Mark Turetsky: Greetings, Battlefriend! Marneus seems to have taken a month off, but now he’s back! How was your January?
Stuart Wellington: January? I feel like I’ve been trapped in a stasis field where every day is exactly the same as the last. But as they say: only in death does duty end. So let’s catch up with our favorite big blue Chapter Master, shall we?
MT: Stuart, I’m going to be honest with you. I haven’t read this comic. However, I have consumed the flesh of someone who has, and now have their memories of reading the comic, so I think I can bluff my way through this review. Are there bluff checks in Warhammer 30,000?
SW: There are not. The only bluffing you do in Warhammer is convincing yourself that you will actually paint all the models that you buy.
MT: Harsh truths from a former seller of models and paints. Okay: when we last saw Marneus Calgar, he had lured the heretics of Thulium into capturing the ancestral Calgar estates. But he’s got a cunning plan!
SW: You are referring to him riding a Repulsor Executioner tank through the walls of the estate?
MT: It’s a pretty glorious splash page. This vehicle is just so overdesigned, with many guns, and I think the splattered heretics around the treads is a nice touch. That and the banner reading “VINDICTA” along its front.
SW: It’s actually a hover tank, Mark. Rather than treads, those are repulsor plates. But the results are the same: heretics smushed to paste in the ruins caused by the heaviest tank in a Space Marine Chapter’s fleet.
MT: I think it’s interesting: the minds behind the heretics’ plot seemed to think that taking over the Calgar estate would stir some sense of nostalgia in our chapter master, and that he wouldn’t want to destroy it. They don’t realize that such emotional connections would have been purged from him.
I guess it comes from their treating him like he’s still a regular human being, and so much of this issue is about how those human feelings got burned away from him over the years.
SW: Or at least that the Chaos commanders were hoping to demoralize Marneus by thoroughly desecrating his home. Obviously, that doesn’t work out too well for them. If only they’d been paying attention while Marneus’ relates his life story to Quintus.
MT: Well, he does refer to the Calgar estate as a happy place from him, so it’s not entirely out of the question that he might still hold some affection for it. Speaking of: Marneus mentions that some of these heretics have been alive for 10,000 years? I know Calgar is a few hundred years old at this point, but 10,000 seems like a bit much.
SW: Time works differently in the Realm of Chaos, so some of the Chaos Space Marines leading the heretical forces may very well be some of the original traitors who sided with Warmaster Horus during the Heresy. Also, their devotion to the Dark Gods could grant them greatly extended lifespans. Assuming they don’t get totally smushed by a power fist.
MT: See, here I thought it was because they got all the fancy space marine body mods. And Calgar really gets around in his power suit. I thought he’d be more of a lumbering menace than the type who can make big leaps into squishing heads with his power fists. But you know what? Good for him, at his age. Keeping active.
SW: He’s wearing his artificer armor for this attack. Better for movement. And I like that he goes with the typical Space Marine character style choice of NO HELMET.
MT: He’s more interesting to paint without a helmet! How can other players know he’s Marneus Calgar if he’s wearing a helmet?
SW: It is funny that so many Space Marine heroes go into battle without helmets, but they basically all have the same faces. Cyber-eye here, massive facial scar there, but basically all the same. Oh, and they all need service studs drilled into their foreheads.
MT: We cut back to the flashback narrative, and young Marnie is on Thulium Minor, going through his aspirant culling, when what do you know, our old pal the Ambull from issue #1 shows up. Now, I was a bit disappointed that issue 2 dealt with the Ambull off panel, so I’m glad they brought that big hunk of bug back for a curtain call here.
SW: Yeah, we get a bit of a scale shift here. When the Ambull showed up previously, it was this huge looming menace. Here we see it get shredded by high caliber rounds by a passing Space Marine gunship. Lil Tacitan has come a long way, baby! From helot to calling in air strikes.
Plus, at the start of the culling, we get the “Aspirant Tracker”. Letting us know how many of these prospective Space Marines are still alive.
MT: I love how inhuman it is. Reducing these kids to statistics. But hey, that’s brutal wargaming for ya. I love how Burrows renders pubescent Tacitan on these Ambull pages. First he’s just another kid, then he’s being looked down on (literally) by a Space Marine, and then finally he’s got a beautiful hero shot calling in the air strike.
And the next few pages get only more brutal. We get kids freezing to death, kids being eaten by wolves, carried away by gargoyles. Also, the servitors. What’s their deal? They’re essentially zombies of marines who didn’t make it through the training?
SW: Yeah, they’re a bit like zombies, and a bit like robots. They don’t have full brain function anymore, only being able to complete a few basic tasks. Space Marines make use of them because they are more durable than humans, and require less maintenance. Failed recruits make great servitors. They’re able to still serve the Chapter, just in a reduced capacity.
MT: You know, here I was lamenting all the lost potential and lives of these kids who die in the selection, but it seems the Imperium has thought about that and implemented some common sense recycling values to the situation.
SW: I only use servitors from SUSTAINABLE Space Marine Chapters!
MT: So, Marnie ends up being the only one to make it through the selection process and the Aspirant Tracker turns into a Neophyte Tracker. We then cut back to adult Marneus doing some cleanup of the last few heretics in the Calgar estates.
SW: And it seems like the heretics have made a real mess of the place. Chaos runes are daubed on the wall in blood, bodies litter the floor and heavily armored clearance teams of Space Marines now roam the halls.
MT: Good luck getting your homeowners’ insurance to cover that. He discovers one remaining chaos marine, which gives Burrows the chance to show off a nice one-on-one slugfest with plenty of gore to go around.
