The first of Tokyopop's class-themed manga hit the shelves early in December. World of Warcraft: Death Knight written by Dan Jolley and illustrated by Rocio Zucchi, the manga is a self-contained 166-page story detailing the life of a notable Death Knight, Thassarian, the first of the Lich King's rune-wielding champions to join the Alliance. I'm a huge fan of Tokyopop's comics made for the Warcraft universe and think that the Warcraft Legends series contain some of the best stories told about the Blizzard franchise.
The Death Knight manga kicks off a new direction in Tokyopop's Warcraft manga series, taking a break from short story compilations and focusing on a lore character representative of a specific class. The story of Thassarian, as previewed in October last year, explores the World of Warcraft in-depth through a biographical story that follows the hero's origins as a soldier of Lordaeron who falls and is raised as one of Arthas' minions. To make things simple, I'll give my thoughts on the book right before the break and explain it afterward -- it's a wonderful, well-written and beautifully illustrated comic that I highly recommend to any fan of Warcraft comics. It's good. Now that we've got that out of the way, let's dive into the meat of the manga after the break.
One of the chief complaints about World of Warcraft comics, or any media outside of the game, for that matter, is that they introduce elements that later make it into the game that players who don't have access to such media would find confusing. Take for example the human-formed Anveena Teague, who was patched into the game with Sunwell Plateau. For most players, there really isn't much sense to the human female inside a strange orb in Sunwell Plateau. Who is she? What does she have to do with the Sunwell?
Of course, readers of the Sunwell Trilogy, a Tokyopop manga series written by Richard Knaak and drawn by Kim Jae-Hwan, would know that Anveena is the Sunwell, or what remains of it. The problem is that the events leading up to this revelation or this particular character information are never revealed in-game but rather explored in another medium, the comic books. The same criticism was levied at Wildstorm's World of Warcraft comics which were used to bring back Varian Wrynn, who was simply re-introduced to the game world through a patch, and the story between The Missing Diplomat questline and the return of the king of Stormwind was all handled out-of-game through the comics.
Personally, I'm not so averse to the use of other media to tell the World of Warcraft's story. I love the comics. I collect and devour them simply because they represent two of my great passions -- Warcraft and comics. Others aren't so enthused. Most of the game's ten million players and change don't read or buy the comic books, which means that any developments done through the comics and introduced into the game will lack depth for those players. Beyond looking totally badass, not too many players will know the lore behind Varian's return and fail to grasp the depth of his character.
In many ways it becomes necessary to access other media to tell the story of World of Warcraft. Blizzard can only do so much to tell the story through in-game events, making novels and comics a great way to expand the lore of the game world. On the other hand, when it comes to introducing important characters such as Varian Wrynn, many players felt it was a little bit cheated that Blizzard chose to resolve one of the most intriguing Alliance quest lines outside of the game.
Furthermore, the World of Warcraft comics committed something of an insult to players by effectively retconning the game world by having Varian Wrynn slay Onyxia single-handedly. I know that game lore and canon are sometimes hard to reconcile, but the fact that Onyxia, that black dragon whom many players took great pride in bringing down -- with the display of a dragon head in the capital cities being one of the great events back in vanilla WoW -- wasn't actually killed by players but by Varian Wrynn himself was a bit of a disservice to the playing community.
A movie in comic form
World of Warcraft: Death Knight triumphs in that it doesn't meddle with game lore at all, except for one instance at the end of the book but is completely within the context of the story and doesn't feel too much like it takes away player accomplishments. In fact, I would go so far as to say that reading the manga isn't vital at all to the playing experience. Instead, it enriches it. Dan Jolley's finely crafted script merely delves into a story that players would otherwise not have known about a notable NPC but isn't as critical to appreciating the game.
The manga is essentially a behind-the-scenes look at what's already in the game. No critical developments happen because of it. Everything is there -- the characters, the basic plot... it's integrated so much into the game that one is inclined to think that Jolley was saddled with writing a script to fit quest lines and NPCs that Blizzard's developers handed over. Even so, Jolley does a fine job and gives a cool but otherwise flat NPC some depth.
One of my favorite things about Jolley's writing is the way he transitions between scenes in a deliberately visual, cinematic fashion. As shown in BlizzPlanet's preview, the transition used to jump from the last panel in Page 6 to the flashback first panel in Page 7 is a trick borrowed from cinema. It's a device that can't be pulled off -- or at least not as easily or smoothly -- using mere words as in a novel. This demonstrates Jolley's deep understanding of the comic medium and uses this kind of visual juxtaposition several times throughout the book to indicate a jump to a flashback.
That Jolley and Zucchi are able to pull this off without the use of a narration box noting the timeline and using only the standard black and white of Tokyopop's manga is impressive. The jump from Page 18 to 19, for example, where Thassarian has a flashback involving his father accomplished through a simple angle shift and the words, "That's right, son," is clear and reminiscent of filmmaking transitions. One gets the feeling that Jolley wrote this as a movie in his head, and Zucchi delivers each panel with a bit of cinematic framing.