A Flawed Faith in Monsters.

The Greatest Debut I Have Ever Seen.

Holy shit but The Temple is on fire right now. Puma’s in there (I mean, obviously Puma’s in there), and he’s wrecking face like the Aztec champion he is. Texano’s throwing haymakers around like he’s the world’s most enthusiastic concussion salesman. Big Willie Mack’s moving like a man who’s had gravity explained to him but has decided to treat it as optional. Even Rey goddamned Misterio, the Mystery King himself, a literal living legend, is in there, a forty-year old ring veteran who still moves with the speed of a half his age. Of the twenty competitors who’ve entered, twelve lie defeated, so the fight to see exactly who gets to take home the sacred Aztec gold is between only eight, and I’m on the edge of my seat.

Come on Puma. I know Misterio’s in there, but you’re the man. It’s your time now. Your time.

Come on.

Then the war drums sound, and my lungs breathe in, involuntarily.

How can the war drums be sounding again? Everyone’s already in the ring. Twenty warriors were supposed to enter, and twenty warriors have, what’s –

A number flashes up on screen.

21.

Twenty one?

What’s…?

From the shadows atop the sacred steps of the temple, out swaggers El Jefe. Here? Now? The Temple’s not been under his hand for long, dark months… not that you’d know it from the way he looks. He moves with the assurance of a conquering Emperor, ready to stretch out his hand and claim dominion. He smiles that most wicked of smiles; the one that bespeaks misery for hero and villain alike, because El Jefe is not a normal man. Not the path of the obedient sheep for him, no, El Jefe doesn’t live for right or wrong. A visionary, he’s dedicated his life to the only real truth:

Violence.

Introducing himself, he takes a moment to bathe in the baying roars of the crowd. Soaking in their adulation, he glories because he knows they’re here for the same brutality El Jefe himself adores. Then the moment is passed, and the terrible work begins.

“My brother,” roars El Jefe, standing aside to permit the audience to bear witness. “The Monster: Matanza Cueto.”

From behind him, steps forward atrocity wearing the skin of a man. He’s huge, but that’s not the reason the room falls silent. Nor is it the fact his shoulders are literally double the width of El Jefe’s. It’s not the bloodstained boiler-suit, rank with crusted filth. It’s not the spasmodic twitches of broad, blunt fingers, obviously eager to tear flesh. It’s not even the leather-bound skull-mask The Monster has instead of a face.

It’s those eyes.

They’re the eyes of an utter maniac.

As The Monster descends the steps, walking to his brother’s altar of violence in preparation for the sacrifices that will be offered, every current fight is forgotten as the warriors stops and simply face towards the destruction that approaches them.

For his part, The Monster does not walk like a man. He walks like a god. There’s no speed to the advance. No rush to action. Inevitability doesn’t need to rush. Mounting the ring apron, The Monster steps inside, staring down the eight seasoned warriors who might dare to oppose him; the eight who’ve dedicated their life to the pursuit of glory on the field of battle but now find themselves facing… well.

Defeat.

They rush him.

Disappearing amongst the flurry of fists, The Monster seems to have no chance. Then bodies explode in all directions, flung aside by the kind of lunatic strength possessed only by the insane or the divine.

Fenix is the first to be destroyed. Making a desperate leap, The Bird of War finds himself caught, held fast in a grip so effortless it seems for a moment he must be weightless. Hefting the reigning champion like nothing, The Monster spikes Fenix into the ground with the finality of a last coffin nail being driven home.

After that, the three count is a formality.

They make a mad dash then, the seven remaining warriors. Everyone tries everything. Punches, kicks, grapples, holds… but every attack met with the same response: none. All their skill, all their power. It’s worthless. Because they’re just men, and The Monster…

… The Monster is a god.

Within minutes, seven have become six, six become five. Nothing saves them from The Monster’s rampage. One man, desperate, has locked himself to the side of the arena. He can’t be defeated unless his broken body lies on the Temple’s seal.

He finds his stratagem hasn’t accounted for a horror with hands which can tear through steel. Ripping the metal like paper, The Monster flings the screaming offering into the ring and five become four.

A minute later, four become three.

One who fancies himself cunning, a villain with a skill at betrayal, attempts parlay. He suggests a team-up, pledges his good and faithful service to The Monster if only The Monster will spare him.

But The Monster reaches out its hand and three become two.

After that, only the Prince of Pumas and King of Mystery remain… but even their regal combination counts for nothing.  After all, what god has ever respected the titles of men?

Two become none, become the total and abject defeat of a proud warrior culture, all laid to waste by a creature of divine violence whose relentless will brooks no refusal. Even when El Jefe hoists the gold aloft, The Monster seems not to understand; the only thing in those murderous eyes are questions.

Why are there no more? When can there be more?

Can it be soon?

A Hawaiian Named Jeff.

The Monster Matanza is played by Jeff Cobb. If you’ve never heard of him before, he’s a blandly handsome native of Honolulu with a proud background in sports. Aged 35, his gimmick prior to playing the single greatest monster in modern wrestling was that of ‘Mr. Athletic’, a generic wrestler with an offensive style built around a high-impact, Greco-Roman approach.

It wasn’t a great character. I mean, it kind of suited him, but watching him as a younger man, out there in a singlet, working very similar matches to those he’d wrestle as Matanza, there wasn’t the same visceral response I felt as I did on the night The Monster made his debut. ‘Mr. Athletic’ was a talented, if colourless mat technician; The Monster Matanza Cueto is the blood-soaked avatar of the Aztec god of slaughter, and he is absolutely compelling.

The Wrestling Monster.

There’s lots of ways to wrestle. Every nation’s got a different culture, and those different cultures have lead, over the years, to completely disparate styles of ‘fake’ fighting. There’s the classic showboating American style of power wrestler; the highly technical Canadian style of submission wrestler; the brutally realistic Japanese Puroresu style; the classic English brawler; the crazy athleticism of the Mexican Luchador.

Not only does every nation has its own style of wrestling, but within those styles, there are specific gimmick styles. These govern not just what the wrestler does, but the how and why of why they do it. The patriotic hero who wants to represent the stretch of dirt he was born on. The dastardly villain who just wants the win and doesn’t care how he gets it. The unknowable foreigner who’s got his own customs – look at his crazy passport! The sporting champion who’s competed all his life and is dedicated to excellence. The pragmatic mercenary who’s just here to get paid.

Of all the character archetypes (called ‘gimmicks’), though, one of the most awesome is The Monster. Matanza Cueto is simply one example, but there’s been hundreds of them over the years, and you probably know them: The Undertaker, Kane, Awesome Kong, Brock Lesnar, Goldberg …

If you recognise those names, then you’ll probably have a good idea about what The Monster is and how it works. Usually a bad guy, but occasionally not, at its core, there’s three simple tropes which govern how a Wrestling Monster operates:

1.) Terrifying levels of strength AND in-ring ability.

