Saturday, 2 February 2013

WoW - the comic #8-14

And it's time once again for the warcraft comic. The team for this arc is Walter Simonson as the writer and Jon Buran/Mike Bowden (they change halfway through) as the artist.

Issue Eight
The book opens as Varian Wrynn returns to Stormwind amidst a massive parade. But things seem off. This Varian Wrynn doesn't have any of the scars that our main character used to have and his personality seems off. As we meet this new varian, who I will refer to as scarless Varian, we start to notice a pretty major change in the writing style of Simonson. On the plus side, he seems to have a much firmer grasp of warcraft lore than in the previous arc, which is nice to see for a change. On the other hand, he seems way too eager to show off his grasp. Why? BECAUSE OF ALL THE DAMN EXPOSITION!

Seriously, it's incredibly painful to read some of these pages because of the sheer amount of awkward (or even unnecessary) exposition going on. At one point, a dwarf outright holds a monologue to himself. That one is exceptionally weird, as he talks about keeping an eye on our main characters, while our characters are like five feet away from him, and they don't seem to notice.

Actually, the entire monologue seems bizarre. Lo'gosh (the real one), Broll and Valeera arrive on the docks of Menethil Harbor while being watched by a dwarf standing in the rain. The dwarf then gives exposition about him being a dwarf, standing on the docks of Menethil Harbor in the rain. As he looks unhappy, he gives exposition about him being unhappy. As he watches the three heroes, he then gives exposition about watching our heroes. This is something I expect from a beginning writer, not someone whose been in the industry for decades. As far as exposition goes, it's actually not that badly written (the characters at least put a bit of personality into it), but it's just way, way too much.

Thargas Anvilmar – master of exposition
As Thargas gives his exposition on watching our main characters, Valeera and Broll give exposition about Valeera having become addicted to arcane magic. She then randomly drains a fortune-teller, which temporarily restores her.

Wait, what? To stave off their addiction, blood elves need to tap powerful sources of arcane energy. A random old beggar lady? Not known to be powerful sources of magic. Even if we tried to handwave the thing (maybe her visions of the future come from contacting shamanistic spirits, or maybe she was blessed by the bronze dragonflights, or something similarly improbable but not impossible), she would still be a source of divine magic, not arcane. There is a reason why the blood knights still had all those fel crystals hanging around.

Hold on a minute! Speaking of the blood knights, doesn't this arc take place between TBC and WotLK? You know, after the restoration of the sunwell? Valeera's addiction problem should have been resolved. Hell, even if it hadn't, aren't those knives she's wielding made out of fel crystals? They certainly look the part. And the way she's just able to effortlessly drain a person like that is ridiculous. She even uses it on a mage later on, which would mean that even those versed in magic can't defend against it. How did the blood elf attack on icecrown ever fail if they had this kind of overpowered tricks at their command?

On the other hand, Valeera's addiction simply doesn't make any sense. Supposedly, it was caused when she drained too much energy from the magical naga trident (I guess it makes more sense than it being caused by her simply using the trident, like I thought happened). However, she's (supposedly) a blood elf! Their entire race is defined by being addicted to arcane magic. How can a blood elf become addicted? It would be like a human developing a need for oxygen.

Anyway, the characters then bump into the plot. Quite literally. The plot takes the form of a random guy who explains that Lo'gosh should be dead before running away. So, they just happened to not only bump into a member of the Defias Brotherhood far away from their territory, this guy also instantly spills the beans on his involvement in the plot? Weak.

It turns out that the entire local bar is filled with defias bandits, who had tried to kill Lo'gosh before he got amnesia, and a fight breaks out, Thargas joining in. As an aside, the sequential story-telling here is terrible, with the fight scene being especially confusing. In the end, our heroes beat up the entire bar but learn nothing useful from them. However, Thargas then relays that Lo'gosh has been invited to Ironforge by King Magni Bronzebeard.

