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In real life, being a Friend of Dorothy might get some funny looks. Sorry, but it's true. In Dorothy, however, being her friend means you've most likely been seriously screwed up. The fourth issue of Illusive Arts' intriguing digitally photographed comic book proves the point with its take on the Scarecrow.

This is no good-natured blue-clad bag of straw, just as no elements of this book have been quite the reassuring creations of L. Frank Baum. From the beginning of Greg Mannino's revision, Dorothy has been a dark and unsettling ride. Not even sweet little Dorothy Gale of Kansas seems all that in Kansas anymore, what with the lip piercing and the dyed hair.

As beautiful as some of the imagery has been in this unique title, the first couple of issues meandered. Reveling in its lead, the photogenic Catie Fisher, and its alleged edginess, Dorothy built very slowly, a move that could have strangled the book in its cradle.

Luckily, Illusive Arts believed in its offering, for each successive issue of this title has gotten stronger and better paced. With chapter IV, "The Fool," writer Mark Masterson delivers a chilling though ambiguous explanation for the character we're going to have to call the Scarecrow.

Things are not pleasant in Oz, as forces gather that make the Wicked Witch look like Glinda. The Dark Queen glimpsed in shadow surrounds herself with grotesque toadies that might actually be toad-men, and if a ever a Wizard there was in Oz, he may not be here any longer.

Clearly, a rebellion did start, but it hasn't gone well. A handsome young prince has stood up against a legion of tin men, but his punishment was swift and horrible. From the pulp of his corpse rises something only vaguely familiar.

This isn't the first time Oz has been given the dark treatment. Comics have tackled it a couple of times, with my personal favorite being the ridiculously wrong but affectionate recasting of the characters as secret agents in The Oz Squad. At one point, even Todd McFarlane had a line of action figure/statues called "Twisted Oz." So adding to the dark clouds of the cyclone is nothing new.

Mannino and Masterson, however, have the advantage of great Photoshop skills to give the book a unique look. It's also clear that the changes in character have a connecting vision beyond "let's just make it look freaky and scary." The background work has been pretty good, though some of the compositions have been simplistic. For such a small operation, though, it's a mammoth amount of work, and kudos have to be given for their ability to keep this book on a regular schedule.

The "acting" has its ups and downs. As Dorothy, Fisher has had little to do but sneer, snarl and look disaffected. She's capable of more (and in person seems quite nice), but the story hasn't allowed it. The young Prince and his paramour in this issue strike just the right note of sorrow and nobility, but an aide-de-camp looks a little lost and callow.

That problem goes away when the characters are manipulated into being fantastic. When we're left with the more human citizens of Oz, the book occasionally looks like Mannino just posed some friends, instead of hiring professional models or actors.

This dark vision is worth a look, though, and many of us eagerly await each appearance of their freaky flying monkeys.

Catie Fisher and digital modeler Ray Boersig will be appearing at Brian's Books on Friday, October 7 at 6 p.m. Come by and check out the book, get it signed, say how do you do and shake hands.

Derek McCaw

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