You can’t just have one. If you’re only bringing strength, then you’re a basic power wrestler. If you only bring wrestling ability then you’re a mat technician. These are fine styles, but they’re not enough alone to make a Monster. When he debuted, Undertaker could walk the ropes with an agility that defied his size, but was big enough to throw other wrestlers around like dolls. Likewise, when he exploded onto the scene, Brock Lesnar had enough strength to bench press a small building, and enough speed that no-one could outrun his hate. A genuine monster has to have both.

2.) Impressive appearance.

‘The look’ is a key attribute of a Monster. They have to look like they can murder you to death, or they’re just not credible. An effective mask is an easy way to hit this one – characters from Big Van Vader through to Kane through to Matanza have used a scary mask to emphasise their inhuman nature. Of course, a mask isn’t a necessity; Brock Lesnar was so ridiculously huge that he didn’t need to use anything beyond the snarl of a career dog-rapist to convince you he was a legitimate threat.

However, these two things along do not make a Monster. The, final, and most important part of the construct is this:

3.) No selling, ever.

‘Selling’ here meaning the theatrics of pain. Put simply, a Monster is never, ever, show that something hurt – even when it does. Horrible power moves, crazy hard suplexes, finishing moves… even chair shots are not allowed to do anything to The Monster. (As a side note, this can lead to the all-too-human talent making some ridiculous choices. Brock Lesnar’s messed-up Shooting Star Press at Wrestlemania 19 nearly knocked him out cold and the terrible concussion it caused is thought to be the prime cause of the diverticulitis which cut short his MMA career. Despite this, Lesnar, who should’ve been seeking medical attention, carried on with the match, because… well, that’s the gimmick. Men can be hurt, but a Monster cannot.)

When these three tropes combine they can be used to create an almost impossibly attractive lure for the crowds. We love them because they provide something which is actually in very rare supply in the modern world.

They’re awesome.

Now, it’s important to note that I’m not using that word as a synonym for ‘good’. I’m using it in the most literal sense of the word, because it accurately describes what a true Monster does: fill the audience with actual awe. With a sense of genuine wonder, a sense of seeing something unbelievable, something evoking respect and adulation and terror.

It’s easy to see why so many wrestlers have used the gimmick over the years: when it’s done well, you’re instantly a legend. You’re not a man any more; you’re a sentence which begins “Holy shit, did you see…?

The Fatal Flaws Of Monstrosity.

There’s a real problem to the Monster Heel, and from the point of view of the individual fan or performer, it’s tricky to see. After all, what’s not to love about a Monster? You’re powerful in the purest, most distilled sense of the word. You’re popular in a way that’s almost unachievable without a lifetime of hard graft. You’re always going to win, and who doesn’t want that? To be the winner? Everyone wants that, to be the guy whose life is filled only with ups.

Wrestling’s not real, and neither are the victories.

Those ups? They’re only part of a story, and it’s a story that never ends. Worse, it’s not a narrative about one person. There’s going to be other people, and those other people, they’re going to have ups too. They are, eventually, going to win. When your story is based around the myth of your absolute invulnerability, then you are on terribly shaky ground. If all you have is invulnerability then the moment that’s gone, you’re left with nothing.

Put simply, the problem for the Monster is that the moment they lose, they’re finished.

There’s numerous examples of this. Probably the best example of this is Goldberg. When he was introduced, he wasn’t so much a man as a force of nature. An almost complete lack of ability to wrestle even slightly convincingly was camouflaged through matches which only lasted seconds. Goldberg would enter the ring, hit a his opponent hard enough to make them forget the names of their children, before scoring the three count and screaming ‘WHO’S NEXT?!’ with the look of a sexually rampant mastodon. Goldberg tore through 170-odd opponents and the only question anyone ever asked was “Wait, did he actually mean to kill that guy?

Then Kevin Nash (a boring and terrible wrestler who also, interestingly enough, was chief writer at the time) pinned him in an utterly inconsequential match and Goldberg’s career was pretty much done. People still wanted to see him fight, but… well. The spark was gone. Before that match, everyone had been on the edge of their seat, wondering not who would beat him, but simply if he could even actually be beaten.

But he had been beaten, and cleanly. With the question answered, the Monster was revealed as just a man. It would only be twenty years later, the humiliation of that loss utterly forgotten that Goldberg would be able to reclaim his Monstrous mantle, and even then, those older fans who remembered his shame would still comment on how curious it was to see this defeated man fighting at all.

If the fact wrestling’s fake makes the concept hard to understand, then consider a parallel example from the world of MMA. Like Mike Tyson before her, Ronda Rousey, was, to all intents and purposes, a real-life Monster. People watched her fight not just because they wanted to watch a simple, but because they wanted to watch something spectacular, and in her prime, Rousey was beyond spectacular. She was a complete physical beast. Not just a dominant physical presence, but with technical skills so utterly beyond anything her opponents could cope with, that simply surviving longer than half a minute against her seemed impossible. It bears reminding that Rousey was legitimately winning fights in seconds, and not against pushovers.

But then she lost, and now, no-one cares. Her previous wins, so legitimately awe-inspiring when they happened, are footnotes. The only thing anyone remembers now is that Rousey lost, and lost hard. When her comeback fight was somehow even more embarrassing, the writing was on the wall: her career was at its end. The UFC had built its women’s division on the back of a beast, not a small, sad-faced woman who clearly didn’t even believe in herself any more.

We’re drawn to the Monster because they seem impossible. But the sense of awe they provide is like innocence: once lost, it can never be regained.

Narratively, The Monster brings another problem: monsters need a steady diet of kills. The generate their veneration from the speed with which they crush all opposition,  and so they ultimately need to be fed everyone…

…which means they hog all the storylines, all the belts, all the attention. Wrestling’s just a TV drama, like any other, and The Monster is just one character. Sure, they’re awesome, but it bears repeating that every wrestler is someone’s favourite. Seeing The Monster beat your favourite guy or girl is obviously rage-inducing. After all, that’s my guy! Sure, The Monster murderised all those other jabronis, but how could he beat my guy? It doesn’t make any sense! My guy’s so much better than that!

Remember, a key trait to The Monster is that they’re an overwhelming threat. When they win, they win fast… the flip side of which is that their opponents have to lose fast. Inevitably, this quick loss can mean your favourite guy looks weak by comparison – potentially unrealistically so. Not to mention, to a devoted fan, the idea that their favourite guy can be made to look so pathetic can feel like an insult.

After a while, it can reach the unfortunate point where The Monster’s beaten enough fan favourites that resentment starts to set in. Where the fans previously salivated at the thought of seeing The Monster turn another wrestler into human origami, now they’re just eager to see the prick lose.

