Not Secret, Not Civil: WARHAMMER 40K Returns

"Warhammer 40000: Will of Iron #1" preview
Credit: Titan Comics
Credit: Titan Comics

After the return of Secret Wars and Civil War, another war is returning to comic books - and one that could probably beat both in a fair fight: Warhammer 40,000.

Beginning this October, Titan Comics is launching a new ongoing Warhammer 40,000 comic book title - based of course on the long-running tabletop game of the same name. Set thousands of years in the future, this world finds itself on the brink of the apocalypse with mankind fighting to save itself and the rest of the known galaxy from the destructive forces of chaos, orks, and hosts of other alien hostiles. Originally conceived as a miniature-based tabletop war game, Games Workshop grew its brands into a successful video games, movies, and comics.

Last published at BOOM! in 2006, readers can now look forward to ending the ten-year wait for a four-colored look into the Emperor’s finest – and all of the xenos that plague the galaxy. Helping launch the series will be writer George Mann, who is best known for his work with Games Workshop’s Black Library imprint, responsible for publishing the various novels and related publications for all things Warhammer 40,000. Joining Mann will be artists Tazio Bettin and Enrica Eren Angiolini.

With their Warhammer 40,000: Will of Iron scheduled to debut October 12, Newsarama talked with the trio about delving into Rick Priestley's classic mythos.

Credit: Titan Comics

Newsarama: George, I know you’ve done some work with Warhammer 40,000 in the past, but I’m curious what each of your backgrounds are with Games Workshop – whether 40K or Warhammer Fantasy Battles? Any of you play the tabletop or video games?

George Mann: Well, I guess for me it started with the boxed games in the early 90s, so Blood Bowl, Adeptus Titanicus, Space Hulk, Advanced Heroquest, amongst others. I was a huge Dungeons & Dragons fan, so I had a bunch of Citadel Miniatures already, but these games really dragged me squarely into the GW universe. From there I moved onto Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, and then eventually playing games of Warhammer 40,000.

Then, years later, I was lucky enough to get a job working at the Black Library, and from there went on to run the GW Publishing Studio, where I was heavily involved in both 40K and Warhammer Fantasy for a long time. I have armies for both, but rarely have chance to play, although I’ve gone back to the boxed games now that GW is producing more of them again.

Tazio Bettin: I had played both 40K and Fantasy Battles on some occasions in my teenage years, but never really assembled playable armies. There were just too many wonderful miniatures from different armies that I wanted! The first I collected and painted were Eldar. Since then, I’ve bought Space Marines from several chapters, Chaos creatures – mostly of Tzeentch, my favorite Chaos God – and even some Orks and Tyranids. I have also played some of the tabletop board games like Space Hulk (both the miniature and the card games) and Chaos in the Old World.

Enrica Eren Angiolini: I was a hobbyist for several years when I was in high school. I started with Warhammer Fantasy Battles, with a small army of Wood Elves. Soon after that, I fell in love with Eldar and started building my Warhammer 40,000 army, with my own Craftworld (the symbol was a fiery Phoenix on a field of Chaos Black and Scorpion Green). I have a small Chaos army, devoted to Tzeentch, and I love Tau designs, so I have a few of those too. I used to play with a group of friends, even entered a few tournaments, but what I enjoyed the most was painting and modifying miniatures, and I did some sculpting too. I’ve played Necromunda, had lots of fun with both the original and the revised versions of Talisman and played the part of an Arbitrator in a Dark Heresy campaign.

Credit: Titan Comics

Nrama: Of all the races in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, which would you be and why?

Credit: Titan Comics

Mann: My gut reaction is Eldar, and a Harlequin at that, although to be honest, I’m not sure I’d really want to be any of the races in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. They’re all doomed! Doomed, I tell you!

I have a real fondness for the Eldar, though. I love that eldritch mystique, the idea of ancient empires long fallen, and a rich but dying culture. There’s something epic and infinitely melancholy in that.

Bettin: It's actually a tough question. Usually my answer would be human. In most fictional settings, be it science fiction or fantasy, I often find them to be more relatable with their contradictions and juxtaposition of virtues and imperfections. That being said, the Warhammer 40,000 human culture is depicted in strongly obscurantist tones of medieval bigotry and fear of the unknown. So if instead I were to choose which culture to be part of, I'd say Eldar, with its grandiose and melancholy history that drove them into a nomadic existence among the stars.