Issue Nine
Rather than taking the air or water routes (which would be obvious points for assassins to ambush them), our heroes decide to travel to Ironforge by land. As such, they have gotten themselves some mounts between issues. Well, they only got themselves two mounts, as Valeera is riding Broll's cheetah form. You know, these guys really, really suck at not attracting attention to themselves. Not only do they have Valeera travelling through alliance lands without any attempt to disguise her race, they also have her wearing her revealing gladiator outfit, carry knives that at least look like they're made out of fel crystals and have her riding an exotic animal. Frankly, it would be hard to have her attract more attention.

And the entire issue with Valeera's addiction becomes even sillier. Apparently, prolonged exposure to fel magic now makes blood elf cravings worse, rather than being a solution (which leads to broll preventing Valeera from getting a fel dagger. Apparently, her daggers aren't made from fel crystals after all). On the other hand, we're getting our information from a night elf druid who didn't keep up with current events for several years, so there is no real guarantee to its accuracy. Not that that will stop all of the other characters from instantly believing him, of course. When the group encounters a group of dark iron dwarves (who naturally spout exposition, this time involving having captured Thargas' brother), Lo'gosh instantly states that Valeera can't possibly fight in this condition.

After the battle, a blood elf warlock suddenly shows up. No seriously. I have no idea where this guy came from. I think he's supposed to be the random assassin that lady prestor hired earlier in the book (we've cut to her and scarless Varian a couple of times throughout the book, showing off how the former is plotting and corrupting the court and the latter is a party dude rather than a good ruler, but not malignant), but he just pops out of nowhere and corrupts Valeera. The battle here is again incredibly disjointed, and now has terrible cliché dialogue to boot. Ever feel like a writer just isn't trying? On the other hand, the warlock's cry of “That's impossible!” is actually a pretty good point, considering Lo'gosh just shrugged off a warlock spell. Seriously, how did he do that?

Right there with you, cliché guy.
The issue ends on what actually is a rather good scene, with Valeera writhing under the corruptive spell that the warlock cast upon her, afraid that it will forever make her addicted, and Broll promising to help her. Of course, no one thinks to bring her to the recently reborn sunwell, since everyone associated with WoW completely forgot about the effects that should have.

Issue Ten
Thargas brother was imprisoned in Thandol Span, so they decide to go save him. He dies. Well, that was a good way to spend an entire issue. In addition to being pointless, the book has the dwarven races acting out of character, with bronzebeard dwarves complain about having to use a zeppelin, as they consider all flying machines suicidal contraptions now (hello warcraft III unit), and the dark iron dwarves use a steam tank. This entire story just feels like the writer felt like Thargas needed his own subplot. It's really awkward in its lack of connection to the rest of the story, though it does end with Magni Bronzebeard arriving at the Span by zeppelin to talk to Lo'gosh.

Also, scarless Varian proves to be not that bad through the interaction with his son. This takes one page and proves to be more important than the main story.

Issue Eleven
The gang arrive at Ironforge, where they're attacked by a black dragon (or rather a purple dragon, as the colorist for the book apparently can't distinguish between the two). This lasts ten seconds before the dragon is forced to flee. This immediately points our heroes towards investigating black dragons (though they think that scarless Varian is the dragon, not lady prestor). Marshal Windsor has actually uncovered the identity of the dragon that is behind all this, but has been captured by the dark iron dwarves and taken to blackrock depths.

Purple – It's the new black
Wait, huh? How did he learn her identity? Why was he at blackrock mountain? Seriously, this entire thing just comes out of nowhere. The book (through awkward exposition) states that the dark irons caught him after Windsor fled from Blackrock Spire, but how would that lead to him learning the identity of Lady Prestor? Nefarian probably knows, but I doubt he'd just leave the information lying around for all to see. After all, you don't want one of the orcs defecting and spilling the beans. It's basically an excuse for Varian, Broll and Thargas (they leave Valeera behind to go cold turkey on fel magic) to go do a BRD dungeon run, where they kill Golem Lord Argelmach (who spouts cliché dialogue), High Interrogator Gestahn (who spouts awkward exposition) and Lord Incendius (who says nothing at all). That just... random.