This gets even worse if they’re featured regularly, even if you’re a fan. After all, you might love chocolate, but a diet of plain milk chocolate for breakfast, lunch and dinner, all day, every day would get tiresome very quickly. In the same way, when the same literal thing’s happening every episode of your favourite show, tedium is the only possible result.

All of these factors combine to mean the lifespan of The Monster is both short, and absolutely finite. Monsters burn brighter than any other, but they rarely have career longevity. Exceptions, like The Undertaker, do exist, but they’re actually very rare, because they require a careful, tactical evolution from the generic Monster template into something different. It’s a difficult, complex process, involving taking long and significant breaks from the mat, before coming back as a slightly (or sometimes radically) different version of the character. Taking Undertaker as a classic example – perhaps the very best – of a ‘reformed’ Monster, Mark Callaway’s character has a clear evolution, through several massive changes. First he was an undead Monster zombie, before being ‘killed’ and returning as a cod-Satanic cult leader, before taking a couple of years away and returning as a biker, before finally settling into his ‘Dead Man’ gimmick, which combined the best aspects of all the previous iterations of the character. By abandoning, altering, and carefully choosing when and more importantly, how to lose, Undertaker’s exceptional talent enabled him to enjoy an unprecedented career in a way that a simpler Monster (like, say, Ryback) could not.

In summary, the general lifespan of The Monster gimmick, looks something like this:

  • Monster is introduced: they destroy everyone, promoting a powerful fan reaction and gaining immediate popularity.
  • Monster ploughs through many, many jobbers, and a few important guys. Fan reaction increases, and fans begin to wonder how the Monster will lose.
  • Monster carries on winning. The fans begin to resent the Monster, wanting to see it lose.
  • Monster carries on winning. Diminishing returns set in and the fans turn hostile as the Monster becomes boring. Note that this stage doesn’t always happen… but only if the Monster loses before now.
  • The Monster loses. No-one cares any more; attempts to resuscitate the Monster’s career are possible, but require starting from the very beginning again… and if diminishing returns have set in, well… there’s just no comeback from that.

Now, the reason we’re discussing this wrestling concept is because it’s got huge utility when looking at Warhammer 40,000’s codices.

Hyperbole: /hʌɪˈpəːbəli/ n. exaggerated statements or claims not meant to be taken literally.

When the Space Marines were introduced, they were the greatest army in the universe. Then came White Dwarf 127 and there were the Eldar, the greatest-er army in the universe, the oldest species in existence, with ancient, powerful technologies. Then came Advanced Space Crusade and suddenly the Tyranids, an impossible, vast hive mind and the greatest threat to the galaxy’s myriad species that could possibly be imagined. Well, until the Necrons were revealed, a race even older than the Eldar with technologies powered by literal gods so powerful they dwelled inside the stars…

If you’ve spent any time playing 40K, you’ll have read a codex, and, most likely, been starstruck by how awesome your favourite faction sounds. The fan-term ‘ codex creep’ specifically describes the tendency for the latest codex to be the most powerful as an easy way to sell armies. However, we’re not discussing that.

We’re discussing GW’s writing style.

As a fan of 40K, you’ve probably noticed that in the fluff – which is much more permanent than the rules – every faction is basically introduced in the same way that wrestling introduces its Monsters. Think about it. The codex comes out, and all we hear about for the next three months is how devastating they are. How brutal their unique units can be. How horrifying their weapons are.

You remember the first time you read about bolters? I dare you to tell me you weren’t impressed.

Seriously, my first reaction was genuine awe. “It’s called what? And it’s a fully automatic, armour-piercing rocket launcher? That’s amazing.”

But the bolter is not the best gun in 40K. The most iconic, sure, but its primary place is as the baseline. The bolter is the most meat-and-potatoes weapon in the whole of the GRIMDARK; we use it to judge the effectiveness of other weapons. A fully automatic, armour-piercing rocket launcher, and it’s nothing more than a measuring stick really.

Think your favourite codex. Now think of the units in it which most disappoint you.

Not the ones with underpowered rules. Those just suck. Not the ones with the shoddy miniatures. They’re just annoying. No, the ones with the awesome models, but with the rules that just didn’t quite measure up to the idea you had in your head after reading the fluff.

Every codex presents its army as ‘unbeatable’. Every entry makes every unit seem amazing. Every weapon entry reads like the description of a nuclear weapon. Why? Because Games Workshop has a very specific writing style that it uses in its codices, mostly built around the use of a very specific set of rhetorical devices, primarily excessive hyperbole and unremitting emotive language. This constant use of hyperbole, of words designed to get us, as readers, excited, creates an intense sense of ‘power inflation’, where absolutely everything is THE BEST THING EVER.

But not every army can be THE BEST ARMY EVER. In fact, the concept of a balanced game – that mythic, Platonic ideal to which most gamers would agree the game should aspire towards – rejects the existence of a ‘best’ army as laudable, or even desirable. The existence of a ‘best’ army necessarily implies a broken, joyless game system.

All of which means that the exaggerated descriptions of the codex doesn’t do well in preparing gamers for how these things will perform on the battlefield. Having read about how amazing your Dark Eldar are supposed to be, it can be a real kick in the teeth to discover that the truth falls well, well short of the codex descriptions.

The overall effect of this can be to induce a high level of cognitive dissonance between gamer expectations of how things should behave, and how they actually behave. Put simply, the descriptions are so awesome, players are inevitably disappointed when the rules mean units or equipment perform poorly, or not as described. It’s like ordering rare steak and being served beef jerky.

What this means is that some player experience the sense of defeat a wrestling fan feels when The Monster finally goes down… only with the frequency of 40K games, that miserable feeling is constant.

Needless to say, the experience can be an agonising one. After all, if you’re completely invested in your army and its background – and who amongst us is not? – then every game of 40K can start to feel like a betrayal. Space Marines are  genetically engineered supersoldiers with power armour and fully automatic rocket launchers: how can they ever lose? Chaos Space Marines are  genetically engineered supersoldiers with power armour and fully automatic rocket launchers only they have daemonic magic and UNLIMITED COSMIC POWER: how can they ever lose?! Tyranids are an unstoppable force of genetically mutable horrors able to think and move as one and able to evolve a perfect response to anything that dare oppose them, all whilst utterly immune to daemonic magic and PHENOMENAL COSMIC POWERS: how can they ever lose?!

Every codex presents its army as though it was objectively the best; as though it was The Monster, a combat beast that will swiftly and mercilessly destroy every opponent, all whilst remaining immune to their every attack. When players run into the real world, though, they find out very quickly that The Monster is, in fact, just another army.

So what can we do about this?

Think On A Meta Level.

Well, the answer is to adjust our expectations. When you’re twelve and just starting out in the hobby, it’s fine to be angry. You’re a kid, you don’t know any better. But as an adult fan, we should all hopefully be mature enough to see the codices as what they are.

