A webcomic requires two things: writing and art.
Some comics have bad writing and good art (MegaTokyo, flame away), some have good writing but awful art (Dominic Deegan, until the Storm of Souls arc ended anyways), some have neither (most of them) and some have both (The Meek).
As Hanna Barbara theorized (and proved with Flinstones/Jetsons et al), plenty of people are willing to forgive sub par (even awful) art as long as the writing is good.
When it comes to webcomics, I consider good art a scrumptious bonus. I am willing to put up with horrendous art as long as the writing and characters are well done.
Y’see, I’m an absolute sucker for solid characterization. It’s always what I like best if it’s well done, and it’s always the first thing I rag on when it’s poorly done. There is little I despise more than a Mary Sue/Marty Stu.
If the characters are well done, well orchestrated, well written, I am more than willing to forgive logic flaws and plot holes, and am even willing to go to the effort of defending these flaws. (Star Wars being the perfect example of this. Except Jar Jar.)
A proper character is more than a simple caricature, stereotype or a collection of cliches wrapped up into an easily identifiable archetype. A proper character has wants, needs, strengths, flaws; in short, a proper character has multiple dimensions to them.
And no, stuff like “too humble” or “too beautiful” or not character flaws. Those are writing flaws.
For another webcomic example, take Order of the Stick. Every character starts off as a stereotype that can be instantly identified. And then, each and every character experiences huge amounts of character development. Back stories, internal monologues, specific character arcs.
They all started as a cardboard cutout, but quickly developed into their own, meaty persona that makes the comic so damn enjoyable to read. Well, for me, anyways.
Or LFG Comic. My favorite character, by far, is Benny. A lot of people like Richard, but to me he was just a gag character. Comedic relief, unimportant, and really could be replaced by a talking carrot for all the importance he had to the plot.
Then !BAM! character development. Benny’s still my favorite, but at least Richard is actually his own proper character now rather than a running joke.
I’m sure a skilled writer can pull off excellent stories revolving around characters that fall under the Mary Sue heading (Star Wars and LOTR, for instance). Of course, a skilled writer could simply avoid having a Mary Sue in the first place (this route actually being easier to write than a story starring a Mary Sue).
From strong characters comes a strong narrative. There are two types of a story: you can have an event driven plot, where the characters are simply picked up and dragged along, or the type of plot where everything hinges on what the characters themselves decide to do.
Neither method is inherently superior, though I am a far bigger fan of the latter style of plot.
Taking a starting point for a plot, then dropping in a fully fleshed out character, and then just watching what happens next… it’s a joy to both read and write.
All of this is just lengthy preamble to the following sentence:
I really liked Arthas: Rise of the Lich King.
Overall, it’s the story of a selfish, somewhat spoiled prince (who may or may not have a deep desire for power) trying to be the good guy, making a couple bad decisions, then making some downright evil decisions, then fully embracing the “dark side”, as it were.
Sure, the argument can be made that he was manipulated, and perhaps masterfully tempted, but in the end, the decision was his.
You can call it whatever you want, but in the end he was not perfect, far from it.
Dare I say… he was human?
Next to cliche romance novels, my least favorite genre is something called High Fantasy. An alarmingly large number of stories feature characters that don’t have flaws. Perfect beings, if you will, whether they be elves or humans or dwarves.
Why is “elves” accepted by a spellchecker and “dwarves” is not? Man, racist spellcheckers are weird. I digress.
You know the type. Good at everything, infinitely wise, never make a bad decision… characters, even entire races, of utterly flawless creatures.
Warcraft tries very hard not to have characters like that. It tries very hard to have characters that are interesting.
Say what you like about the bloodthirsty bonehead in charge of Stormwind, at least he’s interesting. Human. With all the good and the bad.
Arthas (the book, I mean) is aptly named. At it’s core, it’s a narrative of Arthas’ life. His childhood, his ego, his love, his triumphs, his mistakes.
