Okay so going to do some book reviews since that seems to be the thing to do right now. In typical fashion I’m going to review a bunch of Grimdark stuff.
Oh and as usual, going to be spoiling the shit out of everything.
Kong on Planet of the Apes
(Note: Bikini girl on the cover appears nowhere in the comic)
While you might think something like this would be the least grimdark in comparison to the warhammer stuff I’m going to review, you’d actually be incorrect.
Remember, even in the original Apes movie, it was a post apocalyptic dystopia with a downer ending. So it was always grimdark even if the ape makeup looks a little silly now.
So what’s this book about? Well from the title you can guess this is a King Kong/Planet of the Apes cross over.
It’s basically “professional fan fiction” but given the rarity of fanfic with these two franchises it’s at least going for something less tried. Plus y’know, adding a giant monkey with intelligent monkeys can only spell success right?
I should also point out, this one uses the 1960s Apes movie as the setting. As for Kong, well Skull Island doesn’t change too much in the original or any of the remakes. It’s probably using the 1930s Kong as its base though.
So the story starts out taking place not long after the original movie. Dr. Zaius and General Ursus are traveling around the Forbidden Zone where Dr. Zaius finds the ruins of the Statue of Liberty and orders it completely destroyed so there’s no trace of past human civilization.
It’s shown that things aren’t going so smoothly in Ape City since Charlton Heston (Taylor) left. You’ve got bleeding heart liberal apes going on about human lives mattering, dying their hair blue and generally chimping out.
Meanwhile a lot of the Gorilla military are tired of things being run by an inefficient council and wondering if a military dictatorship wouldn’t be a better idea. (With them in charge of course)
Anyway, just before they’re about to blow up what remains of Lady Liberty, they make a big discovery nearby.
Cue Cornelius and his wife Zira who are under house arrest and going on about the civil unrest going on in the city, the council being useless and other things. Dr. Zaius then shows up and tells them their arrest has been temporarily suspended since he needs their help with the major discovery
The discovery of course is a dead giant Kong like ape. Obviously this isn’t the corpse of the original King Kong. After all he died in the 1930s and we would have hardly left a giant ape corpse to just rot in the New York streets for centuries (Before we blew up the world like maniacs)
No, this one is female (after they dissect and study the corpse) and somehow just washed up on the shores of the forbidden zone. Dr. Zaius has some old world maps of where more Kongs might be and proposing an expedition to get one in the hopes of maybe this giant ape will be proof of the superiority of apes, calm everyone down and there won’t be anymore of this human loving faggotry.
Now here’s where we REALLY stretch the bounds of the imagination the most with this tale.
They found the body near the ruins of the Statue of Liberty. So presumably Ape City is at least somewhere on the North American continent and the Forbidden Zone is at least the New England/East coast area of old America.
Skull Island has traditionally been in the Pacific Ocean somewhere around Indonesia or that area.
HOW THE FUCK DID THE CORPSE TRAVEL THAT FAR?
I mean there is really no logical way to explain this AT ALL. The sheer distance by water, the weight of the body, the fact that it was even mostly intact, etc.
I suppose one could try to explain a continental shift over the centuries and some of the land mass sinking, but even then it’s just really not happening.
This isn’t even including their journey to Skull Island which includes stopping off at another friendly ape village on an island off of Kenya, so they had to have travelled EAST from Ape City, around the bottom of Africa to get to Skull Island. (Or even if you’re going with the sinking land mass theory, they still had to have traveled east to reach Kenya before Skull Island.)
But fuck all that, that’s just the main suspension of disbelief you really need in a story about intelligent apes and one giant one.
So anyway General Ursus is with Dr. Zaius, Corny and Zira. And he’s got mixed feelings about all this. He’s already convinced that apes are superior and that the giant one should have been enshrined rather than chopped up. He doesn’t like the whole expedition anyway and he’s already plotting.
Zaius and company start exploring the island and they’re coming across the same large predators humans did back in the 1930s. The big one being these furry raptors, but eventually the ape expedition runs across the natives living there. They also see another Kong (This one being male and actually the mate of the one that they found)
Ursus of course is ready start exterminating some stinking humans, but Zaius stops him since more study needs to be done, not to mention they’re at a bit of a disadvantage in numbers.
Ursus grudgingly goes back to the ship while Zaius, Corny and Zira talk with the natives and learn more about Kong. While there, Zira’s talking to the Matriarch’s daughter Ni’ta (or grand daughter, whatever, she’s the next in line to be next storyteller/historian)
Nita is like most teens/20 year olds and has a bunch of fool ideas like wanting to break tradition and make friends with people different than herself. Her grandmother tells her she needs to listen more and not be a cringy zoomer. Of course she throws a fit and calls her grandmother an old boomer and storms off.
Still, even Zira says not all apes are welcoming to humans, but Nita seems to have some lesbian interspecies erotica thoughts because she’s still convinced she should leave the island.
Anyway General Ursus is tired of waiting around for the scientists who are falling to degeneracy by talking to humans for so long. He just decides to attack now that he’s not surrounded and they won’t be expecting it.
The attack results in chaos as you might expect, but they pretty much trash the humans, manage to subdue Kong, as well as taking Nita prisoner (Hey she wanted to meet new people) Dr. Zaius is pretty mad about Ursus just going in ape shit like that, but since it worked, he’s like let’s just get Kong back to Ape City and work on the propaganda to unify the city again.
Meanwhile Corny and his wife Zira are having some marital difficulties and doing a lot of arguing about Kong and what he really represents, something about science, using him for propaganda purposes being wrong, etc.
That gets worse when they go before the Council and Corny ends up siding with Dr. Zaius using the propaganda that Kong is potentially a god and that he’s the example of the superiority apes over humans. Hoping that this plan will resolve the crisis once and for all.
Zira is appalled at the whole dismissal of scientific evidence and engaging in political manipulation but she gets put back on house arrest anyway. Nita is thrown into a cage with the rest of the disgusting humans.
Meanwhile Ursus would rather use Kong as a weapon to just crush everyone opposing the government, but since his monkey paws are tied, he’s got a back up plan.
