Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Why so many Space Marines?

My Minotaurs are in a cabinet in Warhammer World currently, which has led to more than a couple of 'cor, you've got a lot of Space Marines'-type comments. Handily they are accompanied with 'they look ace', which is always flattering, but in a dramatic shift away from my usual 'look at mah pictures pleez' blog post, I thought I'd mull over why, exactly, I enjoy painting Minotaurs in particular and Space Marines in general.

Obviously they are cool. The concept of a super-human, genetically enhanced warrior who is functionally immortal, armed with incredible weaponry and clad in outrageously thick armour is just ace, right?
However there's more to it than this...

I love the inherent dichotomy of tragedy and arrogance that is embodied in the background. The concept that the aspirant willingly abandons his humanity, his chance of a normal life, of love and family and so on, specifically to stand unyielding against the horrors of the galaxy in defence of that same humanity. It's not something lacking from the background per se, but it's always been implicit, I think. 
This is what makes the Adeptus Astartes heroes, in my book. Not their thin line of stubborn unyielding defence - that's heroic - but their initial, very first self-sacrifice. Imagine, you've just fought through whatever terrible contest your world holds to select those who are worthy to become Sky Warriors. You stand triumphant, proving through cunning and strength that you are the most potent example of humanity on your entire world. What's to stop you saying 'thanks, but I'd actually like to lead my clan/tribe/whatever and become rich and powerful, through whatever means I have available'?

Duty. The benefit you can be to humanity. Arguably the chance for greater honour and renown (so maybe it's a bit selfish), but actually when you think about it, your great deeds may never be known by the Imperium at large. On this point, I love the end of The Emperor's Gift where the Bell of Lost Souls is rung. It's only done when great heroes of the Imperium fall in battle, and it's heard across Terra, but in the grand scheme of things the populous of Earth know only that a hero has died, not who it was or why. 

So they are heroes, self-sacrificing, dutiful, supremely powerful heroes. They are raised beyond the common clay, remade; forged into mankind's greatest warriors. They gain incredible strength, greatly-advanced mental faculties, all the additional organs and abilities. They hold the line when all others would fall back (super-brave), attack when all others would hold (super-daring). We seem to be describing Superman. 
I dislike Superman. We'll now look at why. He's perfect, he has no flaws. Neither, too, does the Space Marine we're describing - the Codex Space Marine, if you will. The part I liked the most about the last movie was when he smashed the picture after learning that Lois Lane is dating someone else. He's spurned. He's angry. Suddenly he isn't just a 2D character!

Now, there's an established Thing that Codex background presents the facts about the army through a veneer of propaganda, which is fine. Looking at it from this view, of course every Space Marine is a flawless defender of humanity, of course they all fight tirelessly to defend the Imperium, of course the best Space Marines are Ultramarines and every Space Marine wants to be an Ultramarine…

However that’s dull. It’s Superman, again. One of my favourite things about the Imperial Armour Badab War books is the flaws they weave into the Space Marine psyche. Fundamentally, it stands to reason that if every good human attribute is massively scaled up to create a Space Marine, at least a few bad ones should be too, right?

Hubris. Arrogance. Stubbornness. Pride. All the things that determine whether or not a Chapter chooses to commit its forces to a given conflict. Why should these superhumans (less of them than there are worlds in the Imperium, remember) die in hopeless defence of however many thousand civillians on agri-world x here when all strategic sense indicates they would be best deployed to protect industrial world y over here?
The pride and hubris of Lugft Huron, for that matter. The not-all-that-hidden truth of the Badab War is that Huron was right. He’s a Peer of the Imperium; his mandate allows him to act as he sees fit to defend Mankind. Admittedly, building a Legion is perhaps the wrong side of the loyalty line, but he is still acting as he sees fit.

Hatred. Spite. Bitterness. Stibor Lazarek of the Fire Hawks conducts a planetary bombardment against a strategically unimportant world simply because it chose the wrong side. ‘Burn them all; the God-Emperor will know His own’, as he is recorded as saying. Not really the words of a super-heroic defender of humanity. Definitely the words of someone who despises the enemies of the Imperium, frankly.
This is something that isn’t really present in the Codex background, sadly, and I think it should be. Heroes need flaws, they need a ‘lessening’ of their larger-than-life awesomeness with an equally larger-than-life drawback. Even the vaunted Ultramarines, precisely because they are the vaunted Ultramarines. They are dogmatic, hidebound, devoted to the Codex Astartes, certainly arrogant judging by their press…

These are obviously specific examples, but actually the fundamental detail of them just not understanding/forgetting/exploiting human weakness is an interesting one. You’re functionally immortal, and so on. After a while, it’s difficult to even imagine being human – so much BL fiction has Space Marines being able to sense or smell or taste fear and weakness, and being disgusted by it. Humanity’s superhuman protectors are disgusted by their charges.

Maybe a slightly downer end note? Perhaps. But I love the dichotomy of the whole package, quite frankly. That’s what keeps me painting Minotaurs, what keeps me tinkering about with bits until I have models that show these details, in their face or their pose or whatever.

And finally…  stop by Aaron’s blog to see my Iron Warriors, sometime soon J


  1. Love it. And I love what you chaps did with the Astral Claws; there was always something that drew me to Huron back in 2nd Ed, and now I know what it was :)

    (Of course, I was like twelve or something. And Forgeworld didn't even exist. So it was actually probably the giant bionic flame-throwing arm really, but shush.)

  2. Well, really the design and weapons fit was based around making him a bit different; it also fits nicely with his 'lead from the front' attitude