The book chronicles the life of a fully-realized character, taking the time to establish not only his own character, but the characters of those around him.
It follows Arthas, as he experiences the wonders and horrors of the world for the first time.
It follows him as he witnesses the miracle of life, as he first comprehends the actual weight of what being a prince means, as he falls deeply in love with one Jaina Proudmoore, as he decides to end the relationship out of fear of his own immaturity ruining everything.
It follows as discovers the horrors of the undead plague, it follows his painful decision to wipe out an entire city in exchange for his country, it follows as the death he inflicted causes his desire for revenge to consume his soul, when his desire for the power to save his people becomes the desire for power itself.
And when he crosses that moral event horizon, the book relentlessly chronicles his efforts to completely wipe out everything he once was.
Even then, it still maintains his character as something other than a mass murderer. Everyone betrayed him, you see. Even Jaina, when she promised to never leave him, betrayed his trust and abandoned him. And so he surrounds himself with those who will never turn against him.
And just when you think you can forgive Arthas, the book makes absolutely sure you know that all this, everything that happened, Arthas chose it. It was not his destiny, until he decided it was.
He could have been a good paladin, and the world today could have been very different.
He chose to become this monster of his own volition. (He’s actually more ruthless and cold-hearted than Ner’Zhul, if you can imagine such a thing.) He chose to become the king of the dead.
His kingdom of undeath. Every single one of them wholly loyal to his power. And yet… it still feels hollow somehow…
It is an awesome read, if you have any interest at all in skillfully handled characters. Even Uther himself is not immune to the unrelenting scythe of character flaws.
If you’ve played through Warcraft III, you’ll be very familiar with the events of this book, and quite a bit of it you may know line for line.
What the book successfully does is add a great deal of depth to those events. Being a written work, not a RTS game, it takes the time to fully explore the characters and their interactions.
It avoids pointless historical regurgitation and endless battle descriptions where possible, preferring to dwell completely on it’s protagonist.
I’m sure all of you have, at some point, read Lord of the Rings. Battle are handle in a very similar fashion in Arthas. Where Tolkien spent as little time as possible on battles to move on with the characters and the plot, so too does Golden use a similar tactic to do… well, the exact same thing.
Why spend more than a few sentences detailing how Sylvanus shoots a bow,when you can simply skip to the part where she’s killed and resurrected?
Technically, that is a spoiler, but really. We all know the ending, we’re all living in the future of this ending. We know exactly what happens. The book doesn’t seem to mind; indeed, knowing the brutal ending has no effect whatsoever.
Again similar to LOTR (or, more accurately, The Hobbit) Arthas is a book that concerns itself far more with the journey in and of itself.
And that journey is fast. Don’t get me wrong, unlike this review, the book itself is a very fast read, both literally and figuratively.
I do have a few… technical issues with the book. Every now and then, you’ll run into a sentence, or several sentences, that are constructed awkwardly. Sentences that are, technically speaking, grammatically correct, but still read rather clumsily.
Though you’ll probably be hard pressed to notice, considering how violent and fast it is.
It definitely has a lot of action (it’s Warcraft, how can it not?), and sets a pace I can only describe as “holy crap for the love of god SLOW DOWN”. It won’t take you long to read the thing, and you’ll enjoy it every step of the way.
Before you ask, yes, this is a suitable book for those who don’t like traditional fantasy and even those who don’t know anything at all about Warcraft or it’s lore.
The book requires no previous knowledge to enjoy, though it does become more interesting if you do know the lore.
Feel free to lend it to all your friends who don’t play WoW. My sister enjoyed it, and she doesn’t even play videogames.
WARNING: reading this book is known to cause the reader to become highly interested in WoW lore. If you loan this book to someone who doesn’t know much, or anything, be prepared to answer their questions. Questions like “So… Illidan. Tell me everything.”
You may also be overcome with a desire to find, and read, the other books. (As BBBB mentioned, the book does come with a helpful list of all the other books, so you can track them down with ease.)