This genius ended up bringing back a bunch of the furry raptors to try to train, thinking he can make a weapon out of them. That goes about as well as you’d expect and he starts losing soldiers trying to domesticate the things (Which it’s implied they’re a little smarter than just an average “beast”)
As for the Kong, well he’s pretty demoralized and just compliantly being lead around in chains. So Zaius is able to present him before the population, going on about how they risked their lives to bring him here and a bunch of other stuff. It’s all going well until all those raptors escape while the General is arguing with some of his own soldiers telling him this is a bad idea.
The raptors start killing everything, Kong gets loose and starts killing the raptors since they’re getting close to attacking the humans in cages. Ursus unsuccessfully tries to restore order, Zaius and the rest start running to the city hall because now Kong is just wrecking the city completely.
City council and the population in general start bitching that Zaius has brought doom to Ape City. Nita catches a ride on Kong which combined with him wrecking the city is enough for Ursus to abandon any thoughts of reverence for Kong and he orders his men to kill him.
Kong (along with Nita) try to escape from Ursus and run all the way to Forbidden Zone. The General isn’t deterred though, he’s bound and determined to kill Kong and wants his army to go in. Zaius, Corny and Zira (Who have made up at this point) tell Ursus that there’s really no point in chasing him down, but he goes in anyway since he wants this whole thing erased from the historical records and the best way to do that is to make sure Kong is dead.
Kong is heavily wounded and Nita’s probably wishing she’d listened more to her boomer grandmother about meeting new people. The Forbidden Zone isn’t too hospitable considering it’s bombed out wasteland. Nita tries to encourage Kong to just continue on so they can get home but it’s not looking good.
There’s also a bit where Corny and one of his assistants find the corpse of female astronaut that died on Heston’s spaceship. (And part of the ship itself) It’s not really important in the scheme of things, more just connecting the movies with the comic. There’s also some earthquakes
Ursus harasses Nita and Kong until Kong suddenly falls through the earth due to a weak part of the ground, leading to the underground ruins of New York. Naturally this has damn near killed him at this point. He continues on, but so does Ursus and orders his men to go down there.
At this point Kong is just running on empty with Nita urging him on about nearly being home. Though it turns out Nita’s dead since Ursus finds her body as he’s hunting Kong.
Yeah, Kong’s just imagining her along with being upset about this whole ordeal.
Ursus gets close enough that he see Kong, but then he and his men get mindfucked by some sort of powerful illusion which disorients them, so they retreat.
Some time later, Dr. Zaius is with Corny and Zira explaining that all three of them have effectively been cancelled and all record of this Kong thing is getting deleted from the records. They all either comply with this or they get a kangaroo court trial and get executed.
Corny and Zira are sort of pissed about the idea of rewriting history and throwing out scientific evidence of things since it pretty much made the whole trip pointless, not to mention resulted in the destruction of most of the city.
Dr. Zeus however points out that thanks to Kong’s rampage, everyone is united in rebuilding the city (And hating those 3), so in a way, Kong DID unify everyone and aren’t going on about human lives mattering anymore.
Cut back to Kong who sees the ruins of the Empire State Building and starts heading towards urged on by the hallucination of Nita who finally disappears. Kong finally dies of his wounds.
THEN the mutants from Beneath the Planet of the Apes (Who have illusion making mind control powers in the movie) appear and they take this as a sign that the end will be coming soon and they’ll get to use their nuke finally. (Which does occur in the movie)
Yeah, like I said it doesn’t have a happy ending.
The graphic novel is cool enough though as a one shot cross over. Ties in some of the movie stuff well enough. As mentioned already, the only glaring issue is how the fuck Queen Kong’s corpse traveled all the way from Skull Island to the shores of the Forbidden Zone in the first place.
That’s it for this review. Way longer than I planned, but more to come at some point. Stay tuned!
Now that the monkey business is out of the way, we’ll move on to the traditional grimdark Warhammer stuff.
I’ll do this one first since it’s more of a collection of short tales than one long story, (though it does somewhat have a continuity).
Ulli & Marquand
Actually the full title is “The Life and Times of Ulli & Marquand and Their Misadventures in Mordheim: City of the Damned” but that’s just ridiculously long.
A little history first.
For a short period of time, The Black Library arm of Games Workshop was producing a monthly comic involving their fantasy and scifi setting. Honestly both settings are perfect for comic book format.
They generally had a collection of established characters going about various adventures. Like they had the dark elf Malus Darkblade (He got his own novels later) a bounty hunter in Necromunda called Kal Jerico, and a whole bunch more along with one shot stories.
In this case the Ulli & Marquand tales were set in Mordheim which was also a skirmish game by GW in the similar vein of Necromunda except in a fantasy setting rather than scifi. This book happens to be a complete collection of all the stories from the comics. (And even a few that were published in a “fanzine” for game related rules)
Mordheim was actually set a little in the past from what was the “current year” of Warhammer fantasy at the time. It was a large and very corrupt city that got destroyed by a comet which then spread material called wyrdstone (Or warpstone) all over the place.
Wyrdstone dangerous stuff since it’s crystalized chaos (and anything chaos is generally bad shit to fuck with) but it’s valuable in making magic items and such so the ruin started drawing mercs, treasure hunters, and bounty hunters. It also drew in witch hunters and religious fanatics since due to all the chaos shit spawning from and/or being attracted to the ruins increased severely.
Now normally this would have gotten cleaned up immediately however there was also a civil war going on in the Empire so the chaos going on with Mordheim just wasn’t a priority and anarchy reigned there.
And now on to the protagonists of the book.
So it starts out with Ulli Leitpold (The bigger guy with the bushy stache and top knot) and Marquand Volker (The cleaner cut guy with longer hair) in chains marching with a bunch of other prisoners. They think they’re being marched to the gallows but as I said, there’s a civil war going on and a manpower shortage, so they’re actually going to be conscripted into one of the faction’s slave regiments.
Ulli and Marquand aren’t much thrilled about this idea either.
It’s about this time they’re passing some ragged looking mad man in a hanging iron cage along the road spouting cryptic shit about Mordheim and seeking glory or doom there.
Since everything is better than being a slave soldier or hanged, Ulli creates a distraction by throwing one of the other prisoners off a cliff while Marquand picks the locks of his shackles. They kill the guards and make their way to Mordheim to get rich while the guy in the iron cage is still cackling about damnation.
