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Review of World of Warcraft: Dark Riders

Review of World of Warcraft Dark Riders
Before I even begin, I'm going to state the one thing that's been on my mind, and likely the mind of anyone else waiting for this particular title: It's about time. World of Warcraft: Dark Riders is the offshoot of the World of Warcraft comic series, specifically, the characters introduced in the 2009 special issue of the series written by Mike Costa. Yes, we have been waiting for this graphic novel for four years now. Was it worth the wait? Absolutely.

Costa continues the tale started in that special issue and takes the reins of Dark Riders, skillfully weaving together one of those stories that isn't so much dependent on current game lore. In fact, it really doesn't address current game events at all. Instead, it takes the bold step of filling the gap between events that played out in WoW itself -- the disappearance of the Scythe of Elune from Duskwood and its sudden reappearance in Gilneas. And if that weren't enough, there's a wild trip through Karazhan and the questionable origin of the Dark Riders themselves, explained for the first time.

But that's really just the tip of the iceberg here.

Review of World of Warcraft Dark Riders
It's not just the story that shines in this case -- it's the characters. Every single character in Dark Riders absolutely shines, and I want to see every last one of them featured in game. Immediately. They're that good. The story features the somewhat dour mage Karlain, his overly prone to bar-fighting son, Mardigan, the incredibly bizarre Revil, who is not like any priest you have ever seen on Azeroth or likely will ever again, and Brink, a gnome rogue who is an absolute badass -- the first really dark and shady, seriously treated gnome I have ever seen in any piece of Warcraft fiction.

In addition to the new characters, old favorites from the game like Commander Althea Ebonlocke and Jitters pop up as fully realized characters. Costa doesn't miss a beat with any of them -- they're all perfect representations of the NPCs we've already seen in game. The dialogue is snappy, witty, sometimes funny, sometimes painfully sad, but overall fits the tone of Warcraft without being overly stilted or dramatic. One of the problems I always had with the Warcraft comics series was that many of the characters spoke in a manner that was so carefully phrased it just didn't seem to flow. Costa's got the knack of believable dialogue. Not only believable, but funny.

What I really like about Dark Riders is that much like the Warcraft Legends manga series, it tells a story we haven't seen before, not one that is direly important to the history of Warcraft, but just one of those side tales we really missed out on. You don't have to read this graphic novel to understand anything that's currently going on in game. It's an optional piece of lore. But it's so beautifully written and gorgeously illustrated that I'd recommend picking it up anyway, particularly if you're a fan of the worgen, the Scythe of Elune, Karazhan, or just the events and quests in Darkshire.
Review of World of Warcraft Dark Riders
As for the story itself, it clears up the mystery of the Dark Riders of Karazhan Pass. To be perfectly honest, the explanation made perfect sense. It fit in well with established lore, and it explained why the Riders were after the Scythe of Elune, and why they roamed the passes of Karazhan. But there was a small part of me left disappointed by the explanation, and I couldn't really tell you why -- I suspect it has something to do with the fact that we waited so long to hear this particular story told. The buildup and mystery surrounding the Riders was far more than the actual explanation could ever hope to live up to.

Don't get me wrong. Dark Riders is a fantastic piece of writing. But oddly enough, the story, the tale being told, is almost outshone by the characters taking part in the tale. It's not that the story isn't important, it's that by the end of the story I really wanted to follow the characters and see where they went next -- and I couldn't. I'm really hoping this isn't the last foray with this particular cast, and that we'll see more of Costas' work on future projects. I would love to see more of Revil in particular, but Karlain and Brink are just as cool in their own fashion.

This is honestly the breath of fresh air that the comic series needed, but never seemed to get. Originally, Dark Riders was meant to be the first in a series of Alliance themed comics -- however, it was shifted and changed over the years into the 114-page graphic novel. I hope that this doesn't spell the end of the print comics, because these characters would work perfectly for a revival. I'd love to be able to pick up a Warcraft monthly title at the local comics shop again. If the same writer and artist team were applied to a monthly title, between Costa's words and Googe's artwork, I think it would be well received.
Review of World of Warcraft Dark Riders
Is this a graphic novel you should pick up? If you're a fan of Warcraft and a fan of comics, yes. Get it now. Dark Riders is everything I have ever wanted in a Warcraft comic, and it more than makes up for a fairly dismal end to the Warcraft comics series. If you were disappointed with the original series run, giving Dark Riders a shot would be highly advised -- between the excellent art and the entertaining story, you'll be pleasantly surprised. I'm really hoping that Bloodsworn, due out in August of this year, is just as good as this tale.

The hardcover of Dark Riders, written by Mike Costa with artwork by Neil Googe, is available for purchase on Amazon for $16.33 -- it's well worth the price. If ebooks are more your speed, Amazon also has a Kindle version available for $12.99, or for Nook users, you can find it on Barnes and Noble's website for $13.74.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Lore

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