Angiolini: I agree with George and Tazio on this one: Eldar, Eldar, Eldar! I love them to bits: their history, their designs, their Paths and Craftworlds. I’m deeply fascinated by their use of the psychic powers, so I’d love to be a Farseer or a Warlock. Or to ride one of their awesome jetbikes: they’re just too cool!

Nrama: I am clearly at a loss here, as a fan of Chaos and the Necrons!

Now, one aspect of the Warhammer 40,000 universe that makes it stand out from so many other franchises centers on its distinctive aesthetic and personality. Can you discuss the challenges you faced trying to bottle that particular brand of lightning – whether it be from a narrative perspective, or artistically?

Mann: Well, for me it’s about getting the right tone. The Warhammer 40,000 universe isn’t so much science fiction as medieval fantasy in space, so the tone is quite dark, brooding and archaic. There’s a weight to it, too – the weight of history, and the burden of the characters knowing that they’re at the end of all things, the last gasp of the universe. The Space Marines have to believe that they can save humanity, but the truth is that of course they won’t. Humanity’s own hubris is going to bring it down. And then the cycle will continue, and the next race in the queue will begin to fall, just as humanity followed the Eldar.

So I think the key is having all of that in the back of your mind, knowing that these characters are hanging on desperately to survive, and also remembering that you’re in a fantastical realm, not a scientific one.

Credit: Titan Comics

Bettin: In collecting reference for this work, I studied gothic architecture in depth, and how in the art of Warhammer 40,000, those aesthetics are used to emphasize a sense of vertiginous heights and brooding grandiosity that makes human beings look very small and vulnerable. I felt it was important to preserve that feeling through my drawings, although the effect is only truly reached in the coloring stage, through Enrica's ability to render atmosphere and depth of field through her amazing coloring technique.

Angiolini: When you have such an evocative script and Tazio’s lines to work on, colors pop in your mind naturally. The pages I receive have such strong and dramatic atmospheres, that completing them with my colors is a spontaneous process. Bringing Warhammer 40,000’s peculiar setting to life, with its melancholy and obscurity, is an interesting challenge: Every color, value, and tone needs to have a weight and a meaning, to convey that sense of doom and darkness. Color and light contrasts are one of the keys to obtain it.

Nrama: Now, another component to the Warhammer universe lies within its epic scope. George, can you discuss some of the joys – and sorrows – of working on such a grand scale?

Mann: The beauty of the Warhammer 40,000 setting is that it’s infinitely expansive. So you can tell any sort of story you want, provided you’re clear that the war that’s raging between the Imperium and the forces of Chaos is all-consuming, and impacts everything. I think one of the key decisions we made early on with the comics was to carve out a distinct region of space that we could explore. That has two immediate benefits: a) It’s incredibly exciting to create something new, and to add something different, and with its own texture, to the Warhammer 40,000 universe, and b) It meant that we didn’t have to worry too much about what GW is doing with the rest of the universe, and work in fear of contradicting something. So while we’re definitely making use of some key touchstones and characters – Azrael makes an appearance in issue #1, for example – we’re free to explore our own sector and do our own thing.

That means we’re also free to tell all sorts of epic, world-shattering stories. And I think that’s also key – you want your story to mean something, to have some impact. That’s hard to do if you have to push the reset button at the end. This way, you’re not sure who’s going to live or die, or whether any of the planets are still going to exist by the end of the arc.

Credit: Titan Comics

Nrama: Likewise, Tazio and Enrica, I’m curious how you handled this galactic endeavor from an artistic viewpoint? We’re not talking about a few rebel ships and a couple Star Destroyers – the fleets of the Adeptus Astartes (Space Marines) far outweigh those of other popular science fiction armies.

Bettin: Since I started my career as comic artist, I’ve gradually developed an abhorrence of emptiness on my pages. Now, I can hardly stand an empty panel: I want to show what I'm capable of and tackle my limits without excuses or shortcuts. So the scope and themes of Warhammer 40,000 actually come to my aid in offering a challenge. Sometimes it can be daunting, but it's also very rewarding once I sit back and look at my day's work. I can hardly wait to start a new page once I finished one.