Okay so that’s how it all begins. Most of the remaining tales could easily be in any order though there’s a few where there’s an obvious continuity. (Especially the last one) But you can sort of safely assume they happen in the order they were published.
So Ulli and Marquand weren’t in chains for no reason, they were criminals. And not just regular common bandits either, they were a couple of the worst cutthroats of their time. Pretty much broke every law there was and then some. These are definitely villain protagonists.
Granted most of the people/things they’re encountering during their time in Mordheim aren’t much better (Or worse due to being literal monsters) there is not ONE thing they ever do that could be considered “good.”
Most of the stories involve them betraying someone in some way. It’s frequent enough that as soon as you see them with a third person in their group, you KNOW that third person is being used as fodder for some chaos beast or something similar.
Probably the “worst” of these is they actually get hired to save a girl from a bunch of cultists which they succeed in doing at first, but realize they probably aren’t going to get away with her. Ulli notices she has a wyrdstone necklace and asks Marquand how much they’re getting paid again for saving her.
“And how much do you think that necklace is worth?”
“300 crowns at least, ah I think I see where you’re going with this.”
So they rip the necklace off her and toss her to the pursuing cultists.
Their backstabbing isn’t limited to others either, since they will on occasion do underhanded things to each other, though these are more when there isn’t any immediate danger. In one instance Marquand bets against Ulli during his time in a fighting pit with a troll slayer dwarf. (And ends up borrowing money from Ulli to cover the bet he lost!)
Another instance is when Ulli meets a bunch of his old buddies from some merc company and they party all night drinking. Marquand the next day wakes up the hung over Ulli stating it’s a good thing he stuck to the beer rather than the mead since he poisoned it like they planned. The pair loot the bodies with Ulli stating he never liked them anyway.
But it’s not all backstabbing, sometimes they actually do come up with plans for bigger jobs. Like dressing up like Holy Sisters of Sigmar to sneak into their temple and steal their shit. Or tracking down a vampire lair to drag out its coffin during the day so they can put it near a large wyrdstone hunters’ camp and loot it the next day after the vamp inevitably wakes up angry and kills all the hunters. (That one is pretty funny since it goes step by step like they’re legit hunting a vampire for a “noble” purpose)
About one of only tales that has a continuity involves another character called Gottlieb the Flayer. He’s a religious zealot there to cleanse the city of the unholy scum there. Of course when he stumbles upon U&M with his war band he believes Sigmar tells him they are to be cleansed as well and attacks.
U&M take some lumps (Or in M’s case a barbed whip to the side of his face) but ultimately they get away, though not before M slashes up Gottlieb’s face bad enough to disfigure him permanently. Though he’s a pain zealot anyway, so he just takes the whole encounter that he must redouble his efforts to atone for his failure.
Later on Gottlieb pops up again near the end, but he’s called upon his fellow religious maniacs from all over the Empire to come to Mordheim. The main ones include Three In One, who are three brothers that disfigured themselves to prevent certain evil (Hearing, Seeing and Speaking. You can guess their mutilations) Some big masked dude called the Executioner. The Packmaster, a guy with hounds that can track “sin.” And finally a duo called Sister Purity, a VERY large muscular woman that talks with a german accent and Brother Crowe who was an ex-assassin turned religious nut.
Gottlieb tells them all a crusade needs to be taken up on Mordhiem and the two will lead the way will be Ulli and Marquand (Though of course they don’t know that yet!)
Cue our protagonists who are suddenly noticing a lot more flayed bodies on spikes. Ulli thinks it might be the Skaven (Or Rat-Things as they tend to call them) but they soon learn it’s Gottlieb and his crew purging the unbelievers. They greatly overwhelm them, knock the pair out and tie their hands behind their backs.
When they wake up they learn Gottlieb’s plan is to have a hunt and whoever kills them will get to lead the great crusade on Mordheim. So the hunt begins.
Doesn’t take long for Marquand to get his hands free from the bindings and undo Ulli’s as well. First thing they do is ambush Three In One to get some weapons, then they run into Skaven territory which leads the Packmaster and the rest in there as well.
Packmaster’s hounds turn on him since the aura of chaos overwhelms them. The bloodbath between the Skaven and the religious zealots begins with Ulli and Marquand stuck in the middle. Ulli mixes it up with the Executioner though Marquand takes him out with some knives. (They learn an amusing secret, that under the hood, he was a mutant cyclops) The Brother/Sister duo actually come to the conclusion that perhaps Gottlieb’s path is not their path and they wisely get the hell out of Mordheim (With Sister Purity carrying Crowe over her shoulder. They didn’t get much page time, but those two were sort of interesting enough I wouldn’t have minded reading another story with them as the protags)
By the end, everyone’s dead (or run off) except for Ulli, Marquand and Gottlieb who is severely wounded when they find him asking for help. When he realizes it’s them, he starts going on about being protected by Sigmar and dares them to do their worst. Of course that was probably the wrong thing to dare with these two. Rather than just killing him, they tie him up and slide him down into the large crater where the comet directly hit. Of course there’s nothing but legions of chaos spawn in it and he’s presumably horribly devoured alive. (And worse)
After this story, we come to the last tale which as I remember reading in the monthly comics as being fairly abrupt since I certainly wasn’t expecting it. Ulli and Marquand were one of the longer running regulars, but as they say all things end eventually.
The last story starts out with some narration that a great treasure has been taken from the watchful eye of the demon shadowlord of Mordhiem himself. Mentions how there were at least two dozen of the greatest treasure hunters banded together to get it and now only about seven of them were left running from the demonic hordes.
Goes into detail about how some of them died while the survivors are still running and fighting off the demons. Naturally Ulli and Marquand are among the survivors.
Eventually those two and one other they’re uncharacteristically carrying with them stumble out with the small chest containing the treasure. The third guy though says he’s dying from poison but that he just wants to see the treasure before he dies just to see how close he came.
They open the box which in Pulp Fiction fashion, you don’t actually see it, it’s just a glow while the three of them look in awe. The third guy says something about how stories are going to be told about what they managed to do and then he dies.
