Four identifiable characters, from a 1995 cover. Artist: Sean Shaw.


Medium: Comic Books
Published by: Brave New Words
First Appeared: 1992
Creators: Steve Ahlquist (writer) and Andrew Murphy (artist)
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The Oz Squad was conceived as an "updating" of L. Frank Baum's "Oz" series of juvenile novels, aiming at a "more adult" audience.

But that could be read as transplanting it from the literary context of the early 20th century, in which the books were originally found, to a more up-to-date but also, apparently, more epemeral late-century one; and aiming at a closer-to-adult audience rather than a more-adult one. This series catered to the same …

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… adolescent male demographic as the vast majority of other American comic books of the 1990s, rather than the beginning readers who first enjoyed the Oz books (and have continued to enjoy them, generation after generation}.

The Oz Squad was of the same genre as Tex Avery's Red Hot Riding Hood or Jay Ward's Fractured Fairy Tales — it treated classic stories (that are, not incidentally, in the public domain) as raw material, combining various elements in new ways, so as to create new works that are reminiscent of the old.

Deconstructions of The Wizard of Oz are, of course, nothing new. A prominent '60s East European one, for example, had socialist revolutions sprouting all over Oz (despite the fact that the whole society of Oz resembles nothing more than a textbook-perfect socialist state), and a contemporary series of prose novels started with the rise to power of The Wicked Witch of the West (whose "Wicked Witch" nickname was thrust on her by her political opponents). Even an earlier '90s comic book version of Oz depicted a "darker, grittier" version.

The Oz Squad was created, if that's not too strong a word, by comics writer Steve Ahlquist, whose non-Oz credits are sparse, who worked from the premise of Dorothy growing up and taking on threats to the realm, and to the various personages who inhabit it — enlisting her old pals from the first book, The Scarecrow, The Tin Man and The Cowardly Lion, to assist as need be. The first story, illustrated by Andrew Murphy (whose comics credits are similarly limited), concerned Tik-Tok, who has wind-up keys for speaking, moving and thinking, traveling in the normal world, where a previously unheard-of fourth wind-up function, morality, runs down, and he must be whisked back to Oz before his killing rampage gets out of hand.

Oz Squad #1 was published in 1992 by Brave New Words, one of the smaller independent comics publishers of the '90s, which was also responsible for a brief series starring Stinz Löwhard, by Donna Barr (Desert Peach). Brave New Words published only three issues, but it was picked up by Millennium Publications (Tiger Woman, no relation, Vigil) for a single special in 1995. Murphy was on hand for the first three, but several artists drew individual pages of the special.

After that, the publishing was taken over by Patchwork Press, an imprint Ahlquist used for his own self-publishing ventures. Murphy drew the first Patchwork issue, but after that the art was taken over by Terry Y. Loh (another whose credits are confined mostly to this series). Patchwork published seven issues, plus one issue of Little Oz Squad, a re-juvenilization of the ostensibly adult version of this juvenile series.

The two works mentioned as earlier examples of the genre this represents are generally regarded as classics, which gain new admirers every time they're seen in public. But this one doesn't seem to have done so well since the series ended. The last issue was dated February, 1996.


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Text ©2010 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Steve Ahlquit and Andrew Murphy.