Warcraft Legends are a fun ride for all

Although Free Comic Book Day is supposed to be on the first Saturday of May each year, our local book store chain Fully Booked held it last May 23 with a 20% discount off graphic novels and select manga. I thought it was a good opportunity to pick up Tokyopop's Warcraft Legends series, a manga-style take on the Warcraft universe. I'd had my eye on these books for a while, so last weekend was a good opportunity to get them.

Each book contains three self-contained stories and one ongoing tale featuring the Tauren Trag Highmountain from the Sunwell Trilogy manga written by Richard Knaak and drawn by Kim Jae-Hwan. Trag's story in Warcraft Legends picks up where the Sunwell Trilogy left off, and although the story is rather interesting, the best thing about the manga are the short stories which breathe a little more life into the Warcraft world. These stories are what make the books truly shine. My take on the first three books in the series after the jump.

Although I have Wildstorm's World of Warcraft comics, I'm not a huge fan of Varian Wrynn. I was also getting my comic fix through Hong Kong manhua, so I was hoping to see the Warcraft world done manhua-style. Spoiled by the line-rich action sequences of Hong Kong comics, I was hoping to see it applied to my favorite game world. Tokyopop didn't quite deliver on that end, as the art was something of a cross between traditional Western comics and manga, such as Carlos Olivares' art, but nonetheless the tales were quite topnotch.

If you don't mind not completing Trag's story, picking up one out of the three available books is still a pretty good deal. If you're like Lesley, though, you'll get hooked on Knaak's tale of a Death Knight's struggle to free himself of the Lich King's grasp. Personally, I find that Knaak's writing suffers just a tiny bit from 'telling, not showing' which likely stems from his experience writing novels. I feel that there needs to be a little more trust in the artist to show the story rather than tell the story with accompanying illustrations. Fortunately, Kim's finely detailed art enriches the story's somber tone incredibly well. A minor quibble is that sometimes some of the writers tend to forget that the Warcraft Legends book format is small, so when the writing runs long they become harder to read.

To a degree even the stories by series editor Troy Lewter, whom Lesley interviewed some time back, suffer from the small format, although Lewter has a better grasp of the comic medium and runs long on dialogue rather than narration. He wrote three stories which appear in Volumes One and Three, and are among my favorite ones. Lewter's The Journey (helped by Mike Wellman on the story) in the first volume tells the heartwrenching tale of a simple farmer from the Plaguelands and gives readers an insight to the horror and tragedy of the Scourge invasion. His Thrill of the Hunt, which appears in the third volume of the series, reveals an awesome backstory about the greatest Hunter in all of Azeroth. Both Mi-Young No and Quing Ping Mui's art also complement the stories respectively with their rich detail.

Perhaps my favorite story of all is Dan Jolley's Crusader's Blood, which appears in the third volume of the series. Jolley, whom Lesley also interviewed for, has an excellent grasp of the comic format as well as a deep love for the game, giving his stories that little extra kick for players and fanboys. Fernando Heinz Furukawa, who did the pencils for the story (inked by Rocio Zucchi), also referenced in-game armor models, architecture, and even hairstyles! This takes the story a notch higher in terms of familiarity with readers who also play the game. Wait until you get to the big reveal, and Horde players will relish in a bit of nostalgia as Jolley even references an in-game quest.

But the true triumph of the series thus far is that the stories are just plain enjoyable, whether or not you play the game. Although you'll certainly have a deeper appreciation for the stories if you play World of Warcraft, the stories are short and entertaining. In particular, the stories with Olivares' art are light-hearted and well-paced, from the Jolley penned How to Win Friends in the first volume to Christie Golden's I Got What Yule Need. Olivares' art lends itself extremely well to humor, gnomes, and goblins. It's a winning combination. Golden shows a remarkable understanding of the comic format, handing Olivares the storytelling reins, guiding only with a few words here and there. Fewer panels, splash pages, and tight dialogue make Golden's seasonal story extremely entertaining and you'll come away with a newfound love for Goblins (if you don't already love them).

The rest of the stories are pretty good, too, ranging from tales of an Outland Orc dealing with his savage nature, a blacksmith's tale of loss and redemption, a young Tauren herbalist/alchemist's journey with a Gnome (assisting Magatha Grimtotem herself), an Knaak's detour with Thrall which show exactly why he's a cut above the rest... all of them resonate for players, Warcraft fans, and comic lovers alike. The self-contained stories allow readers to get right into the series without missing a beat. While the first story arc, which concludes in the upcoming fourth volume, has Knaak's multi-part story about a Death Knight, Lewter has promised that each class will also receive a story arc treatment. I personally enjoyed the Warcraft Legends series more than Wrynn's tale from Wildstorm, and I don't think I'll wait for another Free Comic Book Day to pick up the next installment in June.