After this happens, there’s a hanging iron cage nearby with a ragged madman spouting doom and gloom. While he doesn’t look quite the same, it’s implied it’s the same lunatic the pair heard before when they were still prisoners. Neither recognize him of course and Marquand mentions him being another holy fool and wonders what the hell he’s talking about.
While Marquand’s busy paying attention to the guy in the gibbet, that’s when Ulli decides to wallop him in the back of the head with his warhammer.
Marquand goes down and asks why as his brains are leaking out his head, to which Ulli mentions that their partnership was always agreed to be temporary until they got one last big score, so he was just moving up the time table.
Marquand with his last dying action he attempts to take a drink from his wineskin. One last drink before hell takes him he says, to which Ulli doesn’t even allow him to do that and takes the wineskin from him saying he knew he had some left and that he’d been holding out on him. Seeing no point in wasting it on the dead, Ulli downs it all and walks off saying how they had some fine times together but their adventures were over in Mordheim.
And that’s when a sharp pain hits Ulli’s stomach and he realizes Marquand’s wine was poisoned.
“Marquand, you sneaky little fu…” are Ulli’s last words before he dies.
A picture shows the corpses of all three “survivors” and the small chest still open with a glow coming inside it.
Then the lunatic in the iron cage opens up his own cage with some keys he had the whole time and grabs the small chest, laughing and making one last doomsayer comment with a sinister grin on his face.
All in all it was suitable ending for them. They were certainly going to die violently at some point given their lifestyle and back stabbing each other was pretty in character.
There actually was one more story with Ulli and Marquand which wasn’t collected in this graphic novel. There was one issue of the Warhammer Monthly comic where they took their established characters and put them in the opposite setting. In Ulli and Marquand’s case it was a 40K version of them and they were part of an Empire convict “suicide squad” regiment. Since these were just one shot tales, it ended about how you’d imagine it would, which is they end up killing each other.
Anyway, I can say that there probably was a bit of inspiration from these tales in some of my writing, though I’d probably say Rogues would have had the most. Pretty sure there was at least one similar line in it.
Up next, The Redeemer.
Maybe you read an old Fafhrd and Gray Mouser story?
I feel like Ulli and Marquand were somewhat based on them, though Fafhrd and Mouser weren't nearly as villainous as these two.
And now for something a little more light hearted…
“If it doesn’t hurt, it doesn’t count.” - The Redeemer’s catch phrase
Once again, a little history first.
The Redeemer stories were a little unique in that when they originally came out in the comic, a whole issue was dedicated to him. There were three comics (or chapters) total making for a nice little trilogy. Then there was one more smaller tale in a much later comic since he was popular enough for readers to want to see him again.
This graphic novel not only collects all the stories, but also colorizes them since the original Warhammer monthly comic was all in black and white.
The Redeemer stories take place in the 40K universe, and more specifically in Necromunda. Necromunda is one of the more infamous Empire locations crawling with warring gangs and such in the hive cities. (Hive Primus being the capital)
One such gang are the Redemption cult. They’re a group of religious fanatics that have taken it upon themselves to carry out what they believe to be the will of the Emperor by purging heretics, mutants and the like.
As a general rule these redemption cultists are considered “outlaws” in the hive mainly because their extremist behavior tends to fuck up the status quo, however one of the noble houses (which are just gangs with more money and status) House Cawdor made redemption their official religion so they get a little more leeway with their activities.
The protagonist, Klovis “The Redeemer” (Usually just known as the Redeemer) is a noble from said house.
Klovis’ activities in the book begin taking place outside Hive Primus proper and in the Ash Wastes which is the even worse than the underhive since it’s the surface of planet completely devoid of any sort of law.
Not that this is a concern since Klovis’ goal is to spread the faith of redemption or really just an excuse to torture and kill a bunch of mutants and heretics (Which granted for Redemptionists is the same thing)
It should be mentioned that Klovis isn’t exactly a complete villain protagonist like Ulli and Marquand (Who reveled in their villainy), but he’s probably a lot crazier. He also is completely convinced in his righteous cause. The excessive torture and violence to achieve such righteousness are just necessary in his mind, especially since even his loyal underlings aren’t nearly as dedicated as he is.
Not to mention most of the time he’s also fighting people or outright monsters worse than himself.
(I can certainly identify with him)
Story starts off with Klovis and his gang finishing up burning some Ratskins renegades (They’re basically like Necromunda’s “Indians” that live in tribes and wear giant rat skins) His little bald fat sidekick Deacon Malakev narrates a lot of the events since he’s in charge of writing down Klovis’ accomplishments, including all the tortures he inflicts in the book Liber Excruciatus.
While trying to get the filthy ratskins to repent, they insist on being obstinate claiming that a great warrior spirit will be coming to bring true justice to Necromunda. And then suddenly a Ratskin Shaman pops up out of the ground riding a giant mutant worm creature. The shaman starts going on about how the ratskins will soon reclaim the planet and bring down the hive cities.
This ratskin shaman is known as The Caller and welds a magic item called the Bloodmare Stone. It’s probably infused with chaotic energy like most things with magic properties. Klovis isn’t impressed and the two battle a bit until eventually Klovis manages to destroy The Caller’s giant worm mount, at which point he claims he’ll be seeing him soon and escapes.
Klovis meanwhile executes one of his men due to a vehicle gun jam earlier in the battle as a reminder that weapon maintenance standards need to be better.
Klovis returns to his base where some other ratskin tribe is accepting the redemptionist creed. Their leader Brude goes on about how he’s happy his tribe have been shown the way and Klovis is impressed by how far he’s come.
Cue The Caller showing up again on another giant worm mount. This time he uses the Bloodmare Stone on the other ratskin tribe to encourage them to join his cause. The effect works and another battle takes place between the zealots and the ratskins.
Once again Klovis is victorious and The Caller teleports away with the power of the stone. Klovis realizes he has to put an end to this dangerous heretic once and for all, but first he has to figure out what this stone is exactly and where to find The Caller.
He starts asking Brude (One of the few surviving ratskins that turned against Klovis) but Brude is now being defiant. He quickly changes his tune when the Liber Excruciatus gets hauled out, at which point he explains that the stone is an eye of one of the ancient Necromundian spiders and that The Caller will use its magic to bring down all the hives.
