Writers: Dan Abnett & Ian Edginton
Artists: Lui Antonio & Greg Boychuk (p), JM Ringuet (c) and others
Publisher: Boom! Studios
Chris: In our slugfest of the initial issue in this six chapter song of the Games Workshop creation Warhammer 40K, we marveled at the vast world this creative team had undertaken, and liked what we saw. Having painted my own armies in my collegiate days, I know just how many different characters we are dealing with and how enjoyable the game can be. My shop didn’t carry this series despite my urging to try it out. Apparently, rednecks in Texas don’t care too much about the Emperor’s will. Regardless, I felt an extreme sense of enjoyment from having the chance to complete this story in trade format. Did your local shop offer this title across the pond, Luke?
Luke: Hmm, I’m going to force myself to skip the redneck jokes and stick to the topic at hand. But isn’t G.W. your Emperor? (D’oh! Couldn’t’ resist.) I consider myself rather lucky in that I live within ten minutes’ walking distance of two comic shops, and one of them did indeed stock this series--which I would have expected given that this small island “across the pond” is the home of Games Workshop and 40K. However, I wasn’t all that impressed with the first issue when it was released about a year ago and didn’t bother picking up the rest. Like you, though, I’m glad to be able to remedy that with the release of this collected edition. As we know, “In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only War!” and that is what this series is about: War! What is it good for? Well, if you’re a Space Marine in the service of the holy Emperor encased in the Golden Throne of Terra, absolutely everything!
Chris: Yeah, I am interested to see if this series has continued sales success. For a subject that has quite a niche market, I’m surprised at how well this series has done in not only the comics, but video game market. The story told could have been carried out in many ways and still come to the same conclusion. Our foursome could have chosen to view the battles from a wide angle, told from the highest of ranking soldiers surveying the battlefield. Instead, we are introduced to three characters who would serve as not only our narrators at times, but also the eyes with which we see the events of this story. Each vignette came from a different perspective in not only battlefield age, but in position in the Emperor’s right arm as well. Raclaw the Neophyte is the fresh meat taken from his home world and crafted into the work of art that is known as the Space Marine. Brother Gerhart is a battle hardened member of the Black Templars, warrior priests that view their work as their religion. Finally Tankred, the most endearing and interesting of the three to me, is a once-proud warrior reborn into the machine spirit, housed in the body of a Dreadnought.
Luke: I must say that I found this a truly interesting way to explore what being a member of the Adeptus Astartes is all about. By focusing on the tribulations of three battle brothers at different stages along their path of servitude, Abnett and Edginton are able to fully introduce the neophyte reader to what being a Space Marine is all about.
Chris: Clearly, the reason for the three characters is to show the life stages of a Space Marine from conception to the peak of battle-readiness to immortal afterlife. They didn’t all three serve together, hell maybe they were the same person. The more important part is the attitude they showed in honoring their pledge made to the Emperor. Alongside their brethren, each serves without thought of himself or desire for glory. Their desire is to fight as a chapter, honoring the fallen and their spiritual leader with their actions. Man do I sound like a Sunday sermon or what?
Luke: Only if the Sunday sermons you go to conclude with: “Burn the Heretic, Purge the Unclean!”. Actually, given that you’re from Texas, I suppose that might be the case. Though the splitting of the book between three leads really pays off at the end of the series, it was one of the reasons I wasn’t all that impressed with the first issue. It does start out very disconnected, with the only points of reference for the reader to judge the passage of time by being caption boxes indicating in what year of which campaign the Black Templars are currently fighting. However, it all makes sense in the end. That first issue contains scenes from five different settings. By the finale, we’ve learnt that the whole series has focused on the trials and combats of one Marine throughout his career and I feel this revelation really adds a great deal more to the series as a whole.
Chris: Excellent point about the scene changes. I think that can make it confusing at times for less versed readers, but for me I wasn’t paying attention anyway. I was too wrapped up in the evolution of our Marines.
Luke: Whilst the second half of the series boils down to, as might have been expected, the eternal struggle of the Imperium against the horrors of the Warp, Space Marine vs. Chaos Marine, the first half rushes around the 40K Universe, giving us a taste of the other threats that Mankind must face. Thus, we get guest appearances by Orks, Eldar, Tau, and Necrons. Though the ex-40K gamer part of me enjoyed these brief glimpses, they do somewhat hamper the overall story. The writers seem to want to get as much as they can out there in as little space as possible, which leads to quick or aborted battles that serve little purpose other than showcasing these races. It’s more frustrating than anything as they deserve more attention than a few panels and the lack of space doesn’t allow any understanding of what drives these Xenos.
