26 Jun 2010

Review – Warcraft: MAGE

Expanding on an initial series of manga exploring some of the stories and myths  in the Warcraft universe, Blizzard have moved on to produce a series of books focusing on the ten in-game classes. Published by the popular Manga form Tokyopop, the volumes are created by a mix of story writers and artists.

The second in the series to be printed, Warcraft: Mage was written by Richard A. Knaak and drawn by Ryo Kawakami. It runs at nearly 200 pages and can be picked up for about £8 or 10 euros from your local bookseller, although places like Amazon have it listed for less.

It’s probably worth pointing out that I bought my own copy, mainly because I was interested in seeing how the Mage storyline would develop. I’d heard various rumours about how Knaak treats both Mages and Dragons, but used this as my first dip into the stories he created.

As a story, Warcraft:Mage is a simple enough affair. Aodhan Falamar is a reckless boy who comes from a long line of warriors and paladins. Turning his back on family tradition and against his father’s wishes, he instead chooses to follow in the footsteps of his recently slain cousin Crevan and become a Mage of Dalaran.

During his training, the city of Dalaran is attacked by the Blue Dragonflight. As the attack progresses, Aodhan must make difficult choices between family, power and loyalty, with the entire floating city hanging in the balance.

The difficulty with the story lies in it’s predictability. It’s clear from the outset which path the tale will take, and sure enough there’s nothing surprising on the way. And although the shortness of the tale can be forgiven somewhat, the shallowness can’t. The formulaic cliché of family betrayal feels tired and worn out, with the characters feeling bland and lacklustre.

In fact, the characters are one of the major drawbacks of the book. There is a certain blandness and lack of emotion displayed by the central characters, causing the central theme of the story to feel somewhat fake. It’s hard to feel sympathetic towards Aodhan’s situation largely because he didn’t seem to be that bothered by it himself. None of the inner conflict you’d normally expect was visible.

As a book about mages, the magecraft feels relevant and passable. The old Presence of Mind-Pyroblast routine was described, making the book feel immediately dated. That said, existing mage spells were used to convey action instead of relying too much on the Jania Proudmoore method of just creating whatever effect you need.

The art style isn’t to everyone’s taste, but it was clear that variety of references had been used in order to give the settings a reasonably authentic feel. There are however some glaring omissions that aren’t immediately obvious, the first being the lack of anything other than human Mages in Dalaran. Bearing in mind that this is supposed to be when the city is in-flight to Northrend, the absence of even Gnomes from the pages seems very odd.

The second problem is more of a knock-on issue – because Dalaran felt like an almost exclusively human city, it didn’t have that cosmopolitan feel that I’d normally associate with it. If anything it had more in common with a flying Hogwarts University than a multicultural hub.

Ultimately, I can’t find much to recommend Warcraft: Mage. There’s no real expansion of Mage lore, nor is there anything in it’s covers that we didn’t know already. More fundamentally it’s not even an entertaining read. The cliché-ridden storyline and lacklustre characters are coupled with a portrayal of the Warcraft universe that simply didn’t resonate.

I may be asking for too much from a 200-page manga, but I doubt it.

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