Brude is forgiven of his transgressions, but Klovis tortures him anyway just to be sure that he’s really penitent. This involves removing his nose and shoving two tubes where it would be instead. It was just as well since since he reveals more important information to Klovis (a short cut to the underhive) before the crusade begins.
I should also point out that while the Morheim tales were sometimes funny if one had a dark sense of humor, the Redeemer story is definitely played for laughs at times given the facial expressions of the characters and over the top statements. Klovis himself is fairly serious business, but he’s capable of throwing out deadpan sarcastic remarks in between the humorous zealotry.
It’s a good example of being perfectly able to have a humorous grimdark setting. (Something I usually always try to have in my own writing)
The next step on the crusade is heading to the shortcut to the underhive which is being held by a mutant gang who are demanding a toll which is nearly everything they got. Klovis already isn’t fond of speaking to a bunch of mutant degenerates and he’s less fond of the idea of paying them a toll, so their giant leader Stitch has another proposal which he thinks will be more to his liking which is a chainsword duel between the pair of them in a pit hanging on two cranes. Winner takes all.
Naturally Klovis agrees.
The mutant leader for his part likes Klovis for being a violent maniac, of course Klovis just gets pissed that he’s comparing them and spouts his usual speech about purging the mutant degenerate. Malakev is controlling Klovis’ crane and fucks up at one point nearly getting Klovis killed, but Klovis recovers and manages to defeat Stitch. He gets out of the pit and after a short battle, the remaining mutants surrender.
Klovis declares that the rest of the mutants’ sins must be cleansed through the punishment of decimation. So he starts throwing them in the pit to their deaths. Malakev asks that doesn’t that punishment involve just killing one and letting the rest live as mercy.
“Not the way I do it.”
Klovis kills all except ONE mutant, puts the survivor in a pillory wear a sign saying “I was forgiven by the Redeemer” and tells him to spread the word throughout the Ash Wastes.
Malakev knows he fucked up earlier so he wants to do penance by suggesting that he pick out a torture from the Liber Excruciatus, Klovis says he will later since he’s busy right now so Malakev will just have to be satisfied with mental anguish until that point.
The next step of the journey is to the underhive where Klovis and his group discover The Caller holding a meeting with several gang emissaries and leaders. The ratskins are of course behind him, the mutants are as well, there’s also some of the outlaw gangs who just want to see shit burn.
One stand out is the emissary of Karloth Valois who is for all intents and purposes is the “lich” of Necromunda. He’s basically a very strong psyker who managed to survive a plague zombie attack in the past and he gained the ability to control them. (There’s a whole little tale about him in Necromunda lore)
Anyway “The mouth of Karloth” isn’t completely convinced until The Caller can produce some sort of proof that he can deal with the Redeemer. The Caller proves his power and causes a hive quake right at Klovis’ location. He and the rest have to abandon their armored vehicle and escape on foot. Malakev ends up getting dragged into a nearby body of water by some underhive monster. Klovis goes to save him mainly because he’s got the Liber Excruciatus on his back.
Malakev of course is grateful since he knows he’s an unworthy worm to which Klovis says while that is definitely true, he is the most merciful of men.
The group moves forward towards their destination at which point a Brother Berkrak speaks to Malakev saying that this is a foolish crusade without the firepower they had with their vehicle. He proposes that Klovis be removed as leader and another take command (And that he will humbly accept such a role)
Just then the group is attacked by plague zombies from below. Klovis states they need to be cleansed and asks for volunteers for this holy work. He then asks if Berkrak will humbly accept this honor implying he overheard his mutiny talk earlier. Berkrak says he’s unworthy, which Klovis agrees, but he’s going anyway. Klovis says he’s not going alone though since Malakev is going with him as his penance for nearly killing him on the crane.
“You didn’t think I forgot did you?”
Berkrak and Malakev don’t last long against the plague zombie horde, especially since Karloth’s emissary is leading them, though Klovis swoops in just in time to save Malakev again. He captures the emissary (who states his name is Ferron Voor) and before questioning him, he addresses the rest of his crew if ANY of them have doubts about his leadership. Nobody has any objections and they all just praise him.
“That’s what I thought. Carry on.”
Meanwhile The Caller is etching a map on the skin of some dying bastard of his path to the elevators to the heart of the hive. His horde are busily pillaging the recent conquest but a single plague zombie comes to the Caller. It’s Ferron communicating through the body explaining he’s been captured by the Redeemer and letting him know his location.
Klovis is busily trying to get information out of Ferron, but it’s no use. Even with all the gruesome torture techniques he has, Ferron’s dead and he can’t feel pain. Ferron just mocks him the whole time.
Klovis isn’t a man to be deterred though and just sees it as a challenge of his skills. He comes to the idea that if he can halt the decay in Ferron’s flesh, he can bring him back to life.
And THEN he can torture him!
So he gets Brude to mix up something in the hopes of carrying out his plan. Even Ferron looks a bit concerned for the first time, but before the plan can be enacted, they’re attacked by some of the Caller’s horde. A well placed gas bomb knocks Klovis and his people out.
When they wake up, they’re in a place called “Tomb of the Rat God” which has a bunch of the ratskins chanting and generally behaving like a bunch of savages. They plan on sacrificing Klovis to it in celebration of it’s resurrection. Ferron being one of Karloth’s “chosen” has some minor necromantic powers of bringing the dead back to life as opposed to just being able to control the zombies.
Ferron brings the giant rat corpse back to life, but Klovis manages to escape the sacrificial pit with the giant rat in pursuit. The rat god starts running amok killing everything in sight. Ferron doesn’t have control of it and Klovis manages to get to him and throw him into the rampaging monster’s mouth.
With the rat god run off and the rest of the renegade ratskins dispersed, Klovis frees the rest of his crew, shaking his head that he had to do all the work as usual. (I know the feeling)
He bullies Brude into reading some ratskin hieroglyphics which states a prophecy and location of where the Caller is heading to since it’s where the magic of the Spider Goddess and the Rat God will meet and the hive will soon fall.
When Klovis and his crew reach the Caller, he’s completely destroyed Guilder’s Gultch which was the last town before reaching the elevators to the heart of the hive. At first Klovis’ crew thinks this is going to be an easy fight since it looks like there’s only a few ratskins left, but then the Caller summons more of them.
Then he summons the mutant gangs.
