Saturday Webcomic: Namesake is an incredible return to Oz and so much more

Although much of the action in Megan Lavey-Heaton and Isabelle Melançon's webcomic Namesake takes place in the merry old land of Oz, it opens not with a Dorothy but with an Alice. Alice Liddell, to be precise, has gone missing, and the only person who knows where she's gone off to is her friend Charles Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll. Alice has the power to send herself and others to Wonderland, but it's not a power she can fully control.

In our present, Emma Crewe knows nothing about Namesakes, people who have the power to travel to fantastic worlds based on their first name. So when she finds herself transported to Munchkinland, she's more than a little surprised. So are the Ozites, but not because she's from Earth; they're just shocked that her name isn't Dorothy.

The premise of Namesake is that some people are granted the power to travel to another world, and each world is associated with a certain name. Gals named Alice will always travel to Wonderland, Wendys to Neverland, Dorothys to Oz, and so on. It's the reason the same stories need to be told and retold, one character explains. It's the reason that there's room for both Judy Garland and Zooey Deschanel on the Yellow Brick Road.

But our protagonist, Emma Crewe, isn't terribly well versed in fiction. She likes musicals, hiking, and yoga, but she doesn't read or watch television, and the only people she hangs out with are her teenaged sister Elaine and her best friend Ben. But a series of strange events involving a mysterious librarian, a ghost, and a pair of red shoes land Emma in Oz, where she gets a first-hand lesson in the world of L. Frank Baum.

Webcomics about secret societies of people born to mystical powers are a dime a dozen, but Namesake benefits by treating its own lore with surprising depth and creating a beautiful (if revisionist) picture of Oz. Not surprisingly, Emma arrives to find the land in danger; Ozma has gone missing, and the spell that keeps the denizens of Oz immortal is fading. Poppies threaten to consume the land until nothing is left but heaps of sleeping bodies. Despite expecting a Dorothy (there have been quite a few at this point), a handful of Ozites decide Emma is their best hope for finding Ozma and setting all right. Soon she's swept up with a clearheaded Munchkin, the Scarecrow, a pair of snarky shoes, and the local wicked witch and warlock (who aren't always so wicked), into a complex tale of magic, family, loyalty, and yes, the importance of names. At the same time, Emma is routinely plagued by that ghost, who can pull her to the space between worlds and hints at a much richer multiverse lurking in the shadows. It also doesn't hurt that Melançon's artwork, which bears touches of Victorian and Art Nouveau illustration, is gorgeously suited to this fantasy world.

Back on Earth, the story is much slower and riddled with exposition as we learn about the society of Namesakes, known as Calliope, and their foes, the "Rippers" who have sold their own names. But but the creators have begun to set up a curious mystery about those red shoes, as well as one about a Ripper who seems to have a connection to Emma herself. And it's clear that even if Emma is able to right things in Oz, her story as a Namesake is just beginning.

[Namesake]