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Warhammer 40,000 – Marneus Calgar (review)

Writer : Kieron Gillen

Artist : Jacen Burrows

Marvel Comics, 2021 (issue 1-5 collected in softcover)

Introductions are ways to let new readers into a world they might have heard of (this being the best case scenario) or they have simply stumbled upon due to many a reason, the main idea being that of chance. This could be reason why covers need to catch the eye (and, even more metaphorically, to pique our curiosity), as they are, from a certain point of view, an introduction in and of itself, the first step towards a hopefully long love story between the hand that pays for the issues and the tale that is narrated via words and drawings.

Yet, introductions are also a way of giving reason to the existence of a work of art itself, especially if the story that is being told is either part of something bigger (this being a relationship with the past) or of something that is trying to expand itself into a heftier shape (this being a relationship with the future).

Marneus Calgar falls into the former, touching on the latter as the hope, coming from the publisher, to keep producing graphic novels based in the world (or, wouldn’t it be better to say cosmos?) of Warhammer 40k.

These five issues, indeed, represent American publisher Marvel Comics’ first steps into letting its readers see what kind of respect the Disney-owned conglomerate can actually pay to the main child of Games Workshop. Here is the problem then: the story must serve as an entry to those who have no idea what is going on, as much as a meta-introduction to those who know what a Space Marine is and would like to see if, after all, not only has the lore been kept, but also a good story has been woven by veteran writer Kieren Gillen.

There is reason to rejoice. The final product, read in its entirety, manages to work on both levels without ever finding itself in the not so interesting position of either boring fans with too much information or leaving new adepts completely in the dark. Mr Gillen’s pen, from this point of view, cannot but be praised.

An example of this could be the final showdown with the theoretical main antagonist or, better yet, antagonists: even though it appears to be quite obvious, the mystery surrounding the revelation being reduced to only a couple of old acquaintances.

Mr Gillen manages to reshape of our expectations just enough to make it all come off as fresh and exciting as needed, adding the fact that the action is resolved in the right amount of time. The pacing allows for a better general rhythm that does not detract from a just retribution as much as it does not impose its presence for too long: not too much, not too little, but the perfect dosage is the overall experience we gain from the reading.

There’s a clever mind at work, then, moving the story forward, avoiding clichés just as much they are embraced. The narration being divided into two main parts, the present and the past. Once we reach the conclusion we gain a sense of closure that, at the same time, makes us understand how small this adventure is when compared to what the main character has gone through during his life, leaving space not simply for wanting to know more about those events, but also for pushing us towards a future full of more fantastic fights.

If the main idea concerning this series is to serve as an introduction to the life of Marneus Calgar (just as it is an introduction to the world of Warhammer), the result manages to release a force that is both centripetal (we want to know more about the character) and centrifugal (we want to know more about the world the main character is immersed in).

Just a panel showing us Marneus having drunk an ork’s blood is enough to make us (a) wonder what the story of that expedition was and (b) want to see more of those green-skinned fiends.

Jacen Burrows’ art, at the same time, works perfectly in the way it structures the story that is being told. The massive bulk of the Space Marines is obvious as other characters walk beside (or behind) them.

The general feeling of harshness and violence is graphically tangible without adding an element of overdoing. The result does not veer toward the grotesque nor to an over-the-top quality of blood and guts.

We can feel the world that is being shown us as something plausible, a breathing background that engulfs in its simplicity the characters that are living in it, simplicity being the exact balance that is reached by not being too prudish in the graphical shedding of blood, nor by giving in to an abundance of red.

A solid story, written and drawn cleverly, Marneus Calgar is an adventure that manages to make us clamour for more just as much as we feel satisfied once we reach the last page.