Then he summons the plague zombies.
Then he summons the rat god.
And finally he summons Bloodmare itself and a huge fucking spider appears.
At this point Klovis’ crew start having second thoughts about all this. Klovis of course is all excited for the chance to purge so many degenerates. (I know the feeling)
Malakev speaks up and suggests that they might try to reason with the Caller instead. Klovis is disappointed that his flock should lose their faith however he mentions he’s taken steps to cure their lack of zeal and has prepared something that will give them at least a shadow of the same righteous wrath he has.
Klovis’ followers are all for drinking the concoction as anything to make them more like him is welcomed.
Malakev, after downing the drink realizes something. He states that isn’t this the dangerous drug called “Slaught” which has long term side effects.
“Well, yes. But you don’t have a long term Malakev.”
Klovis’ crew goes into a drug induced murderous frenzy and it actually makes up for being severely outnumbered. Klovis himself uses the opportunity to try to focus on the major threats like Bloodmare and the Caller who is riding the Rat God. Klovis manages to kill a bunch of the Caller’s horde before getting on the back of Bloodmare and stabbing the giant spider in the brain with his chainsword.
Damaging the beast’s brain, he collides Bloodmare into the Caller and the Rat God. The pair battle it out. The Rat God dies first, and then Klovis destroys Bloodmare which unleashes a wave of destructive energy from her body killing most of the Caller’s remaining forces. Klovis and the Caller remain safe from the blast being in the eye of the storm.
The Caller (who still has the stone of Bloodmare) and Klovis have one last battle on foot, but ultimately Klovis wins the fight killing the Caller once and for all.
This isn’t the end yet though.
Malakev, Brude and some of the other redemptionists managed to survive bloomer’s psychic death blast due to their Slaught infused minds at the time. Malakev mentions that now Klovis can use the stone’s power. Klovis ever the puritan see no need for it as his work in the Emperor’s name is all he needs. At this point Klovis slips into unconsciousness due to his wounds and he begins to hear the voice of Bloodmare who states as long as the stone exists, she’s not really dead. She tries to take control of Klovis, but only manages to take over his crew instead.
Klovis awakens and he’s forced to kill them all except for Malakev who claims that he’s the Caller now. Klovis however states the spider is dead and all that remains is her dying dreams. Then he shoots the stone, snapping Malakev out of his trance. Malakev once again grovels before Klovis stating how he was not pure enough and expects death.
Klovis however being the most merciful of men once again spares Malkev so that he may live to atone for his lack of faith namely by recording Klovis’ great work in purging the scum of the hive. Malakev also underwent extensive surgery to give him a mostly mechanical body so that he doesn’t fall to most biological failings again.
“This is the way of redemption.”
BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE!
As I said, there’s one more short story with Klovis and Malakev. It’s much simpler tale where it starts immediately with Klovis finding himself in an arena not completely sure how he got there until Malakev shouts from an announcer’s box (The arena owners wanted Malakev to provide commentary on what would be Klovis’ impending demise) of what happened. He got knocked out by gas while hunting a heretic.
Klovis finds himself in the arena with the bounty hunter woman called Slo Burn and her gang who captured him. A mutant gang with their leader called Rhyno. And finally there’s a large four armed ape mutant called Kang standing on a high ledge throwing burning barrels at everyone. Yep, this one is definitely playing it for laughs.
The goal of the game is to be the first to get out of the arena, but Klovis sees the point of the game to murder the shit out of all the deviants instead. (I know the feeling)
He sets his sights on Rhyno and his gang first. After making quick work of him, he loots his body and climbs up towards Kang. Kang grabs him and is about to eat him, but Klovis uses a toxbomb he took from Rhyno to shove in Kang’s mouth. Klovis escapes before Kang blows up spectacularly.
Meanwhile Slo Burn is the only one left alive and she’s on her way to escape, but decides to shoots heat seeking missiles at Klovis before doing so. Klovis throws a flaming metal bowl at her causing the missiles to follow back at her blowing her up spectacularly as well.
Klovis wins the game due to beating the chicken soup out of all his opponents (As well as destroying most of the arena) giving a reminder that if it doesn’t hurt, it doesn’t count.
The Redeemer then retrieves Malakev who is full of praise at the carnage as they leave.
“Always leave them screaming. That is the way of redemption.”
Well that was a long one. The Redeemer could have certainly used a few more stories, since he basically just has the one (not counting the little aftermath tale) but it's a good one.
Moving away from warhammer for a bit, we’ll go to another tried and true fantasy RPG setting, that of Dungeons & Dragons.
There’s actually quite a few comics made about D&D. In fact there’s a whole collections of graphic novel versions of everyone’s favorite emo Drow, Drizzt. (We might get to those at some point, who knows)
However, probably the most grimdark one that was ever done was about Vecna.
Vecna: Hand of the Revenant
So a little history as usual first.
Vecna in his current form is known as the evil god of secrets and magic. Hidden and forbidden knowledge. All that sort of stuff. He didn’t start out like that though.
In the earlier days of D&D, he was just a really powerful lich. In fact, it wasn’t even confirmed he was still properly “alive” since all that was known of him to still exist were two pieces of his body. A hand and an eye. Powerful artifacts and if you managed to get one (or both) you could graft them to your own body for cool powers. (And slowly succumb to Vecna’s disembodied influence to the point of just becoming him)
With later editions he became a demi-god and finally an outright god. There were whole playable campaigns involving him that led to these changes.
He’s easily one of the better known names in D&D. I mean you can’t go wrong with an ultra powerful lich turned deity right?
Since he’s already achieved not only immortality, but also godhood, Vecna’s goals nowadays are to kill the rest of the gods so he’s the only one people worship. (Go big or go home)
In the meantime, he’s got groups of cultists, necromancers and such going out and collecting secrets, making moves in various worlds (Since he’s not just limited to the one he was actually born on) and the like.
While I could read an entire series on Vecna just going about his complex evil god killing plans, this particular book is set during his more humble beginnings as a powerful lich and flashbacks to when he was even still a child living with his mom.
I’m going to just get on with the review it since it’ll be an info dump of history if I don’t. I’ll just add more history interspersed with the review as it goes.
