In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war. Such are the words printed on nearly every game book in the Warhammer 40,000 (or Warhammer 40k or even just 40k) series. Created by British company Games Workshop in 1987, this miniatures game set in a dystopian 41st millennium, where humanity must defend itself from alien threats and heresy within, has attracted players from all over and continues to go strong to this day. The deep, intricate background of the galaxy and its inhabitants, as well as the numerous customizable armies, give everyone something to latch onto. How does this translate into their first foray into comics? Well… I find it lacking, to say the least.
First, let’s get to the main problem. For a first issue of a four-part story, next to nothing happens. There’s some exposition about how a storm has subsided, some space marines land on a planet, fight some monsters, and some other parties are getting ready to rock the boat. We don’t really have any insight into who these characters are, apart from some minor character descriptions at the beginning, or why their mission is important.
In fact, the reader is given no insight into the world. A lot of terms are thrown around like warpstorm, Dark Angels, Iron Warriors, Inquisition, and so on, but there is no context or clue as to what they mean. A first issue is supposed to draw new readers into the fold and introduce them to this new world, but the first-time reader is given no idea of how this universe works, what separates space marines from the average soldier, or what exactly these monsters of Chaos are. All that the reader can infer is that a long time ago, the Dark Angels did a Very Bad Thing (capitalized for emphasis) that they’ve been covering up for ten thousand years and something that may expose them might be on a world that was behind a cosmic barrier until now. I can understand hiding the Very Bad Thing from the audience so they can discover it as one of the characters does (I and many other 40k aficionados already know it.), but I can’t fathom why you’d want to keep readers in the dark about the universe when you could explain the basics in one two-page spread.
Some may argue that this comic is meant for the fans who would know these details going in. The comic medium is a great way for people who don’t have enough money to invest in the miniatures to get into Warhammer 40k, but this feels more alienating rather than a jumping-on point. There was an Issue #0 that came out in last month’s issue of White Dwarf (Games Workshop’s magazine) that may have explained some background, but I feel that’s cheating as well. New readers shouldn’t have to belong to an exclusive club to understand something, and the necessary information shouldn’t be in a magazine that they would have never bought or seen before reading the comic.
There are some redeeming qualities. The art is quite good, seeping in the gothic aesthetic that the game is known for. Even if nothing is explained, it still manages to keep the scope of the scenario, particularly when the drop pods are careening down to the planet, combat-ready space marines within. Despite the dark tone of the setting, the colors manage to be vibrant and visually striking. The comic also deserves props for giving each space marine in main character Balthus’ unit a distinct look and not having them in identical armor. Seems fitting that a franchise that sells modular miniatures that people can paint would have outstanding visuals.
As a fan of Warhammer 40,000, I can’t say I was impressed with their first comic outing. As far as stories in other mediums, I greatly prefer the Path of the Eldar book trilogy and the video game Space Marine (which is sadly unlikely to have a sequel since publisher THQ went under and left the rights in limbo). In fact, there’s a fan animation called “The Lord Inquisitor – Prologue” by YouTube user Warpgazer that conveyed the scope and feeling of the universe in less than ten minutes; however, I do realize that the comic medium has some restrictions that may have hampered the story and this is the first issue, so I’m going to wait until the next issue to see if this story will sink or sail.