They’re advertising.

As much as they’re a guide to the fictional worlds of Warhammer 40,000, each codex is a finely crafted piece of advertising for Games Workshop’s models. Some of that advertising is obvious; pictures of attractively painted models have a clear purpose in taking the money from our wallets.

Sometimes the advertising is based on the rules. In the last edition of 40K, Space Marine Heavy Grav-guns were the best gun in the codex. As a result, they were selling for four times the price of Heavy Bolters on bits sites.

Sometimes, though – perhaps most powerfully –  the fluff is the advert.

Because it’s not just an attractive model that sells. It’s not just good rules that sells. It’s the very idea of an army – or its individual components – that sells. I own over fifty Astartes dreadnoughts, and they’ve only been good on the table for four months. Honestly, I think they might be more surprised about their newfound skill than me. So why have I been collecting what were sub-par models for the last decade?

Because they’re awesome. Because I love the background. I read the background as a kid and it sold them to me. As a child, I didn’t realise that’s what it was doing, but as an adult, I do.

The bottom line is that we need to recognise Games Workshop isn’t going to change its style, and its style is based around hyperbole and excess. Every unit entry, save for things like Grots, is going to claim that the unit is the very best thing in the game. They’re not going to stop doing that, because that’s just their style. So Games Workshop can’t make every unit perfectly meet the fluff. It just can’t. Eighth edition is a bold, brilliant attempt to do so, but even the ground-up redesign hasn’t been quite enough to make absolutely every unit worth taking (looking at you, generic Leman Russ Vanquishers). We, as gamers, need to recognise and appreciate that there are always going to be disappointments when we play; that some units will seem amazing, but ultimately turn out to be utterly mediocre.

So the next time you’re feeling let down when ugly reality steps all over your dreams of awesome intergalactic superwarriors, try to remember that your army isn’t The Monster. It can’t be, and if it is, it means that something’s gone horribly wrong in the game’s design. It’s just an army, and you – yes, YOU – are going to lose at some stage, because the description of your army is just a sales pitch. It might sound like you’re going to rock that battlefield the way Matanza rocked Lucha Underground, but the truth is that it won’t. As the Inquisition is fond of telling us, hope is the first step on the road to disappointment, so the best thing for us to do is try to see the codex hyperbole for what it is: an exciting, often beguiling sales pitch… but a sales pitch nonetheless.

_____________________________

That’s all for this month’s column, but it’s not all for this month. After all, my DEATHWATCH ARMY GIVEAWAY competition is still running, and at the time of writing, I’ve had NOT ONE ENTRY! Which means that, potentially, the winner might do so by default!

Seriously, I don’t want to have to give my mate Pete an army. He doesn’t play 40K and wouldn’t know what to do with it. I want it to go to a gamer who’ll appreciate it, so why not enter? Over £100 of completely unique miniatures could be yours!

CLICK THE LINK AND ENTER!

YorkNecromancer’s 2017 Deathwatch Army Giveaway!

So if you’ve been following my Instagram feed for the last week, you’ll know that I’ve been teasing a free Deathwatch Army giveaway competition. I’ve had more than a few people asking how to win. Well: here’s the details on what you need to do.

THE PRIZE

The prize is a full beginner’s Deathwatch army: two Deathwatch veterans squads; two Venerable Dreadnoughts (one with Multi-Melta and DCCW, the other with Plasma Cannon and Missile Launcher); a Deathwatch Librarian; a Deathwatch Techmarine with C-Beam on a bike (no longer game legal, true, but still awesome); three Deathwatch Bikers; and a Vindicare Assassin. All the models are fully painted, based, and converted, and will be sent to the skilled (not lucky) winner.

COMPETITION TIMINGS

On Friday, the 21st of July, the competition goes live. It will run until Midnight GMT of the 31st August 2017; efforts submitted after this point will not be considered (though they will be deeply appreciated). Judging will take place the week following, with the winner to be announced on the 7th of September.

THE COMPETITION ITSELF

The competition will be based around the first part of my debut novel, ‘Alpha Sequence: DEREVNYA’. The criteria is simple enough: write a review of my book and post it to my book’s page on Amazon. The person who writes the ‘best’ review wins.

The link to my book is here.

Now, ‘best’ doesn’t mean ‘most flattering’; if you’ve read ‘Sinister Pinion’, you know that I’m interested in proper cultural critique. You can praise my work, sure, but there needs to be thought behind anything you say.

So, the person who provides the most thoughtful, interestingly-written critique will win.

Not to mention, from the 21st July 2017, the eBook version of my novel will be available to download for FREE for five whole days, so you don’t even have to spend any money. Just download my book, read it over your summer holiday, and write a review. It’s that simple.

And if you win, a one-of-a-kind, fully painted, completely unique Deathwatch Army could be yours!

So, good reading, better writing, and best of luck!

 

Everyone Hates Roboute

I really like the new Primaris Marines.

There’s a bunch of reasons.

I mean, I could talk about the aesthetics. How I honestly think the new armour looks great; the way the additional armour plating really gives the models heft, and the more ‘realistic’, faux-truescale sculpting lends them a real dynamism. Maybe I could explain how I think the actual armour stylings themselves are really good – the way there’s clear visual links between the pre-existing Heresy-era sculpts and Adeptus Mechanicus lines of models. The Primaris equipment really feels like a fusion of the greatest era of Astartes technology, and cutting edge Martian engineering. Not to mention, the actual weapons they have look great – the picatinny rail-inspired greebling just makes everything look that little bit more ‘military’. Personally, I think that in every way, the Primaris figures are a rousing success.

Not that you’d know it from the comments online.

“I’m so sick of Space Marines being released. When are they going to do <insert personal army here>.”

“These look shit.”

“Games Workshop’s replacing all my old marines.”

“The new fluff is shit. Fucking Gulliman spiritual liege Matt Ward blah blah blah…”

“Fucking Ultrasmurfs.”

I’d say I get this negativity, but honestly? I really don’t. As an AdMech player since 1993, I know better than most what it means to have to wait for new models to be released. Sure, it’s annoying, but that wait can be a positive thing; it encourages hobbying, because missing models means more conversions. Plus, it’s not like GW’s pattern isn’t known at this stage. Astartes will always have more models than any other faction, for the same reason Batman will always fight the Joker more often than Two-Face. Some things are just more popular than others. It’s not fair, but that’s the way it is. If we want more models more frequently, we have to accept that we either change our army to one which is updated more frequently, or swallow the bitter pill that by choosing a more esoteric army, we’ve made an implicit agreement to wait longer for new toys. The Szechuan sauce might be amazing, but the vast majority of people just want burgers. Businesses need to follow the money, and that can’t be helped; it’s the ugly compromise between having an artistic vision, and getting paid for it.