So the story starts out with Lich Lord Vecna laying siege to this majestic city called Fleeth (Which has a bit of a middle eastern look) which is supposed to be one of the greatest cities in the world. Height of civilization, magic and all of that. Other places are envious of it’s land, riches and culture. But ol’ Vecna isn’t really interested in any of that. He’s just determined to wreck their shit and turn it into an oversized graveyard (As lich lords tend to do)
Even Lich Lords need a few lieutenants to help them with the finer details of wrecking shit from time to time. In Vecna’s case, his right hand man was Kas “The Bloody Handed”
(And it didn’t take long before we got into historical lore again)
Brief bit about Kas is he was sort of like the warrior version of Vecna. He ultimately betrayed Vecna at some point during his first attempt at ascending to godhood resulting in chopping off his hand and cutting out his eye (The two artifacts) but Vecna was still powerful enough to fuck up Kas and become a demigod.
Kas however didn’t die, he became some sort of really powerful vampire and trapped in a demi-plane. His sword however became a powerful artifact as well and generally finds its way in the hands of people who are trying to foil Vecna’s plans. (As well as corrupting the user)
Of course the time of when this book is set, Kas and Vecna are still BFFs and in Kas’ case, he’s still alive and just a really mean ruthless bastard.
Anyway so Kas is doing most of the directing of troops and reporting in, while Vecna’s conserving his energy to do his unholy death magic thing for maximum carnage. Vecna’s army does include living soldiers (Not just the lieutenants and/or necromancers) but he certainly does have a shitload of undead. As you’d expect, not much care is gone into minimizing casualties since, well they can always be raised again.
The defenders of Fleeth (Fleethians?) have a lot of holy priestly types since apparently their city state is run under a theocracy. Priests are pretty good against the undead, but it’s not doing shit against the siege engines destroying the walls (and defenders). Fleeth is losing soldiers and even priests they can’t replace. Morale is low enough that the soldiers aren’t too happy with the priestly ruling class who are trying to figure out a ritual which is supposedly going to prevent Vecna from coming into the city at all.
Hell, the priests don’t even want to say Vecna’s name out loud, which causes the soldiers to scoff at such superstitious taboos. (I mean he’s already at the gates, not like saying his name is going to summon him any closer) Vecna at this point is spying on them through magical means though it’s difficult with all the magic shielding. He’s also speaking to some sort of large serpent creature floating behind (and above) his throne.
And here’s where we get the first flashback and why Vecna REALLY doesn’t like this city.
Cut to Vecna and his mom living in Fleeth. She’s showing him how to cast magic which he’s confused about since he was under the impression that it was illegal in Fleeth. She explains that divine magic is perfectly allowed, but it’s arcane magic that’s forbidden.
As it turns out of course, Vecna’s MILF is an arcane magic user and their ancestors got their powers from some entity called Mok’slyk, which is a great serpent. Still, she sort of reveres it like a god, so it’s sort of divine…but not. In any case, it’s still illegal as shit since worshipping a big ass serpent isn’t the state religion So they have to keep this shit secret especially since they’re actually SLAVES in this beacon of civilization and their lives aren’t worth much if they get caught doing anything illegal.
This is where Vecna’s mom instills the idea of keeping secrets and pursuing knowledge. She also tells him to break some old jug if he’s ever discovered because it contains a powerful spell that will teleport him to a place of great arcane power. Or at least that’s what her grandmother said.
And now back to the siege.
Vecna’s reminiscing about the past and talking to Mok’slyk who is still floating behind his throne. There’s some more scenes of siege slaughter on both sides. It then shows the Fleeth commander who is disgruntled that the ruling class aren’t providing more priests for back up, but the queen tells him he’s a soldier and to shut the fuck up because the priests are busy with their ritual.
Commander Molov leaves, but he’s still pissed about everything and argues with another priest who tells him he needs to shut the fuck up and just trust in the arch clerics to do what they do. (Granted he’s mentioned to have not been born in the city, so they probably don’t see him as a proper citizen anyway)
Vecna’s side starts getting ready for their big push which they make. The high priests are all excited about this since they’re prepping some spell which is going to be some mega holy light spell to destroy the undead horde. Molov isn’t convinced and orders some sort of offensive be taken against the approaching horde and has a catapult launched at them.
Turns out he was right to do so because the advancing horde are a bunch of illusions. Vecna’s main force is attacking the less defended west side (And mostly defended by conscripted farmers no less) Kas is a little concerned that they got found out too early, but the attack continues. Molov soon orders everyone to defend the western wall which has now been breached.
Molov being a total chad is doing his best to lead what remains of his men against the undead hordes, but it doesn’t take long before they’re not only outnumbered, but also out gunned since the necromancer battle commander shows up. Molov has a hidden secret of his own and giving zero fucks about the consequences he might suffer later for breaking stupid city laws, throws some sort of magic ball at the necromancer commander blowing him up along with a bunch of undead. Commander Molov using magic comes to a bit of a surprise to his men, but also to Vecna who’s watching all this through his crystal ball wifi.
Vecna’s sort of pissed about not taking something like this into account (Plus it was a secret he didn’t know about) and his top battle mage getting killed in the process. Since Mok is still hanging around, Vecna also feels the need to take a more direct role in this siege and he teleports himself on the battlements of the city.
From there, he teleports Kas deeper into the city somewhere as Fleeth’s defenders start dying around him due to the death magic aura. Unfortunately for Vecna however, Fleeth’s high priests finally come through with their fancy ritual and practically nuke Vecna and all the undead in the city. It also has created a shield of light around the city.
So Vecna’s been blown back far from the city. He’s barely still alive (Or existing in his undead state). Most of his necromancer followers are ready to pack it in, however there’s one who is ride or die and says Vecna’s still alive and if they act quickly they can save him. So that’s exactly what this Vecna fanboy does. Vecna’s in pretty bad condition from being power word nuked, but he’s aware of his surroundings enough that someone is attempting to help him.
This necromancer goes on about how he believes in Vecna and how he remembers how Vecna saved him from death when the other minions suggested that he be killed. Vecna remembers this particular minion now. Especially due to his half demonic heritage. The necromancer says his name is Acererak.
And here’s where we go into a bit of background lore again.