SW: That’s not just ANY Chaos Marine, Mark. That’s a Hellbrute, a daemon engine used by the forces of Chaos. Basically a twisted version of the Space Marine Dreadnoughts. Now this thing is making short work of a Primaris Reiver, before turning on Marnie. But luckily it seems to have the same weakness as King Hippo, and a single gut-punch from the Gauntlets of Ultramar is enough to finish it off.
MT: They put on their shoes one at a time, and their viscera go “SPLUNCH” just like the rest of us. I’d like to call out Java Tartaglia’s excellent colors in this sequence. The smoke and sky behind the fight is just gorgeous.
SW: It’s great! Really captures the feel of a battlefield lit only by flames. I’d also like to call out Marneus’ narration during this sequence. He makes statements that would seem like maudlin clichés from a normal soldier: “war unending,” “life is war,” “in the grim darkness of the far future there is only war,” things like that. But he MEANS it. This is not a flaw of the universe, it is the ideal state for him.
MT: Yeah, he really buys the propaganda, doesn’t he?
We then get a series of mixed art and data pages, where we see young Marnie’s various surgical enhancements, along with data running alongside it detailing what each implant does. I like what these pages do, as they’re not purely data nor purely visual storytelling. They’re fused together, like an ossmodula into the thorax of an Ultramarine.
It also gives Jacen Burrows a bit of a break, since these pages are only half art, leaving him more time to work on some of the bigger setpieces of the issue, while still giving us interesting design elements to look at on these half-data pages. It’s a notion called page budgeting and it’s put to good use here.
SW: Exactly! This is a really clever way to show all of this stuff.
MT: And it’s a huge investment on the Empire’s part, so no wonder they can’t admit every kid who wants to be a marine.
SW: Oh totally. And he isn’t the first one to enjoy those new organs. The main battlefield role of Space Marine Apothecaries, (like the fellow we saw keeping a heretic alive previously for questioning) is to remove key organs from fallen Space Marines. You know, to be shoved into new recruits.
MT: Is that a syringe on a robot arm over the Apothecary’s head? What a whimsical design!
Anyway, Marneus’ final test after all of the implantations might just be my favorite scene in this series so far. You’d been worried about Marneus being exposed to a Khorne ritual and allowed to live without meeting with an Inquisitor, and Gillen delivers here, doesn’t he?
SW: The Ordos of the Inquisition are not known for their leniency, so this was a scene I was hoping to see. Marneus is interrogated by an Inquisitor for his proximity to Crixius’ cult, and he approaches it like he deals with every obstacle: directly.
MT: In her two pages, the Inquisitor makes a huge impression. Is it just me, or is she modeled on The Expanse’s Shohreh Aghdashloo?
SW: I can see that!
MT: It also gave me vibes of Gillen’s most famous creator-owned work, The Wicked + The Divine, which, if you’re unfamiliar, on a pretty basic level revolves around superpowered women deciding when and when not to blow up people’s heads with their minds and changing the course of world history.
SW: I am unfamiliar, but it sounds up my alley! Sort of like SCANNERS? Speaking of unfamiliarity, I really like the exchange where the Inquisitor explains the situation only to have Marneus react with “I don’t understand.” Her response is “That is to your credit”. Reinforcing again the importance of ignorance in the teachings of the God Emperor of Mankind.
MT: She also refers to him as Marneus and to the Original Recipe Marneus as “Marneus” (with the scare quotes), which is about as close to an endorsement as he’s gonna get with his new name.
SW: And just like that, it seems that the final test is passed, and Marneus can become a full-fledged Battle Brother of the Ultramarines.
MT: And that’s probably a wrap for the only woman in the series so far with one issue left to go. I’m glad she got to be so formidable.
SW: You know, that may be one of the reasons I generally prefer the Inquisition novels over Space Marine novels set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. It’s not all just a bunch of grim dudes scowling at each other, there’s some grim ladies too!
MT: In the final scene of the comic, Marneus and Quintus travel to Thulium Minor, the moon where he was tested as a child, and wouldn’t you know it, some of his old friends are waiting for him there!
SW: While en route to inspect some possible fortification site, their small craft gets shot out of the sky.The crew is killed, but more importantly for Quintus…THE MACHINE SPIRITS HAVE BEEN QUIETED!!!!
MT: He’s really echoing some early 2000’s foreign policy with his “oil is more precious than blood” statements.
SW: But his mourning is cut short, because our unlikely buddies are surrounded by a chaos raiding party. And the baddies are led by “Katoveran” or “Severto” or whatever. A champion of Khorne made up of the amalgamation of Marneus’ old friends/rivals.
MT: And with this horrible amalgam, Khorne has created the final evolution of Kato’s unfortunate teen haircut, too!
SW: Nothing says “Berserk Rage” like a guy flipping his long bangs out of his eyes.
MT: It’s Marneus (and wee Quintus!) versus an entire army, and I know who my money is on to come out on top next month.
SW: We end on another cliffhanger! So exciting!
MT: So what’d you think, Stu?
SW: Going into this issue, I thought the battle for the Calgar Estate was going to be the big climax of the series. But that was dealt with pretty quickly. Instead we get Marneus returning to the REAL place of his birth, ready to face the demons of his youth. LITERALLY.
MT: I still think we’re going to see some kind of reanimated Original Recipe Kid Marnie in the finale, but I thought this was a really strong issue. Some good fights, some clever dialogue. I’m happy.
SW: And it’s just a brief moment, but in a flashback we see Marneus killing a Genestealer Cultist. That’s the army I am currently painting, so that was very exciting for me.
MT: It’s an honor to have your throat ripped out by the best!
SW: Looking forward to next month!
MT: On to the grand finale!