Chris: See? I really enjoyed the homage paid to the different armies available in the game. Seeing the Eldar and Chaos were of particular interest to me. Nobody pays attention to the Dark Eldar anymore, which were an original army and mine of choice when I painted. As I was saying, I think this book could be read with great attention paid to the details if desired, but my read wasn’t concerned with which offensive of what war was going on. I plastered myself to the three Marines and the words with which Abnett and Edginton craft the mentality I mentioned earlier.
Issue three opens with Raclaw’s words before he wades into battle with the Orks:
The horizon is a wall of viridian flesh. In the Vanguard, one of their command caste; at his back a skull-stacked fan of battle lances. The man I once was would have felt fury and revulsion at the sight. Now, I feel nothing except duty.
I think it takes a certain type of writer to speak in such a manner through his characters. Readers familiar with Abnett know he has written many novels for Games Workshop. With these scripts, it’s clear he has a love for this universe. He has mastered the voice of the Space Marine, further evidencing how this story was told.
Luke: I couldn’t agree with you more. Abnett has written some of the best novels to come out of the Black Library, Games Workshop’s publishing division. His Eisenhorn Trilogy is fascinating and deserves recognition as a work of science fiction in its own right and not just a novel based on “that wargame for kids.”
He’s written many novels about devoted servants of the Emperor and, as you say, the dialogue in this series is exactly how I’d expect Space Marines to converse and pontificate. Also, I shouldn’t assume that Abnett is the only one responsible for such an accurate portrayal of the 41st Millennium. Ian Edginton, obviously, deserves just as much credit, though it would be interesting to know what each writer brought to the story.
Chris: I will say the artwork was touch and go for me at times. With the sheer number of people necessary with each page, it’s hard for me to cast the first stone at the consistency of the artwork. The praise is during my read, the battle scene’s felt like them. There seemed to be a “fog of war,” if you will, around the warriors doing battle. There were times I would have preferred a little more clarity in some of the panels, but others held the mystery of WH40K quite nicely. Several shout outs, as well, to the different characters that I remember painting. They were fun to see.
Luke: In places, the artwork lets the story down. If you find it hard to cast the first stone, then I find it easy to cast the second. Antonio and Boychuk are the two principal artists for the series and, though there are similarities, there are differences between their styles.
At times, Antonio, who kicks things off, is a good fit for the material. At others, though, his work is uninspiring. For example, in the establishing shot of them in the first issue, the Necrons are meant to be mysterious and sleek. However, they just look dull here.
The same problems arise now and again with Antonio’s Space Marine depictions. The big guys are supposed to look sober and ordered compared to the craziness around them. However, once again, they some across as bland and boring at times.
Boychuk does a slightly better job, his marines have a certain degree of mystery and a sense of awe—but, they remain uninspiring in some panels as well. For some reason, this problem is particularly true of Tankred, the venerable dreadnought. And the inconsistencies of the final issue mar what ought to have been a grand finale as all the plotlines come together. Instead, most likely due to tight deadlines, four different artists, with changes in penciller now glaringly obvious, contributed to the issue and the pencils were coloured by someone else.
But there is also stuff to like about the art. Every now and then, the artists succeed in capturing the grandeur of the gothic style of the 41st Millennium. As you said, the battles feel like battles: blood and limbs flying in all directions, “fog of war” settling in, a certain amount of desperation on both sides. The Chaos cultists are interestingly twisted and savage, though I would have liked to see a bit more of the madness that the touch of the Warp brings.
Chris: No matter how you slice it, I think in the end we agree that for a book about the holy art of War, it has that look. Overall I think this trade is a must have for any Warhammer player, or anyone that enjoys the fantasy genre. There is a strong style of writing that should double as a playbook for any military recruitment package. Very enjoyable for me, Luke.
Luke: Yeah, I think the take home message here is: good book, definitely worth a look if you’ve ever been remotely interested in 40K, or if you like stories about hard-ass, no-nonsense, blood-and-guts-aplenty War.
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