As for the people arguing that the models look dreadful, I mean… seriously, if you think they look shit, I’m sorry, but you’re subjectively wrong. They look great, so long as you’ve got the same love of the Astartes aesthetic as I do. And it’s not like you have to buy them. I mean, I think every Chaos model ever released looks like warmed-up ass; doesn’t mean they’re a shit army or that people who play them are stupid. Just means I personally don’t buy Chaos models. I’ve got a new Dark Imperium Death Guard army I’m going to be eBaying, doesn’t bother me none. We don’t have to like everything, so we shouldn’t make people defend their aesthetic choices in the name of salving our own egos. That’s just a dick move.

However, where these first two complaints are just kinda obnoxious, the other complaints are a little more interesting and bear a little more merit, and warrant a little more analysis, because with them, we’re kind-of getting into the nitty-gritty of what makes 40K what it is.

As we all know, the fluff is everything.

Poor Fluff.

Changes to the fluff are inherently controversial. Especially with a group of humans as naturally conservative as gamers. Changing the fluff is like putting a plastic castle in a piranha tank: doesn’t matter how nice the new toy is, the moment you put your hand in there, you’re losing a finger.

The thing is, not all gamers are unthinking as piranha. Sure, there’s a type of gamer who hates any and all change, but we can ignore her. After all, we can’t help her out. She’s stuck hating anything new because she remembers The Good Old Days ™. We can’t help her and honestly, we shouldn’t try; these are the kind of people who saw the automobile and decided they’d rather take a horse. And, you know what? Fair play to them. Nothing wrong with being a Luddite; the only person it hurts is you. So we can ignore them, because their problem isn’t actually with the game, it’s with the fact that time is happening, and they lack the self-awareness to realise that.

No, the gamers we need to talk with are the ones with the active critical thinking skills. The ones who’re actually prepared to engage with the new work, rather than simply regurgitating whatever hate their local club is currently steeped in. This gamer, she’s actually approaching the fluff from the perspective of good vs. bad writing, and that’s great. I mean, again, like aesthetics, that argument’s a question of taste; you either like it or you don’t, so I’m not sure there’s any great understanding to be had from the discussion of whether Bellisarius Cawl’s introduction is a bit out of nowhere, or the fact that YET AGAIN the Ultramarines are the centre of everything and YET AGAIN their Primarch is shown to be the best… Either you like that, or you don’t.

However, where I think there’s utility is in considering why these new changes have been made.  In asking why Primaris? Why Ultramarines? Why Gulliman? The reason being, once we’ve analysed why these decisions were made, it develops the discussion in a more helpful, constructive way.

 

Why Primaris?

 

The answer to this is obvious, but it needs stating, because all the other decisions descend from it. If we proceed from the baseline, the simple reason for the Primaris Marines’ existence is this: Games Workshop created the Primaris Marines because it wants to make money.

You can see why they made the call to introduce the Primaris line for Astartes and not, say, Drukhari. Astartes sell better than anything else, because of course they do. They’re concentrated awesome, and if you disagree with that, then you basically need to stop lying to yourself and ask exactly why you’re interested in Warhammer 40,000 at all. No matter how much we might love Orks, they’re simply not the face of 40K in the way Astartes are.

Thing is, while Astartes are awesome, after thirty years, Jesus Christ, what’s left? The Astartes product line is FUCKING MASSIVE. Seriously, how many models are there? There’s Greek statue marines, Roman legionary marines, mediaeval monk marines, skull-faced marines, awesome flame decal marines, bat-wing head marines, cyber marines, dragon marines, Viking marines, vampire marines, werewolf marines, Mongol marines, special forces marines, wizard marines, Egyptian marines, Skeksis marines, barbarian marines, zombie marines, junkie marines, marines riding bikes, marines riding wolves, marines riding in Santa’s sleigh…

This, all before we get into breaking down the types of marine. Because there’s flying marines, big gun marines, big marines, bigger marines, bigger marines with two big guns, marines in cloaks, marines with swords, marines without power armour, marines inside robots, big marines inside robots…

It’s fucking insane how big the Astartes product line is. Take a step back and compare it to any other game line, and compare the audience response to the release of a new product. Warmahorde fans cheer when they get a new army box with two robots and a single, one piece dude, all cast from that awkward plastic resin crap which never gets the mold lines out. Poor Infinity fans celebrate whenever just one single new model comes out. When GW releases a box of ten models that can be built as two different squads, with multiple weapon variants, special weapons, helmets, heads, ammo pouches, bandoliers, grenades, add-ons, spare kit, customisation parts and details, 40K fans tend to wail like the end of the world has come.

It’s bizarre.

So, when it comes to Astartes, how does GW do anything new, and worse, how do they do it  without being vilified? Look at how many Astartes models there actually are. How can they actually introduce a new product into that line? They’ve done every kind of Astartes there is. About the only option left is pith helmet Astartes vs assegai-wielding Astartes. Either that or, you know, female marines, but when your community’s values are so messed up that they regard daemonically-possessed psychopaths as less abhorrent than half the population of the Earth, well. Here we are – Primaris Marines, models with the one thing GW has never done before aside from acknowledging that women are humans: marines in a scale appropriate to the background fluff.

Returning to the core problem is, having decided to create such a massively divergent model line, how does GW then introduce those model lines without making every one of their existing customers furious?

I mean, obviously they can’t, because there’s a significant portion of the 40K community that’s thrived on hatred since the game’s birth. No matter what they do, some dipshit’s going to get angry and burn their army, because that’s just how parts of the 40K community are.

So that means the question isn’t  so much “how does GW introduce these new marines without making everyone furious?” as “how does GW introduce these new marines without making the sensible people who happen to have invested a lot of money and time in the 40K hobby and will therefore be deeply upset to find their time and money, essentially, wasted?

Because that’s not a small thing. To be a 40K player is to have an Astartes army somewhere. Probably quite a large one. Probably more than one. Possibly even a fantastically expensive one that’s been literal decades in development.

As a result, GW’s options are seriously limited. They can decide to go ‘truescale’, but they can’t just say ‘this is what Space Marines are now’ without full-scale riots breaking out. Their only option is to incorporate the models into the existing fluff, and say they’re a new type of Astartes. It’s all they can do; their hands are tied.

I sympathise with them, I really do. With a community this notoriously impossible to please – one that’s been neglected and borderline insulted for many years – making a decision like the Primaris one is genuinely ballsy. The fact is, though, the way they did it was the only way they could do it. They HAD to come up with a way for Astartes players to both keep their old models and have incentive to buy the new ones… so the Primaris Marines couldn’t be retconned; they had to be introduced as new Marines. They couldn’t replace the current Astartes; they had to be introduced as ‘the same, but different’. And, given the Imperium’s fluff-rooted hatred of anything new, there were the twin problems that they had to be introduced by someone with serious authority, and someone with serious, heretical-level science. The Primaris needed to be introduced by someone with Heresy-era technology levels, and someone with authority approaching the Emperor’s.

