Friday, October 15, 2010

Book Review: World of Warcraft Shaman

I found Tokyopop's World of Warcraft Shaman when I was checking out the other graphic novels in the local bookstore. It is written by Paul Benjamin and illustrated by Rocio Zucchi. Once in a while when I am looking at the graphic novels, I also check out the manga section just for the heck of it, because some of them are interesting. I don't usually go through the manga section a lot, because many titles have very long storylines, and I often don't get the point of what the author is trying to say; and besides, many of them are just plain weird or juvenile.

However, this one caught my eye because it was tied into something I am familiar with, the online role-playing game World of Warcraft. It got my interest also because it's a "one-shot"; that is, while it's tied into the WoW "universe", it's also a story that is not continued into another book, so I figured it was worth a shot to check out. After I flipped through a few pages, I was interested enough to purchase it. And friends, I ended up enjoying this book very much.

The storyline was interesting in itself because of the way it portrayed religion - in this instance, shamanism as it is depicted in WoW, which is an element-centered belief system (and here the elements are earth, air, water, and fire, although it also adds an element called "life"). In brief, shamanistic beliefs requires that you ask and implore the elements to do your bidding, whether it is ask the water elements to bring rain to drought-stricken crops or to ask the earth elements to smite your enemies in a landslide. That's important to keep in mind here: You ASK the elements to do your bidding; you don't FORCE them to do it.


Before I continue, I must note that the following contains spoilers, so if you want to read the book for yourself first, stop reading here and then get back to me later. You have been warned. :-)


The main character is a tauren shaman leader named Muln Earthfury, who is the leader of a group of shamans called the Earthen Ring (whom the leader of the Horde, Thrall, also belongs to), and in the story he is teaching his apprentices about shamanism and how important it is to be in tune with the elements. One apprentice, a female orc named Kettara Bloodthirst, is probably the most attractively drawn female orc I've ever seen! LOL When you get the book, you'll see what I mean.

Anyway, the elements are in turmoil (by the way, this is meant to be a tie-in to the upcoming WoW expansion Cataclysm, although this is not mentioned in the story), which shakes the faith of Muln's apprentices, because the elements are either slow in responding to their pleas, or they're not responding at all. Then a very strange looking tauren shaman named Shotoa appears to help dispel a cyclone that the other shamans have not been able to dispel. Without getting too much into the story, Shotoa lived centuries ago and disappeared by being swallowed up by the earth while trying to rescue one of his apprentices. After all those centuries, he suddenly appears, and he looks very strange, with fire coming out of his eyes (literally!) and yet with horns adorned with icicles.

When Muln's apprentices are confronted with the success of Shotoa's successful commanding methods of ordering the elements to do his bidding versus the apparent failure of the traditional method of asking and imploring the elements to do their bidding, he seems like a revolutionary. They then begin to question whether it is time for shamanish to consider alternate methods of practicing their craft, and a group of them leave Muln to join Shotoa - including Kettara, for whom it is somewhat established that Muln loves like a daughter. Long story short, it then turns out that Shotoa is actually possessed by an evil fire god Ragnaros, and Shotoa was trying to wipe out shamanism by this plot.

Muln comes to the rescue and he has a "moment of truth" scene in which he has to decide how he will confront Shotoa - by the traditional method of imploring the elements or by Shotoa's method of ordering them. He ends up persuading them with logic, that if they don't do ask he asks, then they will be under the boot of the Ragnaros-possessed Shotoa, so they help in the defeat of him, while Muln gets the final, killing blow. And at the end, his apprentices see the errors of their ways and rejoin him.

I found this story to be an interesting twist to the usual way that "organized" religions are often portrayed in such stories. Unlike the usual storyline in which the bad guys are the leaders of the "establishment" religion and the good guys are the ones with the "new, revolutionary" ideas, here Muln's insistence on sticking to tradition is portrayed as a strength, and a strength that was tested in the climax of the story. I also thought that the departure of the apprentices was completely logical in the face of what they had just witnessed. It wasn't so much that they were weak, but that they were young, but they gained strength and wisdom from their experiences.

Ultimately, it was a stealth "pro-faith" story, and one that was nicely done. Given our modern culture's dislike (and often hatred) of organized religions, it's good to see a story that portrays how an organized religion can be a strength. After all, despite the fair and unfair criticisms of organized religions, there is something about them that led them to be sources of strength in the first place.

However, what also helped make this book is the awesome artwork by Rocio Zucchi. She drew such wonderful and expressive faces in the story. Her depictions of the female orc Kettara were especially beautiful. During the course of the story, you will see a broad range of facial expressions from her, from happiness to sadness to anger to idolizing hero worship when she first meets Muln. Zucchi even pulls off a wonderfully dramatic facial expression in which she is being crushed in the grip of an earth elemental, and yet you can see even through her pained expression the joy of seeing that her mentor Muln has arrived to save the day. Not only that, Zucchi pulled off something that you don't normally see: She made a female orc look sexy hot! LOL The illustrations were so wonderfully and expressively done that it was my favorite part of the book.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. Both the story and art complemented each other well. The one, lone criticism I have was at the end in which Kettara dies from her injures from being crushed by the earth elemental. This criticism is due both to the fact that I really liked Kettara, and also to the fact that, in the game, not only can shamans resurrect other players, they can even resurrect themselves, so it was almost a pointless death. Still, it was a very good story, and it is definitely one that I would recommend buying. On a scale of 1 to 10 in which 1 is a bomb and 10 is THE bomb, I give World of Warcraft: Shaman a 9. It would have been at least a 9.75, except I wasn't too happy with the ending. :-)

There does not appear to be any other WoW graphic novels coming anytime soon. I hope they reconsider, because I am also disappointed that Blizzard, the company that owns WoW, discontinued the comic. Why start a good thing only to discontinue it? This is the sort of thing that drives me nuts.

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