Has there ever been a more nondescript title for a WoW book? I think not. To clarify, these are the first two hardcover collections of the ongoing World of Warcraft comic book series, containing the first fourteen issues, which form a single story arc. I bought the first one on a whim ages ago and saw the second one in a store the other day, so now that I've read the whole story I thought I should give it a review.
In a nutshell, the books tell the story of how amnesiac King Varian washes up on the shores of Durotar, gets captured by an orc and trained to be a gladiator, eventually escapes, gets his memory back and then goes off to do the Onyxia quest chain to get control of his kingdom back from Lady Katrana Prestor.
First off, let's talk about the art. As a layman, I'd call it slightly manga-ish for the most part, reasonably well drawn and nicely coloured throughout. It's probably a matter of personal taste whether you like that particular style or not. I did for the most part, especially the full page views of the landscape early on - Thunder Bluff and Teldrassil really look gorgeous.
Towards the end of the second book the style suddenly changes a lot though, something I didn't like too much personally. Varian suddenly goes from well-muscled to looking like he's got a bunch of balloon animals trapped under his shirt, and his little son Anduin, who initially looked a lot like his in-game model actually, suddenly seemed to age by ten years over the course of a few pages and acquired a few balloon animals of his own. Blech.
I also can't help commenting on the ladies. I have no problem with the way they are drawn per se, but in the context of the story there was a certain... dissonance between the art and what was happening at times. For example there's Valeera the blood elf, who looks like your typical scantily-clad female eye candy. Now, that's fine, but then everyone in the story keeps going on about how she's obviously just a child. Child... flashing boobs and buttocks in everyone's faces... does not compute!
I also didn't like what they did with Lady Prestor. While her model was still present in the game, she always looked like a relatively modest woman to me who quietly steered things from the background. In the comic on the other hand she looks like a complete hussy, fondles Varian at every opportunity and makes a point of loudly contradicting any sensible suggestions in matters of state, so you really have to wonder how the hell nobody noticed that something was off with her earlier.
This leads us to the story. While the dialogue is pretty forgettable, it doesn't really matter too much for the most part since a lot of page time is simply spent on hacking and slashing bad guys, which means that the gist of the story can be conveyed in a few panels anyway. Over the course of fourteen issues it still manages to be reasonably interesting, though I rolled my eyes a bit whenever Varian decided to spend another issue off on some side quest instead of getting on with the important part of the story.
The first volume is basically all about Varian's gladiator life and him recovering his identity. Plot-wise I thought this was the weaker part of the story since it had one glaring flaw in my eyes: How could Varian become a world-famous gladiator, watched by hundreds of people from all races, and nobody recognises him? Not even Jaina does at first; it's just silly. This is even more accentuated by the fact that as soon as the plot reaches the point where Varian remembers who he is, everyone who spots him, even from a distance, goes "oh hey, isn't that the king of Stormwind"? Rrright.
The second volume is basically Varian doing the Onyxia attunement chain for Alliance, including Jail Break! and the big face-off between Marshal Windsor and General Marcus Jonathan. I actually did that quest chain back at level sixty on my night elf priest, without even knowing what it was for, and I remember how epic it was, our characters walking through Stormwind, being saluted by the guards and random players tagging along to find out what the hell was going on. In a way it was cool to see that played out on the page, but it also made me a little sad again to be reminded of why they removed that chain. I would have preferred to keep that in the game, and Blizzard could have kept Varian out of it. Meh!
In the end he also goes off to kill Onyxia himself, because clearly we can't have any random adventurers do that, only the king of Stormwind himself could best her! /cough. That said, it was quite humorous to read about that encounter in comic form, as it was very true to how it works in the game. (Look, the dwarf got tail-swiped into the whelp cave!) Except that she's totally immune to roots in the game, yo.
So what's my final verdict? If you see this in a store, flip through the pages a bit to see if you like the art, and if you do I'd say that it's worth a purchase. I wouldn't recommend it just for the story though, as it's really not that amazing. Myself, I originally bought it in the hopes of learning a bit more about Varian and maybe discovering the reason for why he acts like such an arrogant prick in the game, but I have to admit that I was utterly disappointed in that regard. In the comic he's actually reasonably nice and sensible, especially during the first half when he interacts quite normally even with the Horde. However, once he remembers who he is he suddenly seems to stop having any facial expressions beyond angry brooding. I mean, I get that the whole Onyxia business would piss him off, but it really gives no explanation for why he'd suddenly be so hateful towards the Horde when he treated them alright before, even while he was being abused for their spectator sports.