The Storm Riders
The Storm Riders is an epic based around traditional Wuxia structures, using classic Chinese mythology as it's base and then building a whole new world of Kung Fu rivalries, blood feuds, friendship and love. Wing Shing Ma, working as both writer and illustrator on this totally original storyline throws plenty of the necessary ingredients into the mix. The storyline is based mainly around Wind and Cloud, two young Kung Fu masters who serve Conquer, the undisputed lord of the Kung Fu world. A prophecy was made that Wind and Cloud would make Conquer powerful, but they would also cause his eventual downfall. Thus Conquer is forced to resort to Machiavellian intrigue to keep the two from becoming allies against him. Obviously things don't go too smoothly with this plan, and it isn't too long before the kung fu world is thrown into chaos as war breaks out. Along with this main plotline, Ma throws in so many subplots and an amazingly rich tapestry of back-history for even the smallest of characters that you feel as if you are being transported to another world.
The drawing style is quite unlike anything you will have seen before. Ma uses the techniques he honed working on comics strips as diverse as 'The Blood Sword' and 'I Want to Change into a Woman' (yes, quite a difference) to bring across both the violent kinetics of the fight scenes and the softer mood of the expositional moments, be that Cloud's introverted brooding, or the moments of tenderness shared between Cloud and Kong-Chi. The comic is presented in colour and normally runs at 120 pages. Some of the ink work on the more detailed frames is absolutely amazing and should be hung in a gallery. Converse to that, the rawness of some of the frames in the fight scenes really does get across the vicious and fluid movements of the duellists. Ma also has a tendency to change styles during a fight, from raw to highly detailed to somewhere in between, which translates the flow and tempo of the fight for the viewer. You can tell when there is a lull as fighters get their breath back, or the emotion behind a particular attack.
The story and characters are phenomenal. Wing Shing Ma really pushed himself on this comic series. Since this he has written Heaven Sword & Dragon Sabre, which is a pretty famous folk tale, so he really hasn't pushed his imagination again. Not surprising with the depth of the universe he has created here. Every character, not just the main two or three, has their own fighting style, or styles, split further into forms, of which there can be up to 12, then you have the divine weapons that these fighters wield, then you have the story of the weapon, then you have the story of the character, then you have the story of their family, then you have the story of the mystical animals of the kung fu world, then you have the�do you get the picture? This is for at least 20 characters so far, and volume twelve was the last one to have been released. This series weighs in at over 90 volumes!!! This may seem a little overwhelming, but Ma is a genius. He writes in a way that lets the reader cope with all the information coming at them by supplying what is necessary at the time. More often than not the reader will want to know more about the back-story, there is encouragement of this curiosity. Sure enough, when you get the next volume there will be the information you were so desperately seeking.
Overall this is truly a wonderful series of comics, so richly coloured by the imagination of its writer that I defy anyone to hate it. Ma never gets bogged down in the mechanics or over-elaboration, his artwork suits the mood of what he is trying to say at that particular point in time, and he plays his audiences emotions like a finely tuned piano, always hitting the right keys. The way he can make you care for the brutal Cloud is really great writing, and he stays true to his genre and the story he's trying to tell. This has to be the most complete manga of this genre so far. Hopefully it continues in the same vein.
'The Storm Riders' was first published in 1992 in China. ComicsOne started publishing an English translation in 2002. It weighs in at over 90 volumes and is now released every two months. The 13th volume is due out in November.
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