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Manga Review: Shadow Wing Vol. I -- Dragons of Outland

Anne Stickney

The Dragons of Outland is the first volume of the Shadow Wing series, a sequel of sorts to the tremendously popular Sunwell Trilogy. Written by Richard Knaak and illustrated by Jae-Hwan Kim, it follows the further adventures of the paladin Jorad Mace, and the blue dragon Tyrygosa, or "Tyri" in her elven form, as they travel through the Dark Portal and into Outland.

Jorad and Tyri were last seen at the end of the Sunwell Trilogy, saying goodbye to Anveena and Kalecgos as they parted and went their separate ways. Jorad was being given a ride back to confront Arthas by Tyrygosa, who intended to drop him off and then report back to Malygos with the events surrounding Anveena and the Sunwell. The beginning of Dragons of Outland tells a different story however; apparently Jorad was unable to defeat Arthas (no small surprise), and rejoined the paladins of the Silver Hand in an effort to redeem himself from previous transgressions. Tyrygosa ... well it's never really stated whether or not she made it back to Malygos. Instead, she joined the high elf contingent of the army and traveled through the Dark Portal with everyone else, intent on something strange she sensed on the other side.

The rest of the manga follows their travels on the other side of the portal in Outland, with specific regards given to the Netherwing Dragonflight that originated there. The artwork for the manga is stunning, and exactly what I'd expect out of Jae-Hwan Kim -- the backgrounds and illustrations of familiar areas of Outland are outstanding, and the attention to detail and shading is simply amazing. He is without a doubt the best manga artist they've got on staff, and it's reflected on every page and in every panel.

That said, the issues I had with the manga lie mainly with the story. The story itself wasn't bad, though the introduction of Zzeraku as a character raises a score of unanswered questions. For those that have read Night of the Dragon, Richard Knaak's novel surrounding the events at Grim Batol and the introduction of the Twilight Dragonflight, Zzeraku should be a familiar name -- he was the netherwing dragon that was imprisoned in the depths of Grim Batol by Lady Sinestra, former consort of Deathwing. This is where the manga becomes fuzzy -- in Night of the Dragon, it was stated that Zzeraku was captured when he escaped through the Dark Portal upon its reopening, in Shadow Wing, he is obviously present in Outland after the Dark Portal has been reopened.

Given that Richard Knaak wrote both books, I am baffled at the lack of any sort of cohesive timeline continuity. It may be that this will be directly addressed with the second book, due out in October according to the bookstore I purchased the manga at, but for now it just leaves me largely confused. Another issue with the book is the characterization of the netherwing -- they are presented as children, barely able to speak coherently and with little in the way of intelligence, but the nether dragons we've seen in Shadowmoon Valley and Shattrath are obviously intelligent creatures. Again, this may be cleared up in the second issue -- but honestly I don't expect a novel I paid for to do nothing but raise questions with no real answers given at all.

Another issue is with the plot itself -- a character is introduced named Ragnok Bloodreaver. Little is shown of his past, but he is imprisoning the netherwing and conquering the Dragonmaw orcs that are holding them hostage in order to defeat Illidan and become the "leader of Outland." I'm not quite sure how this fits in with the storyline involving the Dragonmaw and the captivity of the netherwing that we've seen in game -- again, there just seems to be a disparity with the timeline, and that really leads to the largest complaint I have about the book -- the timing of its release.
Judging from this manga, the second book will continue and wrap up without covering any really substantial amount of time. Jorad and Tyri will, at the end, presumably take their place in Netherstorm on Celestial Ridge where they were introduced in Burning Crusade -- the manga seems to be leading up to what the two are doing out there in Netherstorm with the netherwing. Given that, I'm left wondering why this book wasn't released several years ago when the material was still current -- right now, it looks as though the release of the second, final book in the series will occur sometime shortly before or after Cataclysm's launch. Burning Crusade was released on January 16, 2007, which means this book is a little over three years out of date.

What I was hoping for was a continuation of Jorad and Tyri's adventures with the netherwing as presented in Burning Crusade, leading up to what would hopefully be some sort of explanation as to Malygos' involvement with the netherwing, something that was hinted at but never fully delved into at a Blizzcon lore panel in 2007. What I purchased was a decent enough book, but it feels much more like something I should have picked up just before, or just after Burning Crusade's release, when the material was more relevant. This just doesn't feel like a "new" book to me at all.

Unfortunately Knaak does little to clear up confusion; while the book is absent of the massive amounts of prologue present with every Sunwell manga, it's clear that Knaak's "knack" as it were is for the art of description -- something that is easily done in a novel, but with a comic, the book is carried by dialogue for the most part. Knaak's strong suit isn't really in dialogue, so the book itself is a little disjointed in places, the action seemingly leaping from one place to another with no cohesive moments to connect it. That combined with the choice of font for narration dialogue often had me re-reading pages simply so I could follow what was going on, which is not something that should happen with a comic -- the dialogue and art should work seamlessly together to present the story, and a font should never, never be so difficult to read that it interferes with basic comprehension.
Don't get me wrong -- while I am aware of the ... often-polarizing opinions of Knaak's work, I don't really think the man is a bad writer -- despite the timeline quirks, the War of the Ancients was a pretty good read. He simply has his strong suits, and those strong suits work much better in novel format than in illustrated form. In an ideal world, I'd suggest letting Knaak write out the story in the manner he is accustomed to and then having another writer come in and convert it into script format for the artist. This would do a lot towards improving the flow of the story.

I'd still recommend that fans of the Sunwell Trilogy should give Dragons of Outland a read; in many ways it's far superior to the adventures of Anveena and Kalecgos. Knaak has streamlined his writing considerably between then and now, and Jae-Hwan Kim has done nothing but improve with his art. For those that haven't read the Sunwell Trilogy, if you are really interested in the lore and the material go ahead and pick it up. Otherwise, you may want to give this one a pass -- unless there is far more introduced in the next volume, this manga is clearly out of date.

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