Thursday, 18 May 2017

Ballads of War 1x32 & 1x33

What kind of WH40K comic would this be if there were no Space Marines in it?

Sooooo, OK, there's a lot going on in these two pages. Let's start with the first panel. My very own view of Space Marines. I won't get too hard or philosophical on the subject, fear not. I'm just talking about their looks. Though observing the classical look of the armour and so, I tried a possibilist approach (in the very same way I said I approached the Adeptus Arbites and the big eagle on the helmet, if you remember). That means there won't be back banners, sorry. Besides, sergeants and characters will bear a helmet under the same conditions the rest of the Astartes would bear it, trying to make some fucking sense. I never got to draw Space Wolves, but they were to have more standard haircuts than the minis, and I had prepared a line regarding their beards and hairstyles, wondering how the hell would they manage to fit those into pressurized helmets.

I digress. The other thing I wanted to remark is that my Space Marines do not share the ridiculous micro-head fashion initiated by Karl Kopinski. Sorry, not gonna happen. They are genetically altered giants and whatever, but there are other tricks to make them look bulkier than simply reducing their heads (an old superhero comics trick, BTW, but this time taken to the extreme). Putting it fairly simple:

A big nope (though the art itself is awesome, will never say otherwise)
So in the end, I consciously drew kind of proportioned heads, less bulky shoulderpads and that kind of stuff. Now you know what to expect, my very own personal canon. Ye be warned!

Now the itchy stuff. By now I hope the mysterious marine's identity should be more or less clear. Come on! The deep voice (I gave you a hint some pages ago, 'the Emperor's Voice' as referred in the Eye of Terror Codex), the black armour, that distinctive backpack, the Dark Angels Space Marines emblem on the shoulderpad...  Right, Cypher. Dun dun dunnnn...

If you recall the lore, it's been stated since the old Chaos Codex (2nd Ed) that Cypher has a C'tan knife. Well, if you've been alert through the story so far, you may have noticed some Necron imaginery both on the Sepulchre and the ingot Brent was paid with. Hmmm...

Page 6
 I never got to fully develop that part of the story, but we were going to know how, back in the days of the Great Crusade, the Emperor led a Dark Angels force and, in alliance with the Eldar, fought a C'Tan. Do you remember a few pages ago, that Latin inscription talking about 'the fifth one'? Right, in those days of the old background, the C'Tan were stellar gods, suneaters, like Galactus but in the worst badass bad mood. They enslaved the race that, in time, would become the soulless Necrons. Go visit the previous pages and you will see some hints on the brass doors of the tomb and in the chamber with the sarcophagus. By the time I wrote this, there were only four known C'Tans (two were known and two were still to develop). So I introduced this 'secret' fifth one, giving me enough narrative freedom without getting into open contradiction with the then-official background.

Page 24
Page 28
But I was going to talk about Cypher. He is referred by the Great Harlequin with two names not pertaining to the 40K fluff, Cartaphilus and Ahasuerus. OK, this needs an explanation... and it's gonna be hard. Ye be warned! (again)

Dark Angels. When they were created, alongside the rest of the Warhammer 40,000 Rogue Trader fluff, the designers thought it was a funny idea calling this Chapter's Primarch after the poet Lionel Johnson (whose masterpiece is called The Dark Angel). They acted the same with many other Chapters and pieces of fluff. This is no news, of course, but it shows us that Rick Priestley, Andy Chambers and the rest of the team were not illiterate, unlike some of their heirs. Ahem. They just tied their work to their own cultural references (Lionel Johnson, Edgar Allan Poe and many others), and that's the base on which WH40K was originally built (Right, oversimplification, but you get the point of what I'm saying; I'll get to that later).

The Chapter had little personality after that Lionel Johnson reference, and remained in that way for some time. The wonderful 'Deathwing' short story (by Bryan Ansell and Bill King) was the first attempt I can recall of giving the Dark Angels a characterization, as American natives (remember the characters of Librarian Two Heads Talking or Captain Cloud Runner). But even then we got to know that the Dark Angels recruited from very different worlds and cultures, and that the newcomers adopted a new name when accepted into the Chapter (in the case of Two Heads Talking and Cloud Runner, the names were Lucian and Ezekiel, respectively).

It was the Angels of Death Codex (2nd Edition) which draw a clear path about Dark Angels, without openly stating anything though. It is then when we learn the names used by the Astartes to unify those disperse cultures into the Chapter. The names are all in a very specific cultural fashion: Azrael, Belial, Asmodai, Sheol, Sammael, Ezekiel... (Later editions would bring names such as Naaman or Nephilim). So, with the sole exceptions of Sapphon and Bethor, all those names recall an Old Testament tradition, most of them being specifically Hebrew.

