As Space Marines turn 30 in a few days, I thought I’d put together a list of 10 things that I love about the grimdark’s most famous sons. Now, it should be pointed out that some of these will be sensible and some will be silly. None of it will involve rules – this is more about the idea of the Space Marine as a character and how it has evolved. This blog post is also my way of responding to all the negative neophytes who, whenever some Space Marine related news or rumours appear of sites like BOLS or Warseer, have to chime in with comments like ‘ugh. more Space Marines. Excited NOT. ugh’. I think it’s fair to say that though they may be the most loved faction in the 41st millennium, they probably get the most hate too. But hey, that’s what happens when you’re so popular. Anyway, here, in no particular order, are 10 things that I love about the Space Marines.
1. Pick A Chapter, Any Chapter
In 30 years, the sheer volume of chapters that have been created, and that are being created right now, is frankly overwhelming. This points to two very important things – the scope of the human imagination, and the love people have for the big, power-armour-wearing space heroes. In fact, the above image is but a fraction of the chapters that are already recognised. Furthermore, GW itself has crammed as much info into the relevant codices as it makes sense to do so, allowing you to find the flavour of each one, from the name of their homeworld to notable campaigns. And if you can’t find one that suits, you can create your own and no-one’s going to tell you that you’re not allowed to do so. Yes, the Eldar, Orks and others have plenty of variation too, but no one has the amount that the Space Marines have and that does make them a bit special. They are the poster boys for the game and GW want you to have fun and do whatever you want to them (provided that you buy them at full retail price, of course) and that’s what attracts many people to them in the first place. Choose wisely, but remember that you can always choose something different later.
2. Armour Through The Ages
From the ancient Thunder Warriors to the much-prized MkVIII ‘Errant’ armour, there’s so much to choose from when it comes to designing your force, and this comes from the fact that over the last 30 years, GW have done a great job of fleshing out the history of the Space marines and what they look like. Ok, so it would be pretty tricky to build a Thunder Warriors force (though I have seen a couple of squads before – very cool), but the above models have gone from rare collectors pieces to being widely available from Forge World. When I started out in the hobby way-back-when, everything was either MkVII or MkVI. That was it. That was where variety stopped. Now, the basic tactical squad box contains elements ranging from MkIV to MkVIII and you can go all the way back to MkII with Forge World. How’s that for variety! Not only do these give your armies a great look by adding in all those options, but they also give it a sense of history. You can see the Great Crusade, the Heresy and so much more in your forces now that back RT era wasn’t defined and in 2nd Ed wasn’t available, and that’s just grand.
3. Camouflage And The Space Marine
Ah, the camouflage issue. A long time ago, camouflage was encouraged in your armies. After all, the armed forces that are around today employ camo as an aid to survival, so why wouldn’t the armies of the future do likewise? I wouldn’t mind seeing Dark Angels in tiger stripes, or Ultramarines in jungle green. But I get the feeling the conversations in the future go a little like this…
Sgt: ‘Our brothers are ready to deploy, Captain. What colour armour should we wear for this mission?’
Captain: ‘What do you mean, Sgt? We’re Blood Angels. We wear blood red. It’s in the name’
Sgt: ‘I understand, Sir. But, er… well, this is an ice world…’
Sgt: ‘…well, it’s just that it’s… well, it all white and bluey out there, Sir. Red tends to show up a bit against white.’
Captain: ‘And? Are you fearful of our enemies, Sgt?’
Sgt: ‘Of course not, Sir. I know no fear.’
Captain: ‘Oh, so you’re ashamed of our heraldry then. Is that it?’
Sgt: ‘Of course not, Captain! My breast swells with pride that I’m a Blood Angel! it’s just that…’
Sgt: ‘Well, I’d just rather not get shot straight away, Sir. I’d quite like to be able to see the enemy before he shoots me and he’ll be able to hit me a mile away if I’m dressed like Santa Claus in an Amsterdam window.’
Captain: ‘I see. So that makes you a… HERETIC!!!’
…or something like that. Well, I suppose if you are the Emperor’s finest, and you’re armoured like a walking tank and have no fear, I guess you don’t need it. Also, flat colours are easier to paint and more people will recognise Ultramarines if they’re painted blue as opposed to desert ochre. Forge World has tried to bring this back in a small way, helping those Howling Griffin fans who aren’t so fond of painting quarter colours, but that’s about it. I do wonder if it will ever come back though…
4. You Like Guns? We Got Guns. Really Cool Ones Too.
Now, this is a personal preference, but I’m going to say it: Space Marines have the coolest guns. Like, loads of them. From flamers to meltas, from bolters to assault cannons, they’ve got a bucket load of kickass shooty toys that other armies, stylistically speaking, can’t quite compete with. Yes, the Tau have their massive guns, as do the guard, and the Orks have their originality while the Eldar have plenty of sleek looking weapons, but none of them stack up against the arsenal of the Space Marines. I enjoy a shuriken catapult as much as the next man, but against a bolter, it just can’t cut it when it comes to an iconic look.
