics are fun for people willing to invest some time in them, but they’re impenetrable to casual readers. That’s a much more significant cause for disinterest than simply not liking superheroes.

My point is that superheroes don’t equal comics. I agree with Rhodes that it’s often the first genre that comes to mind in most people’s minds, but it’s a perception that’s a) easily changed with some quick pop culture references and b) is changing more and more every day. In fact, I suspect that the perception problem isn’t one that mass audiences have as much as a certain segment of comics fans does. I keep reading articles in which superhero comics are referred to as “mainstream,” but I wonder if that’s true anymore. I’d love for someone who isn’t me to run the numbers and compare sales of all corporate-owned superhero comics (and graphic novels) to sales of everything else across all distribution outlets. I bet we’d be surprised at the results.

Seven thoughts from the first half of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Anne Hathaway is still reading The Wonderful Wizard of Oz to me and we’re about halfway done. More notes on the first half:

  • My memory of the movie is that the Scarecrow, Tin Woodsman, and Cowardly Lion all have significant moments late in the story that show that they already have brains, heart, and courage. In the book, that happens almost as soon as you meet them and several times.
  • I’m not sure which I like better. I appreciate the drama of doing it later in the story, but it really is cool to see the Scarecrow figure things out before everyone else and to see the Lion being brave while claiming that he’s not.
  • Unfortunately, the Woodsman’s heart is limited to his crying over hurt animals, but okay.
  • I understand the special effects limitations of the film, but I’m sorry that they didn’t include the Mouse Queen and her subjects. They make the poppy field scene a whole lot more fun and memorable.
  • I also dig how the Wizard calls each member of the group separately and appears as something different each time. 
  • Overall, I’m loving the book a lot more than the movie so far. 
  • It’s really making me want to read the Eric Shanower/Skottie Young adaptation.