Incomprehensibly, when the Horus Heresy novels begun to talk about Dark Angels, they totally forgot about all that and delved into a kind of weird European medieval knight style. But by then this comic was quite on its way, and I had already decided to keep the Old Testament and Hebrew inspiration. I really think it suits the Dark Angels mood and it allowed me to develop a certain kind of distinctive personality around the characters in my story.

This was all about Cypher, right? We know some dark secrets about the Dark Angels. Long story short, when Lion El'Jonson came back to his homeworld Caliban, he found that his Legion had been torn apart by treason, led by his friend Luther. I think the story is well known by now (Google can tell you the whole thing if you're really interested in it, it's not the point right now). Part of the Legion remained loyal to the Emperor, but a few rebels escaped and now wander through the galaxy across space and time. Cypher is certainly the most remarkable leader among them. It's not the place or time to talk about their real motivations or allegiances, we'll leave that for another day. So the thing is that Cypher disowned the Imperial order, defying with it Lion El'Jonson and the Emperor himself. Right, the God-Emperor. That guy.

So, if I was attaching the Dark Angels tradition to the cultural references I was talking about, the association struck my mind. I could portray Cypher as the Wandering Jew. Though it's a medieval legend of Christian origin, it really touches the theme of the sinner who taunts God and is doomed to wander forever (at least until the Second Coming). Both Cartaphilus and Ahasuerus are names that have been given to the Wandering Jew through history in different versions of the legend. In this association, Cypher is then condemned to lead his people (his Fallen Angels) in ask for redemption while they carry their mysterious secret duties away until the second coming of his Primarch Lion El'Jonson, the one who can grant him forgiveness (as can do with Luther; that's another story). So when that happens, he could show their merits and how they never fell into the taint of Chaos, and what their real agenda was through all these years, in hope of finally earning the well deserved rest.

Is all this bullshit pedantic? Maybe. You have all the right to criticise it. For sure it's not the kind of stuff you usually expect to find in a Warhammer 40,000 story, but it somehow ties this comic with the spirit of the Rogue Trader days in which the designers assimilated literary references into their background. It's also a resource frequently used by some of the comic authors I most respected when I was writing all this (please have a look at the appendices in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comic, that's pure gold and a blatant inspiration for what I was trying here).

Oh, man. I think I have given quite a speech today. If you have been able to read all this... well, congrats! :D

If you are sick of so many letters and just want to see some doodles, all the previous pages are HERE.


  1. I'm a big fan of your art, like always :)

    1. Thank you so much! More pages to come, hehe...

  2. Nice twist dude :-)

    1. There's yet more unexpected stuff to happen!

  3. Well, those are a very short giants, at least Cypher doesn´t look to tall against the Harlequin.
    Also, is true that the first "real scale" space marine made by Kopinski has a very little head, but his others laters jobs don´t show this problem, in fact, lot of modelers look more for this pic

    Also, nice research looking for alternative names for Cypher, very interesting

    1. Nowadays the tendence seems to have somehow reverted, but for some time everyone was painting ridiculously little-headed marines. Honestly, this is simply absurd:

      Glad you liked the Wandering Jew nonsense! :D

  4. Hurray for letters, if what you make them into is all that good.

    1. Haha, thanks, pal! I had lots of absurd references from here and there to fit in here, I should try to make some kind of compilation :D

  5. "Is all this bullshit pedantic? Maybe."

    No, not at all! I really can't tell you how much I (first) enjoyed the comic alone, and then reveled in all this fascinating background information. I love your idea of incorporating the legend of the wandering jew. You are really taking things to the next level, methodologically speaking.

    And yes! - no pin-heads on Marines, please.

    1. Thank you very much indeed. A thing I had clear in my mind from the beginning was that this was the kind of story I was to tell, not a mere 'pew pew' full of cool Mary Sues. At least that's what I aimed for.
      It's quite a challenge to build a solid storytelling tied in with more or less popular references and get some uniformity in the overall tone of it. Good thing is that the Warhammer 40,000 background is enormously rich, and it's set precisely using that kind of resources, as many other stories (I talked about The League of Extraordinay Gentlemen, but it also works for Sandman, for example, where it's particularly obvious, or quite another number of really good pop literature icons). Making this kind of references and meta-references into the narrative makes kind of sense, just because the kind of universe WH40K was built upon.
      I had some more ideas of the like, I sometimes wonder how would they had worked if I really had finished the thing...