Before Andy Weir became the bestselling author of The Martian, he dabbled in fanfiction and webcomics. One of these early works has been revamped and released as a graphic novel, and you can read on for the review.
Back Cover Blurb
Years after their respective returns from Wonderland, Neverland, and Oz, the trio meet here, at Cheshire Crossing—a boarding school where girls like them learn how to cope with their supernatural experiences and harness their magical world-crossing powers.
But Alice, Wendy, and Dorothy—now teenagers, who’ve had their fill of meddling authority figures—aren’t content to sit still in a classroom. Soon they’re dashing from one universe to the next, leaving havoc in their wake—and, inadvertently, bringing the Wicked Witch and Hook together in a deadly supervillain love match.
To stop them, the girls will have to draw on all of their powers . . . and marshal a team of unlikely allies from across the magical multiverse.
The cover blurb describes Cheshire Crossing as a boarding school where students “learn how to cope with their supernatural experiences and harness their magical world-crossing powers.” This might lead you to believe it is a Hogwarts-like institution complete with magical curriculum. Well, it’s not. The premise is a bit darker than that.
When teenagers Alice Liddell, Wendy Darling, and Dorothy Gale first arrive at Cheshire Crossing, they think the place is an asylum. Because that’s all they’ve known the last several years. Apparently, after each of them returned home from their cross-dimensional adventures, their families interpreted their stories as the ravings of the insane.
However, Cheshire Crossing isn’t simply the latest sanitarium attempting to cure them. As its head Ernest Rutherford (yes, the Nobel Prize winner) explains, it’s a research facility. The only “patients”are the three girls, and they were specifically brought because Rutherford (somehow) knows they can actually travel to other worlds. While Dorothy and Wendy are glad to be in a place people finally believe them, Alice doesn’t want any part of it. She steals Dorothy’s silver shoes in a bid for freedom, and her rash actions initiate a chain of events that pits the three against the Wicked Witch of the West and Captain Hook.
As the preface explains, Cheshire Crossing was originally a fanfiction crossover webcomic that Andy Weir wrote prior to The Martian. Sarah Andersen redrew the art, and the result is the Ten Speed Press graphic novel. Certain aspects of the story hold to the original; for example, Dorothy’s shoes are silver as they were in Baum’s novel. Other parts are updated; although Cheshire Crossing is set in 1904, Wendy wears a crop top and combat pants. Andersen’s character designs are also a departure from the traditional. With the exception of Neverland’s Indians, the cast in these stories have generally been depicted as white. However, Andersen’s skin tones run the gamut from the Wicked Witch’s fair complexion to Captain Hook’s dark one.
As mentioned before, it’s essentially fanfiction so it assumes readers have a rudimentary grasp of Peter Pan, The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, and Mary Poppins (yes, there’s also a magical nanny in the line up) and doesn’t bother providing that background. It doesn’t even introduce Rutherford as a Nobel prize winner; his scientific accomplishments are only ever referenced in a roundabout manner.
The story itself starts off slow. There’s a lot of the characters figuring out who the others are and what Cheshire Crossing is in the opening pages. But after Alice steals Dorothy’s shoes, it’s nonstop action interspersed with the occasional brief flashback.
Even though the book’s titled Cheshire Crossing, most of the story takes place in Wonderland, Neverland, and Oz. The plot abounds with twists and turns as the inhabitants, rules, and powers of the three worlds intermingle. But though its swashbuckling duels and magical showdowns are engaging, the fights always boil down to the simple conflict of good guys versus bad, and there’s little character development to speak of. Alice and Wendy are especially one-dimensional as the ever-scowling grouch and knife-throwing tomboy, respectively. The villains aren’t much better with their evil insta-romance. However, if you’re more interested in external confrontations than internal development, this book may hold appeal for you.
One last note: the book is a self-contained story, but the epilogue does leave the door open for a sequel.
The promotional flyer for Cheshire Crossing touts it as perfect for middle-grade readers, young adults, and fans of the three classics it was based upon. I agree that fans of the original stories will find the graphic novel entertaining, as it essentially amounts to a fanfiction crossover. Its action-packed narrative and visuals are also fine for MG readers so long as you’re okay with mild cussing. However, it lacks the level of complexity (especially in the character arc department) that I normally associate with YA works.
First published in The Fandom Post.