5. How To Choose Your Chapter: What’s Your Favourite Point In History?
If you’re ever unsure about which Chapter to work on, you can always just ask the above question. You like, the Romans? Ultramarines for you. Vikings? Space Wolves, my friend. If you want to imagine your Chapter Master kicking a Hive Tyrant off the board while shouting ‘THIS IS SPARTA!!’, you can even pick the Minotaurs. And it’s not just historical references either. We even have Space Vampires! Space Wolves work for Space Werewolf fans too. How about Space Knights? Yep, got a couple like that. GW has used history a great deal to influence the Space Marines and as derpy as this could have ended up, over 30 years, it really has bedded in nicely and many of these chapters now have taken the best part of these influences and dropped the bad. However, there are a few that really show their age, though these have, for the most part been hidden away. That brings me on to the next couple of points…
6. The Fact That The Rainbow Warriors Exist
In 1985, a year before the Space Marines appeared, the French Secret Service bombed and sunk the famous Rainbow Warrior, Greenpeace’s anti-whaling flagship while it sat in Auckland harbour. It was very big news at the time and it’s fairly obvious that someone at GW was a big supporter of these particular environmentalists, given that, one of the 12 chapters to feature in colour in the Rogue Trader book were called The Rainbow Warriors. Yes, among the Blood Angels, Dark Angels and Crimson Fists, there was a chapter that sounded like it had been born out of a bronie meetup that got out of hand (not that bronies were a thing in 1985). They didn’t last long and weren’t particularly popular, but it goes to show how cultural influences in the 20th/21st century influenced the 41st Millennium. I think the Emperor can probably do without them on the battlefield – being descended from Greenpeace activists, this chapter probably spent more time trying to raise awareness amongst the others that destroying the Ork was wrong and that everyone should hug the fungus instead. Bloody hippies.
7. Space Marine Freemasons
Yep. I’m guessing we’ve got some funny-handshake-giving members in the design studio. The Genesis Chapter are clearly based on the Freemasons and what’s more, they’re still in the Codex today! It’s amazing that they th… *whispering in ear* …ah, ok. I’m not allowed to talk anymore about this. Moving on.
8. Pop Culture Heroes
Space Marines are the recognisable face of 40k, and as such have entered the realm of popular culture beyond the hobby itself. They are stars in their own right and their popularity has probably brought a lot of new gamers to the table top – certainly more than other races. The fact is that they are now an established part of the Sci Fi pantheon and hold cult status beyond that as well, as the images of Darth Vader and Deadpool above attest to. Go onto reddit or imgur and post an image of a Space marine and someone will comment ‘HERETIC!!’ within about five minutes. They’re the heroes of the hobby (like it or not) and they’ve earned a deserved place at the top tables of the genre. Power armour is extremely recognisable and it’s rare to go to a comic book or Sci Fi convention these days without spotting someone clomping around in a homemade suit. And the fact that cosplay enthusiasts have embraced it (almost as much as Sisters of Battle but that’s because of different reasons) again points to the Space Marines’ secure place in the Pop Culture sphere. Not bad for some 30 year olds from Nottingham who spend all their time indoors.
9. Chaos Space Marines
There’s an old football adage; you can only beat the team in front of you. If the team is bad, no one will give you the credit if you win, but if they’re a great adversary, you’ll get the plaudits. Now, it’s important to remember that I’m NOT talking about rules here. Chaos Space Marines have been the whipping boys of their relationship with their loyalist brothers for a while now, but in terms of lore, style and ideology, the Chaos Space Marines are the perfect adversary. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that without the Chaos Space Marines, regular Space Marines would not have been nearly so popular. Batman needs the Joker, Professor X needs Magneto, Space Marines need Chaos Space Marines. They are the best bad guys out there, and they make the good guys look good. The fact that they also look like the good guys is an added bonus.
10. You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby
Over the last three decades, we’ve been able to watch Space Marines grow from men in space suits to fully fledged space heroes. We’ve also seen their look change in terms of their sculpt and how they are painted, and what a long way they’ve come. The painting standards of competitions and commission painters today is mind-blowing compared to what it was like when I first started splattering humbrol onto un-undercoated lead. The miniatures themselves have gone through such a change from lumps of Pb, through white metal and finecast, to the glorious plastics we see today. Yes, this is true of all the armies. They have all come on leaps and bounds, but always at the heart of the evolution were the Space Marines. They have come so far, and it has been a joy to watch them grow. If Marine Medic Kyle, with his weird little laspistol could see the Sanguinary Priest of today, I’m sure he would be a very proud grandfather.
So, there you have it. You may still despise Space Marines, or you may well be wondering what this article was all about. Was there a point? Not really. I just wanted to point out some achievements, some quirks, and some history of an Icon who turns 30 in just a few days. GW owes its success in many ways to the Space Marine, and they know it too. What’s more, many of us owe our love of the hobby to these guys too – I’ve painted more than a few in my time. Space Marines; here’s to the next 30 years. Onwards.