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Who wins when Captain Carrot gets caught in the middle of a bizarre crossover conflict? WE DO. – The Oz-Wonderland War

July 6, 2012

Yes, at one point human minds decided that this was a story that needed to be told. Which is why people should love comics.

I confess to being no connoisseur of either the Oz or Wonderland fictional universes. My familiarity with the former begins and ends with the old Judy Garland movie, while I can’t remember the last time I ever sat through a pillar to post telling of Alice’s adventures through the Looking Glass. So perhaps I’m not fully primed to appreciate this series. There are surely levels that are flying completely over my head. People who are into either of these fantasy realms would surely go crazy with delight at the madness you see on the above cover, far beyond anything I could reap.

Yet I enjoyed it. More on that in a moment. First, a word about the caught-in-the-middle star(s) for those that might not be blessed with this utterly useless information.

Captain Carrot and his furry compatriots, including this series’ Zoo Crew, are firmly entrenched in the penumbra of DC’s Multiverse (on Earth-C under the old interdimensional mapping). They ran originally as an insert in The New Teen Titans before getting their own book, and their earliest crossover with a familiar character came in the first issue of their eponymous series, when Superman shifted dimensions to their world. That DC could so easily incorporate such silly, bizarre elements into their continuity proper — granted, at the distant fringes — has always been one of the better things about that imprint. Could Marvel sustain that? Probably not. It most certainly helps that the Man of Steel, DC’s pre-eminent champion, is an alien.

Also, the vast history of the imprint, which has swallowed other companies’ intellectual property whole at various stages (as we shall see in this very mini) makes it ripe for crazy cross-pollination. Rabbit heroes? WHY NOT? And, come to think of it, why not throw the colorful Oz and Wonderland pantheons into the pot. A righteous goulash indeed.

(It’s worth noting, all of this connectivity means that, in a Tommy Westphall chain reaction, Dorothy and the Cheshire Cat could cross paths with Batman. And the (Mad) Hatter could meet the Mad Hatter and cause a fissure in the space-time continuum or something.)

The Oz-Wonderland War was a long-gestating project growing out of the cancelled Captain Carrot comic book. Let’s let Roy Thomas, comic book eminence grise and Captain Carrot co-creator, explain the motives for putting it together — it’s a tale of Marvel/DC rivalry and cooperation, and of people who like telling stories wanting to have a good time:

You have to love Roy. If he’s not putting Conan in the greatest What If? ever, he’s trying to sink his meat hooks into Oz.

In case you don’t get to it up there, the creative staff behind this mini is E. Nelson Bridwell lobbing in the plot, Joe Cavalieri banging out the words, and Carol Lay (the star of the show) filling things in with the pens and inks. On to the story.

The premise for this clash of fictional planes (it’s not actually a clash, it’s more a mutual jumbling, so you won’t get Braveheart scenes with lines of gaudy characters screaming at each other across a field) is a villain, Nome King Roquat, who’s taken over Oz and cast its familiar characters into exile. Captain Carrot is roped into adventure by the Cheshire Cat, who explains the dire peril and its potential to spill over into his litter box, as it were:

(Note: King Roquat took his throne-sitting cues from Loki and Mephisto. Or vice versa.)

If that’s not enough info for you, here’s a Star Warsish briefing, as Oz’s H.M. Woggle-Bug, T.E. fills the Zoo Crew in on their mission parameters:

No exhaust vent in sight. IT AIN’T GONNA BE THAT EASY. (They couldn’t have thrown Admiral Ackbar in there? He’d fit right in.)

This quest to free Oz’s luminaries is nothing if not fun, as the interactions between the characters, especially the inter-species affinities and rivalries amongst the menagerie of anthropomorphic critters, make for lively reading. I was most taken with a brief interlude in the second issue, as Captain Carrot finds himself interned with other bucktoothed and floppy-eared folks, including the Easter Bunny and the White Rabbit. Of most interest to comic book fans would be fellow hero prisoners Hoppy the Marvel Bunny and Wonder Wabbit, seen here:

It should be pointed out that, while Marvel Bunny was a pre-existing character in the Captain Marvel universe acquired in the Fawcett purchase, Wonder Wabbit is a fictional creation of Captain Carrot’s comic-book-writing alter ego and part of his fiction within a fiction JLA proxy, Just’a Lotta Animals. But she’s “real,” residing on Earth-C-minus, an adjunct of Captain Carrot’s OKAY MY F–KING HEAD FEELS LIKE IT’S GOING TO EXPLODE. If you want to know more, look around on the internet. That’s why it’s there.

Anyway, for a non-initiate like me, someone having only that aforementioned passing familiarity with the two venerable universes on display, the never-ending parade of characters can be numbing. In fact, now that I think of it, it’s probably what a person wading into comics for the first time at a late stage would feel. (And, oddly enough, why DC trashed the multiverse not long after this book’s 1986 publication date. The Crisis on Infinite Earths existed solely to wipe confusion like that off the map. I digress…) There’s a League of Extraordinary Gentlemen grandiosity to it that calls out for a deft hand to guide it home, and I’m not certain that Cavalieri, while game, is totally up to the task. But Lay’s stellar artwork more than makes up for any confusion. She manages to mix and match the populaces and recreate them so that nothing feels shoehorned in or out of place. Little things like Dorothy’s reaction to the Queen of Hearts — noting her bitchy similarities to the Wicked Witch of the West — come alive by her hand. She’s admirably faithful to the original conceptions of the Oz and Wonderland lineups, and I have a true admiration for her rendition of the Scarecrow. I’ve always felt for that poor bastard and his flammable flesh, and she invests him with the appropriate lovability, like your favorite childhood plush toy come to life.

Bottom Line: You can tell that those behind this had fun cavorting in these playgrounds. Consequently, you can see why DC published this even after putting the kibosh on the parent title. In an odd way this reminds me of the sendoff to the Golden Age/Silver Age Wonder Woman, something beyond their temporal proximity. Maybe because it’s so obvious that people cared about them both.

Captain Carrot and pals have popped up sporadically in the last decade, most recently in the Final Crisis series, but nothing has ever approached the endearing wackiness of this mini. If you find these three oversized issues in a bin somewhere, pick them up. At the very least, your eyes will thank you. And it might put a big Cheshire Cat smile on your face.

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