If Vecna is the most well known lich in D&D history, Acererak would be the second most well known. Or in his case demi-lich, which sounds less powerful, but it’s actually not. In fact they’re even worse and harder to kill.
Acererak is best known due to creating the infamous Tomb of Horrors which was an old playable dungeon designed to instakill players. Entire articles have been written about it many times, so I won’t bother going into too much detail, but it’s still well known enough that they tend to reprint/reboot the dungeon at least once every new edition. The most recent incarnation being the Tomb of Annihilation which is actually a completely different dungeon but still designed by Acererak.
Acererak is basically the “Jigsaw” of D&D since he apparently loves to just design deathtrap dungeons giving only the vaguest hints and puzzles of how to get through them. And their main purpose is to lure in powerful adventurers because guess what? They’re going to have best souls to capture and use for whatever purpose.
Before this graphic novel though, there was never any connection between Vecna and Acererak in D&D. But despite the rarity of this comic some of the lore from it became canon and it’s usually mentioned (Or “rumored”) of how Acererak was once Vecna’s apprentice.
So getting back to the story, Ace is going on a bit about his own tragic family history saying that he grew up a poor halfbreed child in a village and his mom got burned as a witch even though she wasn’t really doing anything. He also mentions how she was a servant girl to some low level wizard that summoned a demon who RAEPED her which lead to Acererak being born. (And the demon ate the one who summoned him in the first place)
So, raised by a single mother, growing up poor, inherent magical powers, Vecna now knows why he felt a connection to Acererak and let him live when he first met him. He tells Acererak to go oversee the troops and regroup. In the meantime we get another Vecna flashback. A fairly long one this time.
Vecna and his mom are playing with dead things, since as part of their job as slaves is to prep the dead. This works out beautifully in terms of practicing necromancy as you might expect.
Cut to a different scene of the queen slapping the shit out of her daughter for being a thot and fucking some royal guard she can’t even remember the name of and who also got her pregnant! Having no other option in this situation, the queen orders that the nameless guard be arrested and her daughter off to a nunnery where she can have the baby in secret. This doesn’t really help the queen though since the princess was supposed to marry a prince in three months and her whoring just fucked up an alliance. The priests are just like “Welp, that’s not our problem. Thoughts and prayers.” and leave.
So a chambermaid has been listening to all this and approaches the queen stating she might know a woman who can reverse this process. Next scene is her speaking to Vecna’s mom who is playing dumb at first since she doesn’t want to admit she knows about necromancy of course. The chambermaid hands over four hundred gold coins where upon V’s mom is like alright, but I need a few days to whip up an abortion potion.
Next up is a wholesome scene of Vecna helping his mom disembowel a corpse to help make this potion and he remembered it was her birthday so he gives her a snake skull which animates to look like its laughing, which amuses her.
The chambermaid gives the princess this abortion potion or at least spoonfuls of it a day and says it’ll make her sick, but leave her without child and within the month she should be fine to marry the prince.
Unfortunately the prince she’s supposed to marry comes for a visit since he wants to take a look at the goods before hand. The queen makes excuses and finally says she’s been under the weather and it’s bad luck to look upon the bride before the appointed day.
The prince however points out, it’s bad luck to marry a sick woman and is about ready to call it off because he need heirs a lot more than political allies. With not much choice, the queen’s like fine you can see her soon.
Since the queen is worrying about the prince seeing her in a less “pure” condition, she stupidly orders the chambermaid to double the dosage per day. As you might expect this doesn’t go well and ends up killing the princess when they check up on her again. The royal priest examines her and declares heretical magic must be involved.
The queen blames the chambermaid, the chambermaid blames Vecna’s mom and it isn’t long before she and Vecna are brought forth to be executed. Or at least Vecna, since the queen decides that since her child died, this was a fitting punishment.
Vecna’s mom goes into full protective mother mode and starts casting spells, telling Vecna to run. They eventually subdue her and burn her as a witch. Vecna meanwhile manages to run back home where he smashes that jug his mom told him to before the soldiers get him.
And that’s when he gets teleported to the place of great magic power and where he first meets Mok who greets him.
The flashback ends and now Vecna’s doing another villain monologue about a son’s revenge and how their attempt to nuke him didn’t work and he is now going to bring the pain to Fleeth. He appoints Acererak his new battle mage commander and prepares another assault.
Next scene cuts to Fleeth which is now bathed in the magic protective light surrounding it. One of the priests approaches the inner sanctum where the other high priests are still upping the spell saying he’s got an important message, but he’s told he can’t go in and disturb them. He insists that it’s really important and the one guarding the door goes to talk with him in private and then comes back.
One of the high priests asks what that was all about, at which point the priest removed his hood and robes revealing himself as Kas (who if you remember had been teleported deeper into the city) saying that he has an important message that needed to be delivered personally.
And that’s where it ends.
And it REALLY sucks a lot, because there never was a follow up. Apparently there was only going to be one more too, but for whatever reason it never got made and it just ended on a cliff hanger. I mean one could assume Vecna destroys Fleeth given what we know of what ultimately became of him, but that’s not really the same.
Other than that major gripe, the only other one to point out is more of a nerd continuity thing. Now it was always established that Vecna lost his hand and eye in his battle with Kas all the way back in the first edition of D&D. However, in this comic it shows him losing his hand and eye due to getting magic nuked.
I suppose this could be chalked up a few different ways. Either the writers didn’t pay complete attention to established lore or they didn’t care at all and felt this worked better for the story. There’s even a third option way of looking at it which is all this shit happened so long ago, who really knows WHAT happened. One tale says Kas did it, another says he lost it during this siege. Unreliable narrator trope.
Besides all that, this was a really good comic and given that it came out in 2002, I’m fairly certain this one probably influenced at least one story of mine. Three guesses on which one, and the first two don’t count.
Also, I probably should be addressing the artwork with these a little more than I have. In the case of this one, the artwork style is excellent. Probably the best of the lot I’ve already reviewed so far. It’s all in colorful gory glory. (Yeah it’s got a few gruesome scenes) Though the text might be a little hard to read at times due to the font used in contrast of the coloring used. I guess that would be my only complaint about it. Though upon reading through it again, the font looks a lot like the type I used for some of the Necromancer pictures. Chalk up another influence.
Just wish there had been the sequel.