This review of World of Warcraft: Shaman is of the spoiler-free variety.
The class-based World of Warcraft manga from Tokyopop has not resonated well with me to date. The story for Death Knight was a prequel/re-telling of Thassarian’s lore that had already been recanted in-game months beforehand. Mage told a story of a person we’d never heard of — in a setting untouched by the gameworld — and finished with a resolution that would be lucky to warrant future cameos. To be fair, our guest reviewer saw it differently. As Thassarian showed, class-based manga can have a cohesive and intriguing story as long as it focuses on a semi-known character and the role of the class in one’s life. Paul Benjamin, the writer for Shaman, picked up on the strengths of Death Knight and eradicated its weaknesses.
Shaman starts off, oddly enough, with a flashback to the War of the Three Hammers. Benjamin uses the epic war between the dwarven tribes to illustrate how abuse of the elements can have disastrous effects on Azeroth. Thaurissan of the Dark Iron Dwarves (not to be confused with Thassarian from Death Knight) and his accidental executioner, Ragnaros, cause a bit of a stir. This leads immediately to the introduction of Shotoa, an Earthen Ring member that believes the turmoil of the elements to be the cause of numerous natural disasters. His feelings go deeper, against the training of shamans. His talks with the elements cause him to act boldly, to demand that the elements answer his calls, rather than asking for help. His audacity is met by a plummet deep inside the earth as he attempts to save his apprentice.
The story fast-forwards a few generations to the modern day, as we’re introduced to Muln Earthfury, leader of the Earthen Ring. Muln and his ilk are reliving what Shotoa felt generations before; the elements are refusing to answer them, even attacking their strongholds. The story begins to slow from its initially quick pace, allowing the plot and characters adequate time to develop. Artist Rocio Zucchi doesn’t miss a beat outside of combat. Instead of crushing blows from massive war totems and amputations, she focuses on facial expressions, settings and background. Indecision, consternation and anger are clearly visible on the faces of the Earthen Ring members as their teachings fail them.
The main plot is rather predictable given the approaching Cataclysm, but Benjamin weaves in a compelling, if not (again) predictable, subplot. Shotoa returns to offer the shamans of the Earthen Ring a new way to “commune” with the elements, by demanding it. This goes in the face of countless generations of shamanistic teaching but Muln allows his people, even his own apprentice, to make the decision for themselves. It just so happens that Shotoa’s long slumber wasn’t a restful one…
Tokyopop put together a great team for World of Warcraft: Shaman and it shows in the final product. Zucchi returns from her stint on Death Knight, once again triumphant on the pulp. Her work in Shaman spanns numerous races, from troll to draenei to centaur and elementals, and every one of them evoks their own sense of command. I especially loved her depiction of totems. These familiar, little chunks of wood and spiritual power are pissed-off cute. If only they were that cool in the game.
One gripe I have with a lot of the Extended Universe material is the introduction of new characters. Many pieces, be it manga or novel, have had stale, boring characters, an incredibly small cast, or just too few identities. Not so for Shaman. Readers are given a diverse cast, across all races (that can be shamans), as well as cameos and the dry speech of the Elemental Spirits themselves. Like Zucchi’s totems, the elemental speech (and the way it was depicted) has left a permanent impression upon me. Benjamin’s overall story fits perfectly in the universe, and comes at the perfect moment. The timing is something Tokyopop should be heralded for. Getting a project like this to press is like aligning the stars, what with all of Blizzard’s checks, balances and shifting delivery dates. Shaman’s promptness makes the manga all the more desirable.
After all, how many pieces of the Extended Universe have seen its main character enter the game weeks after its publication? That’s right, Muln Earthfury will be hanging out by the Maelstrom in Cataclysm.
You can snap up your copy of WoW: Shaman over at Amazon. Need to fill out $25 for free shipping? Then I recommend you start on the excellent Warcraft Legends series. Tokyopop will release World of Warcraft: Shadow Wing – Nexus Point (Volume 2) in March 2011.