Wednesday, 5 March 2008

The World of Warcraft comic...

... and why you really shouldn't waste your money on it.

Herein is contained my review of the World of Warcraft comic that’s still being released. A quick synopsis of the plot: a mysterious human washes up on the shores of Durotar, suffering from amnesia; discovered by an enterprising arena master, he is thrust into the fierce world of arena battles, to fight for his life even as he struggles to regain his true identity. He also has a sexy pair of elves to back him up.

Disclaimer: the views expressed in this review are mine and mine alone. I may say some strong words in it, but you’re free to disagree with them if you so choose. If you do, please try and keep your comments civil (although if you disagree with the review enough to insult me, I’d actually have to question your tastes, but that’s another matter altogether).

The full review begins after the jump...

Well, one thing about this comic: it made me laugh a fair few times... although that was not, perhaps, its intention.

I was reading it again just now in preparation for this review, and – okay, let me tell you the first thing that made me laugh. Four pages in, when our erstwhile human gladiator-to-be has just finished off a crocolisk that was intent on devouring his leg, a large and vicious-looking orc shaman looks down at him and asks, “Who are you, human?”

The expression on the face of the human in the next panel just cracked me up. It’s an expression worthy of a manga comedy series.

On the very next page, the human once more proves to be the source of amusement. He wakes up in the cage with his two fellow gladiators, looks at one of them, a blood elf female named Valeera Sanguinar, and goes, “You’re to be a gladiator? But you’re a child!”

The very next panel reveals that the elf in question has a bust that’s nothing short of prodigious and thighs that would make a grown man weep (and then head swiftly towards the bathroom to “relieve himself”). YEP, SURE LOOKS LIKE A CHILD TO ME, HYUK HYUK.

But that’s not all. If you’ve played World of Warcraft as much as I have, you’ll have noticed that blood elves have ears that go straight upward, as opposed to night elves, which have ears that sweep backwards majestically. Not this blood elf, apparently – her ears stick straight outward, as if they’ve been on the wrong end of a falling anvil a few too many times.

So the first issue of this newest of Blizzard’s forays into the graphic novel medium was turning out to be something of a laugh riot. By the end of the book, however, I had developed a firm idea of just what was up with this comic.

My first reaction was, “this is utter pap and drek. How on earth did this even get cleared for release? It’s awful!”

And indeed, it is awful. The plot is so derivative that it could pass for satire if you changed some of the dialogue. Walter Simonson’s writing is, in a word, weak (if you hadn’t already picked up on that). Ludo Lullabi’s art is uneven, at times wrenchingly unsatisfying and downright confusing, with sparingly few highlights. The inking and colouring aren’t bad, but they aren’t enough to save the comic either.

We have our three main characters – the unnamed human, dubbed Croc-Bait by his captor; a night elf druid named Broll Bearmantle with a bad case of antler-head; and the aforementioned Valeera Sanguinar, whose particular “attributes” have already been mentioned. Oh, and she happens to be a rogue. There’s also the orc shaman, Rehgar Earthfury, who’s basically their manager. Why a shaman would be managing an arena team, I have no idea.

Attempts to generate friction between Broll and Valeera through the use of banter prove predictable, and aren’t executed particularly well. They pretty much just insult each other. A bit of cutting wit wouldn’t have gone amiss, but as we’ve already seen, wit is in crushingly short supply here. Broll is your quasi-mystical night elf. This is pretty much the only character with potential for interest in the whole cast; how did a druid end up as a gladiator? Shouldn’t he be out doing druidy things, like picking flowers, hugging trees, tanking Prince Malchezzar fights, that kind of thing? This hasn’t yet been explored to its fullest potential, but if the plot keeps on going the way it is now, I smell a clichéd “I lost everything in that last big war thing, and now I have lost the will to keep fighting for my ideals and so have turned to being a gladiator, yet the strange appearance of this manly, manly, masculine, manly human will surely return me to my true path!” kind of road.

Valeera is also a tad one-dimensional. She’s bloodthirsty and fiery, and wears what appears to be a red swimsuit with a built-in wonderbra. Honestly, it’s very difficult to take her seriously when the combination of Lullabi’s “artwork” and Simonson’s “writing” have turned her into what is essentially glorified eye candy. Her few panels of backstory are underwhelming and hackneyed. This is a damn shame, as the blood elves have a lot of great storytelling potential behind them. The destruction of the sunwell by Arthas in Warcraft 3 was nothing less than an epic turn of events, leaving the entire nation of Quel’Thalas shattered and broken, and its inhabitants even more so! Yet they’ve risen from the ashes and are a power to be feared in the Frozen Throne and World of Warcraft, and Valeera doesn’t represent this in any way that isn’t blindingly predictable. Sure, she’s sassy, she’s fierce, and she can kill you if she really wants to, but there is so much more that could be done with a blood elf character.