Scarless Varian is proving himself more and more independent of Lady Prestor, who has to reassert herself by briefly touching his skin.

Also, Aegwynn (Jaina's chamberlain from last arc, whose role there was so minor I didn't even bother spelling out her name) cures Valeera. If you think that comes out of nowhere in my review, just read the comic. It's especially weird, since Aegwynn mentioned in issue 6 that she was incapable of curing people with a thought anymore. And that was for just some minor wounds. And now she suddenly cures fel addiction despite not even being on the same continent? For that matter, didn't she expend all her remaining magical energy (plus some of the spells that were keeping her young, despite the fact that she looks roughly the same age as Jaina in this book) in Cycle of Hatred? She's had two years to recover since then, yes, but it was a pretty important plot point that she recovered her magic very, very slowly. She burned through three years of recovery in that book, and that was with relatively minor stuff. There is no way she should have been able to do this. Plus, it's a blatant Deus Ex Machina (or Deus Ex Magica, I guess).

Issue Twelve
Finally, our heroes travel to Stormwind to confront Prestor and scarless Varian. Lady Prestor is forced to reveal herself, as Scarless Varian also turns against her. It turns out she is none other than Onyxia, daughter of Deathwing! She is forced to run, kidnapping Anduin as she flees. It's actually a pretty good scene, except there is one tiny little thing bugging me: The whole “Lady Prestor” business.

Remember Day of the Dragon? In that book, Deathwing posed as Lord Prestor following the second war in an attempt to gain control of the throne of Alterac. To help with this, Prestor used a powerful charming magic against the kings of the alliance. However, in the end, he was forced to flee, disappearing under mysterious circumstances while the kings figured out they were duped. While the kings of the alliance never figured out his true identity, Rhonin, Vereesa Windrunner and Krasus did.

Then in WoW, Stormwind suddenly had a Lady Katrina Prestor NPC running around its keep. Through quests, it was revealed that she has basically been messing with Stormwind while trying to get get herself in a position of power. She is the one that has been holding back the Stormwind armies from aiding the outlying provinces and was the one that drove the house of nobles to not pay the Stonemasons, leading to the defias rebellions (I forgot this during my Lands of Conflict review, as my sole comment-poster pointed out). 

Okay, now for the part that bugs me: How did Onyxia get into this position? The house of Prestor were nobles of Alterac, not Stormwind. Sure, she could have charmed a few nobles to get into the house of nobles, but that should really have alerted both SI:7 and the king of Stormwind. Either of those groups could have found out about House Prestor trying to fool the human kings with minimal effort, as the kings themselves were still around at the time. Not to mention the fact that Stormwind has its own mages' guild. Deathwing himself thought he couldn't remain hidden from the Kirin Tor, so he had to cause diplomatic problems and was planning to cause an entire war. Onyxia isn't nearly as powerful as her father, but she parades around Stormwind without a care in the world in this comic. Okay, maybe she brainwashed SI:7 and the most powerful mages (including that one warlock cabal) as well. But what about diplomatic visits? She was essentially second-in-command of the nation, so she would have been at any meeting with visiting dignitaries. And any dignitary from Lordaeron, Gilneas, Dalaran or Stromgarde could have exposed her, simply by mentioning her name back home. Okay, throw in even more charming and maybe the assassination of Lord Trollbane. Of course, any charming on a member of the Kirin Tor would be detected the minute he got back, at which point she would need to charm all powerful members in the Kirin Tor to keep her disguise. And, if Jaina Proudmoore, Velen or Tyrande Whisperwind ever saw her, they would detect the dark magic as well. They would also need charming, as would the people who could detect their charming (which includes Aegwynn, Thrall, Nobundo, A'dal and Fandral Staghelm). And then you would have to charm the people who could detect that, etc.

