Comic Review: Lone Wolves

Trapped on a hostile and barren world by a relentless foe which is guided by a mind which only knows hunger, the Emperor’s Astra Militarium know what they look forward to. Provisions are low. Moral lower. Hope, all but lost. In the 41st millennium there is no peace amongst the stars, only eternity of carnage, slaughter, and the laughter of thirsting gods.

Those who know about Warhammer 40,000  are very familiar with the concept of the “grim, dark future.” For those who are unfamiliar, “40K” is a fictional world derived from table top miniature game. For those who think only Cheetos fingered, basement dwellers concern themselves with such a hobby: I can give you one good example of a person who does not fit your stereotype. Karl Richardson.

Back in all but forgotten year of 2003, a young greeting card artist on the “mean streets of Leicester” by the name of Karl Richardson was given an opportunity that many who wield a pencil for work would envy: sketch a series of comics which will be written by the illustrious author Dan Abnett.

Dan Abnett’s biography staggers the mind. He has worked on Doctor Who, Thundercats, The Real Ghostbusters, Star Trek, Guardians of the Galaxy, Judge Dredd, Aquaman, Batman, Superman, Batman/Superman, ad infinitum. Some of his most regarded and bestselling works come out of Black Library; the publishing arm of miniature gaming behemoth Games Workshop.

Full disclosure: Games Workshop is my employer.

The series of comics were successful in the UK, but was never available to the US consumer until this past December (and only then available through direct order). It wasn’t until this past June when the hardcover compilation made to store shelves for the comic loving, sci-fi miniature gaming enthusiast. The end result is the full comic run along with a bonus one-shot comic: “One Shot.”

Lone Wolves, starts like so many of Abnett’s works, with the protagonist already in the midst of tragedy. A stranded group of Imperial Guardsmen are left on a frozen world which has been lost to “The Great Devourer: the Tyranids. With no hope of evacuation and supplies running low, starvation is as much a foe as the xenos and the elements. What might a man do to his fellow man if he is hungry enough? Salvation from this frozen hell rest solely in the hands of the Son’s of Russ, the Space Wolves.

Abnett uses the data log of Sergeant Poul Marlin as the story’s narrator. The data log not only outlines the progression of time but also gives context to the dialog that follows each entry. This story telling convention, which at times can be a bit contrived, works well enough and drives home the fact that the person making these journal entries might not have survived the events that are being detailed.

Abnett has a reputation for killing off his protagonists at an almost equal rate as his antagonists. This gives Richardson plenty of opportunity to illustrate carnage from the individual scale up to the planetary scale. Richardson adeptly displays the cartoonish hyper-realism that Warhammer 40,000 often conveys. Using nothing but pencil and his knack for drawing stubble, Richardson somehow manages to make the spilling of entrails just as poignant as they would be if done full color using real blood. If an image can convey “tone,” than Richardson art plays like Mozart. Lavish, yet simple. Bold, yet detailed. Gritty, yet exuberant.

But this wouldn’t be a review if I didn’t tell you, dear reader, whether or not you should buy this masterful work. If your new to the “40k” universe, this graphic novel gives you an insight and what lay ahead for you. If you are veteran of “The Long War,” than it is a tome you must own. However, if you are strapped for cash, the $32.50 price tag may be a bit steep for what is essentially a reprinting of seven, twelve year old comics. If you have the money, and are desire to see space bugs eviscerated by space Vikings, than you can purchase Lone Wolves at The Black Library.

Kevin Carley