There’s a kind of inherent problem in writing anything for Warhammer 40k. Warhammer’s bones, its roots, are parodic. It descends from a sort of 2000 AD-style British humor, so obviously, extremely over-the-top that no one could possibly take it seriously, and yet played entirely straight. (Think Judge Dredd). And yet, somehow, people have managed to take it seriously.
That’s how you get several hundred novels where the heroes are tortured, mutilated child soldiers, working in service of a repressive theocracy that is equal parts Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. It’s a world where religious worship, freedom of thought, political self-determination, and looking particularly different are all not just forbidden at gunpoint, but signs of a spiritual malaise that open you up to infestation by evil demon gods from beyond reality.
But it’s also a world where there’s a Ork general named after Margaret Thatcher. Don’t take it all too seriously.
Marneus Calgar #2 manages to hit a good medium – it recognizes that the genre has moved beyond its strictly parodic routes, but still has humor. It recognizes that the Imperium of Man – and the Space Marines, too – are not really good guys, but still, as an entry point to Warhammer 40k for people who probably haven’t read anything about it before, still keeps a pretty black and white moral divide. That is, the Imperium of Man are not the good guys by any means, but they’re not the crazed lunatics shouting “blood for the blood god.”
Unsurprisingly, it turns out Kieron Gillen is good at this whole writing thing. His characters are nuanced, his plot surprising and enthralling, and it’s unexpectedly funny.
Jacen Burrows’s art isn’t bad, but it also isn’t anything more than serviceable. The interiors are fine, the people are fine, backgrounds are fine, the line work is fine. There’s nothing technically wrong with any of it – and honestly, in a medium where artists are required to draw a lot, with little time and little money on the line, that’s still impressive – but there’s nothing to write home about.
What is impressive is James Stokoe’s cover. Almost manga inspired, it’s this massive shot of the Space Marines slaughtering some unlucky foes, and is at once gothic, horrific, and expressive. It’s really, very good, and I only wish he had done interiors as well.
Warhammer 40k is not for everyone. I would not recommend it to most people. But if you are interested, Marneus Calgar is a very good starting point.
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