Short story, to maintain this disguise, she'd have to manipulate the leadership of not only Stormwind, but also Theramore, Dalaran, Stromgarde, Kul Tiras, the Cenarion Circle, the sisterhood of Elune, the Earthen Ring, the Sha'tar, the Scryers, the Silvermoon Blood Elves, the Illidari and the Naga. I don't think I have to tell you that that is simply ridiculous. Even if we assume that she has learned how to hide from mages, her used name should still call the attention of half those factions. The sheer amount of charming necessary here could have been put to dozens of better uses. And what's her plan anyway? She seems to simply be messing around with alliance affairs, without any indication of a greater plan. I guess her plan could be to marry Varian Wrynn and take control through him, but if so, she's taking her sweet-ass time. Onyxia, you do know that human disguises have an expiry date? Actually, that reminds me of something else. We see her during a flashback when Varian's wife got killed, and she looks the exact same as she does now. Isn't anyone surprised that her looks didn't change in the last decade at all?

Issue Thirteen
Back to the story. Lo'gosh and scarless Varian both suspect each other of being a fake, but their common love for their son allows them to put aside their differences, as they take their group to Theramore. On the way, they start comparing their memories, starting with the first war. It's revealed that the belt that Lo'gosh is wearing actually used to belong to Lothar. First of all, that's just random. Second, how did Lothar's belt end up in a vault in Orgrimmar? However, the overall scene is fantastic, giving great insight into Varian as well as fitting all the stuff that had been set up. This makes the issue the best in the arc by a long shot.

While the two varians are discussing their past, Anduin managed to escape from Onyxia and is running through the lair, actually proving himself a bit of a badass, as he finds a crevice that allows him to only have to fight one whelp at a time. There is a bit of a weird time issue here though, since it seems only a few hours at most passed since Anduin's kidnapping and him escaping, but his fathers, travelling by zeppelin, are right behind him. Remember warcraft III, when it took weeks to travel between the eastern kingdoms and Kalimdor? It gets even sillier when Jaina remarks that it will take hours for the varians to reach onyxia's lair from Theramore. So crossing the entire world takes the same amount of time as crossing a single zone?

In Theramore, Jaina casts a spell that finally unveils the full memories of the twin varians. For years, Onyxia had been manipulating events, first by causing the Defias riots that led to the death of Varian's wife, then by keeping him depressed to leave him uninterested in the rest of the world. However, when Anduin started to learn about the world and his tasks as prince, Varian was drawn back into it through him. As he left for Theramore to make an official peace agreement with the orcs, Onyxia attacked his transport and used dark rituals on him, taking his will from his body and giving it a separate physical form (Lo'gosh) to be killed. However, at this point the naga attacked, with Lo'gosh escaping (though Onyxia thought him dead). Varian himself was then held by the Defias for several months/years, until Lady Prestor faked a deal with them to get him back. The book does skip over the part where he grew a moustache, dyed his hair and wore a dress though

No seriously, that's how he looked in-game until WotLK. 
Anyway, Jaina gives them two swords that were wielded by night elf twins during the war of the ancients. This act may not make any sense now, but it will soo... actually, not it won't. It will provide a useful Deus Ex Machina though.

Issue Fourteen
BIG FIGHT SCENE ENSUES! Lo'gosh, Varian, Valeera, Broll, Thargas, Jaina and a squadron of Stormwind's finest knights (guess the warriors from theramore are sitting this out) begin their assault on Onyxia's lair. Though opposition is tough, they manage to defeat Onyxia's army and enter the lair (Jaina has a “bypass attunement quests” spell).

However, the fight against Onyxia doesn't go so well, as she takes out Jaina by tailslap and breaks Broll's attempt to bind her with roots. Onyxia tries to use her “kill a person's will” spell on Lo'gosh, but Varian jumps in front of it and they both capture a bit of the stream. Rather than being killed, they seem to lose their form and recombine into the true Varian Wrynn. Who magically gains a completely new outfit. I could have bought that part had the outfit been some sort of mixture between the two varians, but it isn't. It admittedly looks pretty badass though. Also, in a complete deus ex machina, their swords have also fused together into a supersword that kills Onyxia in a single hit. And then the arc ends. Bah.

When I said that this arc was the best during my review of the previous arc, I was doing so from memory. However, after re-reading, and seeing the awful dialogue, deus ex machinas and story pacing, I think I may have to adjust that opinion.