In essence, the Primaris could only be introduced the way they were. It couldn’t just be  Chapter Master that introduced them, or the new model line would end up Chapter specific, with gamers complaining that they couldn’t use the new toys. It couldn’t be some AdMech guy, or the fluff fans would be up in arms, asking ‘How does the AdMech have the authority to impose this on the Black Templars?!

It had to be a Primarch, and there had to be an uber-AdMech character involved. It couldn’t just be one of them; it needed to be both.

The change – as all real things in 40K are – was driven by the model line, because it’s a story driven by toys. It always is. But that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily bad; the idea of a Loyalist Primarch coming back is an awesome one. The idea of him coming back with uber-marines is equally badass.

There’s so much hate for the Primaris story arc in some areas of the community, and no matter how much people complain, no matter how many reasons are given, I’m of the opinion that the root of all that hatred can be summarised in two simple words.

Fucking Smurfs.

                ‘Chapters [not descended from Guilliman’s geneseed] are disciples who owe their genetic inheritance to another Primarch, but follow the Codex Astartes as keenly as their divergent heritage allows. While primarily composed of successor Chapters, this group also includes several Chapters of the First Founding – notably the Imperial Fists, White Scars and the Raven Guard. These chapters can never be Ultramarines, for their gene-seed is not that of Roboute Guilliman. Nevertheless, they will ever aspire to the standards and teachings of the great Primarch’

 – Matt Ward

It was the fifth edition Space Marine Codex was when I first became aware that people really hated the Ultras. It might seem like it’s always been that way; that the Ultras were just the very worst, most godawful of all the types of Astartes you could possibly play, but it wasn’t always that way.

Way back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, back when I first began playing, the Ultramarines weren’t anything special. But then, neither was anyone else. They were just… well, marines. The Ultras were the blue marines, Blood Angels were the red ones, Dark Angels were black, Salamanders were British Racing green… none of the chapters were terribly different from each other. The names were just names without any real Chapter culture attached. The fluff wasn’t fully developed. The Ultramarines certainly weren’t the Face of The Imperium like they are now. They were just what you called your Marines if you painted them blue.

While other Chapters were developed, their backgrounds expanded into interesting and varied cultures, the Ultramarines stayed undeveloped for ages. Most of 1st edition, actually, and a significant portion of 2nd. They were Just Another Chapter. There were no named characters as we’d think of them today – Calgar, though he existed, was a fat little hobbit-looking dude on a weird chair with twin powerfists, intended as a display piece, not an actual battlefield model. The only Ultra-specific model which had any of the more ‘modern’ stylings was a single Marine captain with vaguely Roman details.

Now, the Ultras weren’t alone in having a limited line. For most of 1st edition, the Blood Angels had a single Captain in proto-Sanguinary Guard armour; the Dark Angels had a single captain with a strange, sort-of Native American headdress-inspired helm; the Space Wolves had a single captain with a wolf helm. Well, that and a terrible model of Leman Russ which was somehow even worse than the seated version of Calgar.

The hilarious thing is that it wasn’t even the Ultramarines who were the first Chapter to be fully fleshed out. It was the Space Wolves. The releases of the Blood Claws, Long Fangs, Grey Hunters, Ragnar Blackmane and the rest absolutely dominated the summer release window they came out in. It was like no other marines mattered. For a length of time which might surprise modern players, the Sons of Russ were as ubiquitous in 40K as the Ultras are today.

After the Space Wolves were given their ‘All Wolves, All The Time’ gimmick, the gimmick train couldn’t be stopped. The Blood Angels gained the Death Company and became vampires; the Dark Angels were liberally dipped in the simmering homoeroticism of their real-world origins, and became penitent warrior monks. It was getting to the point that there were so many non-Codex compliant Chapters that the idea of a Chapter who did follow the Codex had become a novel idea. In fact, the current, modern ‘popularity’ of the Ultramarines could be read almost entirely as a direct response to the historical proliferation of ‘snowflake’ chapters that came to define 2nd edition.

So it was, that the Ultras were finally allowed to have a genuine gimmick of their own, and it was the one gimmick no-one really wants: to be the ‘standard’ chapter. To be the yardstick by which everyone else’s awesome is measured. The reason why this ‘honour’ fell to the Ultras and no-one else seems – to my mind, at least – to be a combination of unpopularity, aesthetics and poor real-world paint technology.

All the other chapters had, by 2nd edition, got special rules and awesome models of their own. By contrast, the Ultramarines had received nothing. No special characters, no unique units, nowt. This had lead to an obvious lack of popularity, meaning they were ripe for development. Coupled with a lack of narrative development – they’d emerged from 1st edition with almost no fluff to call their own – made them the perfect blank slate, making them ideal candidates to be slotted into the role of ‘the Codex-compliant Chapter’.

Also in this era, Games Workshop was undergoing something of a reinvention. This was the period where they first realised there was big money to be made selling to tweens, and so they were now interested in pursuing this untapped, lucrative younger market. It’s a curious quirk of nature that children and younger people’s eyes respond best to bright primary colours – they ‘notice’ them before subtler shades and tones – and, aesthetically at this point in 40K’s life, GW was all about painting everything red.  As a result, the Blood Angels were GW’s go-to choice for their ‘Face of The Company’ Chapter, and they were plastered all over the 2nd edition boxed set.

But this didn’t stick.

Why? Well, we’ll come back to that in a moment.

Giving up on the Blood Angels, 3rd edition 40K tried to make the Black Templars A Thing. Templar Knights IN SPACE should be an easy sell…. But the Templars choked. It’s easy to see why. Their colour scheme is simultaneously boring, but really hard to paint well. You can’t make Black Templars look good with minimal skill – you need to actually practise painting to do that, so they’re terrible for beginners. Plus, their emphasis on swords detracts from the futuristic feel of 40K, and they’re just so goddamned GRIMDARK that the whole thing starts to verge on farce. Plus they hate psykers. Much as I love the Templars (and I really do), you can’t blame GW for giving up on them as the Chapter designated as The Face of Games Workshop.

So, for fourth edition, GW’s forced to go back to the drawing board. They return to their initial ideas of a simple, primary colour scheme that’s easy for beginners to paint, and which looks great with minimal effort. With the Blood Angels on the outs, GW’s desire for a would have to be filled by another Chapter.

This is where painting issues in the real world get in Games Workshop’s way. With red no longer an option, all that’s left is yellow or blue. Yellow is an infamously tricky colour to paint well, and paint technology? Well, this was back in the days before decent shades and washes were commercially available. As a result, the Imperial Fists were out as a potential choice.

And so it was that, after nearly twenty years, the Ultramarines finally get invited onto the dance floor. Picked as the Face of The Company, not because they’re the best choice, but because they’re the best of the available options. The Ultramarines are the ugly, rule-abiding nerd who’s always picked last for everything, chosen only because he’s well-behaved.

