Dark Wraith of Shannara
Author – Terry Brooks
Pages: 208 pages
Publisher: Del Rey Books
Release Date: March 25th, 2008
Let me preface this review with a warning: I know dick all about Graphic Novels and Comic Books.
I’ve read several (I’m a big fan of the Dabel Brothers’ adaptations of various fantasy series, for instance), but I’m far from an authority on the subject. I can’t comment on the effectiveness of the panel layout, or the deftness of the inking and the delicacy of the pencil work, but what I can comment on is what I, a long timefan of Shannara, felt as I read Dark Wraith of Shannara, Terry Brooks’ first attempt at a graphic novel.
In fact, I think the opinion of reviewers such as myself are just as important as those who have a strong history with graphic storytelling. Del Rey has recently been heavily pushing their line of graphic novels, and I’d be willing to bet that the majority of Brooks’ fans have never picked up a graphic novel. So, the question is, did he (along with Edwin David and Robert Place Napton, the illustrator and adaptor respectively) succeed in roping me in this Graphic Novel virgin?
Yes and no.
The thing that interested me the most when I first heard about Dark Wraith of Shannara was that it would be the first official visual representation of Brooks’ The Four Lands (besides that ill-advised and oft-forgotten PC game from 1995.) I’m a longtime fan of Brooks’ work and the Shannara novels in particular and I’ve got a pretty sound picture of what the lands, the races and the characters look like, and so I was worried that Edwin David wouldn’t be able to hold up to his end of the bargain. The results were a mixed bag, unfortunately. Some of the panels (the more important ones, I suppose) are terrific, full of character, detail and life, others (the less important ones) see a significant drop in quality.
Many of the characters in the novel will be familiar to those who have read Brooks’ novels and for the most part David stays true to the source material. Though they differ from the image in my head, most notably the moorcats, Slanter and Kimber Boh (who’s outfit seems very inappropriate for the harsh conditions she lives in…), I don’t have too many complaints. Many of my favourite characters (Alannon and Garet Jax, in particular) look terrific and Jair, the main character, was done justice.
The story is very Brookisian. Simple, fun and not without some emotional resonance and introspection. Fan service abounds and seems to be a big driving force behind the plot, often characters will show up for only a few panels, as if just to make sure that they’re in the story, and then fade back into the background. Brooks continues to develop the character of Jair Ohmsford and I’m enjoying watching him grow from the young boy found in The Wishsong of Shannara to a grown man dealing with with the side affects of using a magic that threatens to overwhelm him.
Brooks explores interesting territory with Jair’s Wishsong, drawing parallels to drug addiction and it is as Jair struggles with a magic that is slowly eating away at him – but also necessary for his survival – that we find the true strength of the story and the character. I’m hoping that Brooks continues to explore Jair’s magic, whether through other Graphic Novels or through short stories similar to Indomitable (found in the Legends II anthology, edited by Robert Silverberg). I used to be rather lukewarm towards Jair as a character, but I’ve been warming up significantly over the course of Indomitable and Dark Wraith of Shannara.
Is Dark Wraith of Shannara going to set the Graphic Novel world on fire? Nope. Is it going to revolutionize the Fantasy genre? Nope. Is is a nice, fun ride for Shannara fans? Yep. In the end, I can’t imagine that Dark Wraith of Shannara will be anything more than a footnote in Brooks’ illustrious and prolific career, it is a terrific companion to his novels, but not something that is going to put his name on the map for those who are not fans on his series already.
Dark Wraith of Shannara kept me entertained for the couple of hours it took me to read and, really, can I ask for much more than that? Spotty artwork couldn’t stop this Shannara fan from feeling slightly giddy at finally seeing the Four Lands brought to life visually and with a fun story to back up the pictures. This is one piece of fan service that Shannara fans won’t want to miss, but those who aren’t already fans can probably pass over. Brooks surely shouldn’t quit his day job as a novelist, but if he wants to work on Graphic Novels during the evening, I wouldn’t mind one bit.