Story: The general idea behind this story is actually really good, with the two halves of Varian being very nice counterparts. However, the problem with the story is that it doesn't focus on that at all. Instead, we have pointless side-plots for Valeera and Thargas, which make no sense in case of the former, and is completely irrelevant in the case of the latter. There were some ideas to their respective stories, but they just didn't fit into this arc. When the story does finally focus on the twin varians from issue 12 onwards, it improves by leaps and bounds, as we actually get to stuff that will have a pay-off.

I get the idea that Simonson (much like the readers) didn't really care for issues 8-11, as the writing improves drastically from issue 12 onward. The dialogue is still a bit awkward, but it's at least up to par with his eighties work. And sure, the death of Onyxia is a Deus Ex Machina, but at least the battle before that had some pacing that allowed to actually feel like a true battle.

Characters: This is the story of Varian and Lo'gosh, with Anduin and Jaina serving as important supporting characters. So why are the other characters taking up so much space story-wise? Valeera has her addiction sub-plot, which comes from nonsense and gets resolved by random Deus Ex Machina. Thargas also gets a character arc, which is so unimportant that I didn't even bother mentioning it in the main review. Basically, he gets his brother's helmet when he dies and then takes it out on some dark iron dwarves. That's it. Despite supposedly being a main character, he has absolutely no bearing on the plot. The other three just stop for one issue to help him out, and that's it. By the end, he has been so forgotten that we don't even see him do anything against Onyxia. Hell, I didn't even remember the guy at all until I re-read this arc. Broll doesn't even have a subplot of his own. He is a bit involved with helping Valeera with her addiction, but that plot ends up resolved while he was away. Yet despite all this, Thargas, Broll and Valeera essentially dominate the first four issues.

Art: As I said, there's two artists for this book. Both have a cartoonish style similar to Lullabi, which fits the game it is derived from. However, Jon Buran seems to have a problem with the sequential art aspect of comic writing, and its often hard to follow.

I like the artwork of Mike Bowden a lot better, which is a bit of a surprise. Judging from the rest of the artwork I could find of him, he normally draws in a much more liefieldesque style (ridiculous proportions with overly muscled men in impossibly tight outfits, women with their spines in an impossible position and in impossibly tight outfits and ridiculously simplified feet for everyone). However, in this book, he tones it down to much more acceptable degrees, though it helps that the male warcraft models are already ridiculously muscled. The only liefeldesque trait he keeps is having men in ridiculously tight outfits. Amusingly, this also happens with characters who are supposedly wearing heavy plate armor.

Standard Issue plate spandex for knights, order yours today.
The colorist for both artists was Randy Mayor, and he did fine work. The only real qualm I had was the purple black dragon in issue 11. I get that pure black generally doesn't work as a main colour in comics, but the colorist really should have checked whether purple dragons already existed in the warcraft universe or not. At least someone pointed it out to him after that issue, as the later dragons are dark brown.

The covers are a definite improvement over the first arc, actually portraying scenes from inside the book. Samwise does an exceptional job on his covers (even though I, again, am not a fan of his normal work), though I wouldn't call Lullabi's bad either.

Overall, I would have to say that this arc performs a lot better as a warcraft comic than the previous arc. However, it is a worse comic from a general standpoint. If I was only a casual knower of warcraft lore, I sure as hell would prefer the first arc over this mess. Hell, if it wasn't for those last two issues, I'd have to give the definite win to the first arc. Sure, I like me some continuity, but I also like good stories. But maybe Simonson will do better with the next arc. Who am I kidding? We're doomed. Next up: Med'an.

1 comment:

  1. The thing I never understood in this arc was Onyxia's plan. Did she really have to do that whole thing with the two Varians having different personalities and stuff? Couldn't she just, you know, kill him? Because until she brought back one of the two halves, she mind controlled Bolvar and was pretty much the true ruler of Stormwind. Couldn't she have just murder Varian on his way to Theramore, and then MC Bolvar and Anduin and whoever didn't have the will to resist her magic? Talk about unnecessary complications.