So it is that from 4th edition onwards, the focus has finally – and seemingly permanently – shifted onto the Ultras as the Face of The Company. It’s easy to see why. All the things which made them ‘vanilla’: the colour scheme, the Codex-compliance, the fact they’re the closest thing to a genuine ‘Good Guy’ the Imperium has… all that stuff’s  turned out to be actually kind of essential to selling the fucking product.

Maybe you’re asking why? Why the Ultras and not the Blood Angels?

Well, remember how I said we’d come back to that?

It’s because 40K scares the shit out of the Muggles, that’s why. If you’re like me, you love it because it’s so relentlessly bonkers, so utterly crapsack, so horribly, horrifically dark. Coincidentally, these are also the exact same list of reasons why parents hate it. Trying to explain that their children are playing a wargame where the good guys are Nazis because the whole game’s a complex satirical critique of utilitarianism and the human drive towards fascism and oh, also the baddies are actual fucking demons?

Seriously, you can tell a straight boy that being anally fisted feels amazing, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to huff some poppers and tell you to get stuck in. No matter how much fun a pastime might be, some things are a difficult sell. So it is with 40K.

When some parents won’t even look past the word ‘war’ that preceded the ‘game’ part of the equation, well, you can see why the Blood Angels were dropped. While they were obviously GW’s preferred Face of The Company Chapter from the get-go, the fluff meant the Sons of Sanguinius were just completely unacceptable for the role. Vampires are one thing, but the Death Company? A literal squad of suicidal murder bastards?

And this is why the Ultras are GW’s main chapter. They are, for want of a better description, the perfect camouflage.

Look at the colours. Blue has connotations of goodness and heroism, as well as the fact it’s almost always combined with red or yellow on their pauldrons. Those primary colours just pop, and their heavy associations with childhood toys are not accidental. Ultramarines are overtly heroic; much moreso than the vampiric Blood Angels, the berserker werewolves of the Space Wolfs, and the furious monking of the Dark Angels. Not to mention their name screams ‘Good Guy’: Ultra Marines. They’re like regular marines, only… Ultra.

The Ultramarines are a con. A scam. Everything about them is calculated to make the Chapter – and by extension, the game – seem ‘safe’ to the parents who will inevitably be shelling out hundreds of pounds for handfuls of grey plastic. They’re a way to make a game about Space Nazis fighting Space Demons palatable to people who won’t look any closer than that, and who aren’t interested in trying.

Of course, these same ‘safe’ qualities are – inevitably, really – those same qualities that make them so despised by the ‘hardcore’ gamers. Ultras will always have connotations of being ‘for the kids’ (conveniently missing that this is literally their point) and Christ knows, the one thing teenagers and twentysomethings hate is stuff that runs the risk of making them look childish. They’ll scream and shout and rant for hours about how a hobby about little plastic spacemen is, in some way, Not For Children.

When of course, that’s exactly what 40K is. And only a fool would take that statement as criticism.

Of course when you couple our community’s all-too-frequent, lamentable insecurity alongside the fact that many of us were drawn to the GRIMDARK specifically because it has no heroes, because of the moral complexities the Imperium presents, well. It’s no surprise that the Ultras are despised. And it’s not like Games Workshop’s had a history of exactly helping themselves on this front. Matt Ward’s 5th edition fluff (quoted above) seemed almost wilfully engineered to enrage fans of other, non-Codex chapters by outright stating that the Ultras are objectively The Best Chapter. I cannot imagine a more flamboyant middle finger to anyone who, like myself, plays other Chapters.

An Unfortunate Series of Events.

It’s not surprising that the Primaris Marines are getting a poor reception. A new idea introduced to a community that distrusts new ideas; background material connecting them to a wildly unpopular Chapter, and a less popular Primarch… And given the game’s history, background, everything, honestly, there’s no other way they could’ve done things. The continuity of 40K is too well-established at this point to allow for any other options, and the sad thing is that all that’s happening? Is that the community is being given new toys to play with.

Ultimately, I’m not saying you have to like the Primaris, or that you shouldn’t bash them. We’re all allowed opinions, all allowed to like what we like, hate what we don’t. I’m just saying, maybe we need to think about why things are, the history of where they came from, before we start rushing to attack. The Primaris fluff isn’t great, sure, but there’s complex historical reasons why it is what it has to be.

As I’ve argued before, young people are the lifeblood of the hobby, and getting angry at the fact the game’s made for them is like getting angry at the tides. Shout at the waves all you like, but be prepared to get wet. And while the Ultras are, without question, the lamest of the Chapters, there’s no point being angry at them. Our game needs them. They’re the necessarily safe entry point the game requires, and that’s actually a good thing. More gamers overall, means more money, means more development of those other, more esoteric models, factions and species. Their success means you’re more likely to get the less popular toys you actually want.

A rising tide lifts all boats.

June 2017 – What Makes a Monster

As a cisgendered male, born and raised in the UK, James Bond was a huge part of my childhood. Whenever there’s a Bond film on the telly, I’ll maybe watch for a few minutes, inevitably surprised that I remember what’s going on. I’ll never be able to name the film, but I’ll remember that this is the bit where Bond spots the bad guy because the bad guy doesn’t know that only a beast would eat red wine with fish. It’s strange: I don’t even really like Bond. I only watched his films because I was a child, and this was back before the Marvel Cinematic Universe existed. You had to watch something. But despite that, every Bond film lingers in my head as a vague, muzzy kind of recollection, like the faintly-remembered smell of the house I grew up in, or the cake I ate for my eight birthday.

After Roger Moore died, I was hit by the same sort of sadness one always feels when a fondly-remembered actor passes. Hit by that strange pang of not-quite-sadness that comes with every reminder that You Too Shall Pass, I decided to rewatch ‘Moonraker’. Critics deride it as the silliest of Bond films, made only to cash in on the nascent ‘Star Wars’ boom, but you know what?

It’s pretty good.

Yeah, it’s goofy as balls, but the villain’s plot is kind of amazing.

I mean, normally in Bond, there’s some Russian guy and he’s working through about seven different fronts because he’s going to use nukes to kickstart a resurgence of the Soviet Union and

Wha –

Sorry, drifted off there.

Where was I?

Oh yeah. Bond villain plans. They’re almost always bollocks.

But Drax’s plan is just balls-to-the-wall mental. He’s going to fly a collection of ‘perfect humans’ into space, poison the entire planet to death, then return to the same New Eden every supervillain monologues about eventually.

It’s completely bonkers. But at the same time, you just have to admire the fact it’s not the same old shit.

