There’s a lot to like in Sean Patrick O’Reilly and Erik Hendrix’s The Steam Engines of Oz #1. We have a likeable, if straightforward, protagonist in Victoria, a mechanic who has spent her life beneath the industrialized Emerald City making sure everything works, a supporting cast made up of the prisoners she interacts with on a daily basis, and a respectable dose of the generalized whimsy that made L. Frank Baum’s books so unique. Yannis Roumboulias’ art is terrific, particularly in action sequences, and incorporates the steampunk theme of the book without overindulging in it.
I was a fan of the Oz books as a child. For those not familiar, there are another 13 books written by L. Frank Baum following The Wizard of Oz, and they run the gamut from the intentionally and unabashedly absurd to the surprisingly thoughtful and thematic. I mention that because this particular Oz reimagining (It’s public domain, so there have been quite a few.) sometimes attempts to inject a grittiness in the narrative that is more in keeping with the original stories than The Wizard of Oz alone might suggest. Oz does work this way. Or it could.
The idea of a darker Oz with lasting consequences and a complex political structure is extremely appealing to me, but this book falls somewhat short of that mark. At its most thoughtful, ideas of industrialization vs. environmental awareness are introduced, as well as that of benevolent dictatorship. The Tin Man has gone Mussolini and rules The Emerald City which is expanding at a destructive rate. Victoria is convinced of the immorality of this rather easily in the Free Comic Book Day issue (which is free here) by The Wicked Witch of The North and her albino flying monkeys. Issue #2 deals with Victoria’s release of political prisoners and subsequent flight from the capitol. The dialogue is somewhat wooden, though not distractingly so, and the plot moves at a brisk, adventurous pace. This book works best as a children’s story, and I suspect that’s how it’s intended to be read despite the moments of menace and tension. The gritty, grounded, and gut-wrenching Oz story I wanted is something I’ll just have to wait for.
If you’re a dedicated fan of Steampunk or the Oz narrative, by all means pick this up. If not, you’re fine.
3 out of 5 Stars