War is hell in Warhammer 40,000 Marneus Calgar #1, and that’s exactly the point. The series that literally invented the term “grimdark” is getting a Marvel Comics adaptation this week, and it features war spanning a galaxy. It features a hero named Marneus Calgar, who gets a full origin story for the first time here, as well as soldiers sporting religious looking iconography fighting a war against heretics. Kieron Gillen and Jacen Burrows are introducing this franchise to new readers while supplying necessary new information for longtime fans. It’s the best of both worlds as Marvel treks into a new realm of stories.
This is a well-plotted issue, introducing readers to the Marneus, a great military leader as well as informing the reader of the state of the war. Marneus Calgar and his soldiers may have a technological and tactical advantage, but they’re still having trouble winning the war. Much of the book focuses on Marneus’s childhood as he is tested to become a great warrior. His origins appear to be tied to his current struggles in the present, which lets the two storylines connect.
The book also disperses data pages at opportune times to flesh out the world with maps and details bout planets. All this together, there are story details for new and old readers as well as a general world-building going on that works. The bigger story at work here is huge and it can feel overwhelming, but you’re never without key information to understand the moment.
Art by Burrows with colors by Java Tartaglia maximizes the wartorn mayhem. The opening page itself shows off the incredible killing machinery at work by Marneus Calgar and his men. If you’re seeking a story about war being wrong and characters sickened by their killing, you’ve come to the wrong place. Burrows draws Marneus with a leathery resolve that shows he kills without emotion. He kills because he must. Many of the characters in this story wear masks, which ends up making the narrative feel quite cold. The effect is likely on purpose given the gory violence at work on the page.
That is all juxtaposed well with the flashbacks of Marneus and his young friends. They’re all smiles, relishing life, and excited to enter the war as soldiers. This positivity is drawn well by Burrows and it helps convey how far Marneus has come from child to general (known as a Chapter Master). Body language is key at certain times too, especially with the masked characters.
Props must go to Joe Sabino who is credited for the design of the book. The logo on the cover and on the credits page has a stable, strong, and authoritative look that suits this series.
The hardest aspect to relate to in this book for most is going to be the lack of humanity in older Marneus and the enemies he shoots down. Likely, that’s an element longtime fans are happy with. There seems to be a pro-war sentimentality to the narrative — Marneus is certainly tired of the war, but doesn’t look tired of killing — and the bad guys being murdered dress like bad guys, but we also don’t ever see their faces or their humanity. We aren’t given enough to know why Marneus must blow the enemy to bits. The adornments on the mech suit seem to suggest there’s a religion he abides by which may dictate his actions, which further complicates how to perceive the war. Hardcore fans might know, but that’s not evident here. As such, if you’re not keen on seeing violence and gore, this isn’t the book for you.
This is an interesting entry point for new readers curious about the famous and decades-old universe based on the miniature war game. If you like sci-fi or fantasy, you’ll be fascinated with Warhammer 40,000: Marneus Calgar for its complicated world. At its core, this is a story about Marneus Calgar and how a hopeful teenager became a chiseled war veteran. The creative team has done well to capture the vast world at our fingertips in all its dark and twisted sci-fi violence.