The concept of the human is similarly malnourished. He has amnesia. He broods, he scowls. He is, being the main character, privileged to completely destroy every single one of his opponents without so much as breaking a sweat. The glimpses into his past that are given throughout the story (usually at a rate of one convenient flashback per issue) fail to interest. He might be the secret love child of Thrall and Jaina, but he’d still be boring. After reading three issues of this comic, I have not yet developed any kind of attachment to him (unless disdain counts as emotional attachment).

What about the artwork? Well, Ludo Lullabi certain has a distinctive style, and that’s something that the Warcraft universe has done exceedingly well – it is instantly recognizable. However, Lullabi’s attempt here falls flat on a few accounts. First, it is such a far cry from the delicious cover art that a stab of disappointment hit me when I saw the very first page. The cover is dynamic, it’s powerful, it’s awesome, and I would’ve loved it if the cover artist had done the entire book. Ludo’s work has spunk. It’s distinctive. But it’s also lacks consistency.

There are many aspects of the art that just strike me as downright lazy – such as the sausage fingers on Croc-Bait when his arms are so muscular and generally anatomically correct, or the way Valeera’s upper arms are almost skeletal compared to the overabundance of flesh on other parts of her body. And then you’ve got things that are just plain wrong, like Valeera’s ears, or the shape and length of goblin limbs. Or the way male limbs and torsos are almost always drawn very well, whereas Valeera’s limbs tend to distort and twist in ways that defy the laws of physics

As you might be able to tell, I am extremely dissatisfied with almost every aspect of Valeera’s portrayal in this series – she’s one of the main characters, and characters that only appear for a single issue are almost always drawn with a greater degree of anatomical correctness than she is – it’s just confusing, and contributes to the impression of sloppiness that Lullabi’s work tends to give off.

Moreover, he doesn’t appear to have gotten the art of acquiring a dramatic angle down; it’s difficult to understate the importance of angle in this particular medium, and Lullabi sometimes fails to deliver the sense of drama and urgency that can make a well-drawn comic positively thrilling. As if this weren’t enough, sometimes you just don’t know what the hell is going on. Some of the combat scenes are so busy and full of lines that I just didn’t have a clue. One moment you’ve got a few characters standing around looking angry, then there’s a few panels of confused lines flashing all over the place, and the next thing you know the human is standing over his defeated foe.

Having said that, he does have some very good moments, such as the conclusion of the main fight in the second issue; but these also contribute to the feeling that the art just isn’t very consistent. It has panels that make you smile, it has panels that make you cringe – but sadly, the former are greatly outnumbered by the latter.

My final gripe has two points. Firstly, the whole comic displays blatant notions of human supremacy, to the extent of defying previously established lore in the manner of a retcon. What the hell does that statement mean? Well...

The races of the horde are portrayed as savages for the most part, with little of that noble quality that shone through so wonderfully in Warcraft 3. Once again, it feels one-dimensional (and I know that I’m using that term a lot, but it is applicable throughout). At the end of the first comic, Broll and Valeera are overpowered in a brawl, and Croc-Bait summarily dispatches all of their opponents and then steps up to the last one, an orc blademaster, to announce, “Back off. These elves are under my protection!” How heroic. How manly. What the hell was Simonson thinking when he put that line in? Was he thinking at all? Did I miss something here? Orc blademasters were loudmouthed but honourable characters in Warcraft 3, reminiscent of samurai; and yet in this comic, this particular blademaster casually steps up to Valeera and breaks her arm, despite the fact that she’s lying on the ground, clearly in no position to fight.

Let me put this in capitals to emphasise how put off I am by this: THIS IS NOT THE PARTICULAR BREED OF WARCRAFT ORC THAT BLIZZARD HAS CREATED. And this isn’t even what their humans are like, either! Hell, there are so many human questlines in World of Warcraft that have you exposing just how damn corrupt the Alliance is that I’m surprised the entire race of warcraft humans hasn’t committed the honourable thing and drowned themselves by now. It strikes me as imbecilic posturing, placing a human at the forefront as the best and brightest in the whole wide world, standing strong against the mean old Horde. Quite frankly, it’s rather pathetic.

Now, I’ve already taken my subscription out for this comic, so I’m going to have to sit through it for the time being – but if something utterly miraculous happens and the comic does a complete one-eighty, I will be sure to let you know.

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