Angiolini: Galactic endeavors are the best kind of challenges! There’s no better way to improve than to face a tough and challenging adventure. And as Baltus will have to fight hard in the pages of our comics, we’ll fight to deliver the best result possible comics (hopefully our future won’t be so dim and full of darkness!), working on immense spaceships and unique atmospheres. Luckily we have a lot of splendid reference to work with (miniatures, illustrations, studies…) and with an amazing creative team as this, ours will surely be an amazing and fun endeavor.

Nrama: Despite your story inhabiting such a world, you’ll be focusing in on a particular character’s story – Baltus, a newly promoted space marine from the Dark Angels chapter. What is it about the Dark Angels of all the different groups to choose from that drew you to them most of all?

Mann: The Dark Angels are a great lens through which to explore the Warhammer 40,000 universe. They’re Space Marines through and through, but they also have these deep-rooted secrets that stretch back into the distant past, and shed light on the core story of the setting – the Horus Heresy and the Great Betrayal. So in Baltus we have a character who is learning about these things for the first time, and we’re going to go on this journey of revelation along with him, as he’s inducted into the Inner Circle of the Dark Angels and learns more about what went on, and what their secret mission really is.

Bettin: When I was offered the job, the focus on the Dark Angels was already established, and I felt very lucky, because they have always been my favorite of all space marine chapters. I always liked their aesthetics, symbology and theme. They are very unique and interesting to render.

Angiolini: I’ve never played a space marine army, but the Dark Angels are among my favorites (along with the Space Wolves and the Salamanders), so when I was told the protagonist of our story would have been one of them, I was really glad. As I love green, working on their palette is a great pleasure for me!

Credit: Titan Comics

Nrama: This will be an ongoing series, too. Will you focus primarily on Baltus, or do you think this series will move onto other directions as well? 

Mann: Well, we’re actually rotating through three viewpoint characters in this first year – Baltus, Inquisitor Chaplain Altheous, and Inquisitor Sabbathiel, who’s investigating the Dark Angels for suspected Heresy. So we’re going to see things from all three different perspectives, how they cope with situations differently, and how their stories all collide as the story develops. Beyond that… who knows! The Warhammer 40,000 universe is so rich that we’d be mad not to bring in additional perspectives – and you’ll be seeing that even through the course of the first few arcs.

Bettin: Although Baltus is the protagonist of this story, from its very beginning there are other important characters that provide different viewpoints. We have Inquisitor Sabbathiel, a sort of a counterpoint to the Dark Angels' perspective, and Altheous, a veteran Chaplain who has insight into things Baltus will have to gradually discover. And this is just the beginning.

Angiolini: I am incredibly excited about how the series is structured, moving to different characters and points of view. The Warhammer 40,000 universe is so wide and fascinating, that for me having the chance to shift the view from one point to another is an amazing challenge. It will allow us to experiment and, hopefully, surprise our readers.

Nrama: As a final question, what would you say makes this a “must read” series for not only the die-hard fans of Warhammer but also those who may be new to the world of Games Workshop?

Mann: Tazio and Enrica’s art, for starters. If you’re a fan of the Warhammer 40,000 setting and characters, it’s really not to be missed. Some of the stuff coming down the pipeline will blow your socks off. Hopefully, we’re going to tell an epic story, too, and touch on lots of different elements and factions from the Warhammer 40,000 background.

Bettin: George managed to weave a great story that can be enjoyed both by long time fans of Warhammer 40,000 and new readers alike, as it's a great starting point from which one can familiarize with the immensely rich and beautiful setting.

On our part, Enrica and I are doing our very best to do it justice with our pencils, inks and colors. My hope is that the art will catch readers' eyes long enough for the great story to capture them and make them stay for the duration of the journey.

Angiolini: I am immensely proud to be part of this team: we’re working closely on every page and every detail to bring our readers the best result possible. I think this is what will make our comic a “must have” for both long-time fans and people who’re new to this universe. George’s work is wonderful. He’s giving Tazio and I such great material to work on! And Tazio’s art is spectacular: so detailed and epic that it’s impossible not to be enchanted by it. On my part I’ll keep doing my best to bring their work to life and, most importantly, to give our readers an outstanding series!

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