Not to mention Michael Lonsdale is obviously LOVING the role. He barely once cracks a facial expression, but the way he delivers lines like “Look after Mr. Bond. See that some harm comes to him.” Or better: “Mr. Bond, you defy all my attempts to plan an amusing death for you.” Or my personal favourite:  “James Bond. You appear with the tedious inevitability of an unloved season.”

Seriously, the film might be silly and stupid and feature a ridonkulous space battle between Drax’s master race and the US army’s somehow already prepped for zero-G combat space marines… But Lonsdale gives a definitive performance in How To Play A Bond Villain.

I think Drax might even be a better villain than the much-vaunted Blofeld.

See, after I finished ‘Moonraker’, I decided I might as well finally check out the latest Bond offering. I’d been putting off watching ‘Spectre’ because ugh, James Bond? Who still watches that?

‘Skyfall’ was superb, sure, but that was clearly a one-off accident – you only get to give a character one origin story, and ‘Skyfall’ makes the most of Bond’s. The other Craig films had been the usual tedious clusterfrak of fragile masculinity and tedious male power fantasies and honestly, I just couldn’t be bothered.

But, fresh with the thrill of having partially enjoyed a Bond film, I fired up ‘Spectre’ and oh my Glob why am I watching this overlong mess? Seriously, what is even happening? Who’s this guy? Is anything meaningful going to happen?

Wait, what?

Blofeld is Bond’s brother?

Oh, just fuck off.

Sorry if I spoiled the fact that Blofeld is the main antagonist of ‘Spectre’, but honestly – it’s called ‘Spectre’: having some other guy as the Big Bad would be like promising the audience of a ‘Batman’ film The Joker and delivering Calendar Man.

And it’s not like it matters – Blofeld is a completely boring villain. He’s just a psycho who seemingly does stuff for the sake of being bad. His backstory has his father adopt the orphaned Bond. This causes Blofeld, thick with jealousy, to murder him.

I mean: what?

Then Blofeld founds a nebulous Most Evil Organisation Ever which basically goes on to do evil shit for its own sake. It holds meetings where board members get their eyes gouged out and no-one points out how completely insane this is because that’s just how evil they all are.

Now, given the way some drug cartels operate in the real world, this is arguably realistic, but the thing about baddies like this, is that they’re boring to watch.

Why? Because we’ve seen this before, and in literally everything. ‘This organisation does not tolerate failure’ says Blofeld all the way back in the early Sixties, and here we are, half a century later, and nothing’s changed.

I’m not saying you can’t have that ruthlessness as a critical part of Blofeld’s characterisation, but it needs to be done in a slightly better way. If not, it’s just clichéd and generic.

Generic Doomsday Villain Syndrome.

We’ve all seen tedious Generic Doomsday Villains. TV Tropes defines them as ‘A villain without coherent motivation, goals, or personality; he is defined solely by the threat he poses.’

What are Blofeld’s motivations? I mean, after the latest film, it comes off like he founded Spectre just to fuck with Bond, which is preposterously petty, and – given that he dealt with his father by murdering him – completely crazy. And not in the ‘dangerous psychopath’ way, but in the ‘bad writer couldn’t be arsed to come up with a proper character’ way. Blofeld’s personality is defined entirely by the word ‘evil’.

He’s just shit.

And there’s millions like him. Moriarty in the original ‘Sherlock Holmes’ stories: less a character, more an excuse for Conan-Doyle to put the Holmes character in the bin. Read the story if you don’t believe me. For all his reputation, in the story that introduced and disposed of the character, he was a completely generic, one-note baddie. Holmes just sort-of says ‘Oh, and Moriarty’s behind everything’ and then goes off to fight him and die. All the interesting stuff about Moriarty comes later on, created by writers who hate the Holmes character less than Doyle did at that point.

The MCU has a particular problem with Generic Doomsday Villains. Malekith from ‘Thor 2’: he wants to blow stuff up because honestly I can’t even remember. Something to do with red stuff? And he’s got a half-burned face because… he just sort of does? AND THEY WASTE CHRISTOPHER ECCLESTONE ON THIS SHIT? Jesus Christ.

Ronan The Accuser in ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ spends the whole film running around and bellowing at people before murderising them. Sure, the film’s not really about Ronan so much as watching the Guardians bicker with each other, but still: Ronan is a boring-ass baddie. Just like Malekith, he’s played by an amazing actor, Lee Pace, and if you don’t know who he is, go watch Tarsem Singh’s ‘The Fall’ and then weep at What Could Have Been.

Ultron from ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’: he sort-of hates Tony Stark and wants to drop a meteor on the planet but he also wants a living body and…? What was his motivation again? Just being bonkers?

To those of you going ‘Yeah but…’, or, like Kevin Feige (the MCU’s showrunner) saying: ‘A big criticism of ours is that we focus on the heroes more than the villains, I think that’s probably true… We at Marvel… yeah, we focus on the heroes. We don’t mind that. We like that.’

You know, I can see your point. It’s definitely smart to focus on the heroes, because they’re the ones the story is about. There’s definitely an argument to be made that it’s perfectly fine to simply use the villains as a tool to bring the characters together and give them something to do. No matter how dull Ronan is, as a plot device, he works perfectly in ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’.

So there is an argument to be made that Generic Doomsday Villains have their uses. Tropes are, after all, tools. However, while that’s all well and good, but I have one word for you.

Loki.

The Old Aphorism

“A heroine is only as good as her villains.”

We’ve all heard it, we all know it’s true, and Loki is the proof. He’s the one exception to the MCU’s film-based shitty villain problem. Loki is an amazing villain. The question is, why? Why does Loki succeed where Ronan fails?

In my opinion, there’s a number of complimentary factors. Firstly, Loki gets the whole ‘brothers who’ve turned on each other’ trope right. When Blofeld’s family connection to Bond is first revealed, it’s out of the blue. We’ve never heard about Bond having a brother before. Bond’s reaction to Blofeld has simply been recognition, nothing more than that. There have been no flashbacks, no old family footage… Nothing to show the audience that yes, these two grew up together. We’re told they’re brothers, not shown it, and so it comes off like it just doesn’t matter.

Loki on the other hand, spends the first half of ‘Thor’ as Thor’s best friend. He’s sensible, calm, sensitive… and Thor is a complete douche. He ignores Loki’s sound advice, and just goes around dudebroing at everyone. We see how their relationship chafes at Loki, how he’s endlessly overlooked in favour of this musclenumpty with great hair.

Loki’s also got a solid, sensible plan. He doesn’t want to do evil shit just for its own sake. He wants to rule Asgard. He wants to teach Thor what a dickhead he is. These are not unreasonable plans. There’s a good chance that the audience will be entirely on Loki’s side, because the shocking thing is, he’s not wrong. He is cleverer than Thor, he does have the soft skills of diplomacy Thor lacks. He isn’t hot-headed in the way Thor is. And Thor does need teaching a lesson; even Odin thinks so.

Loki doesn’t actually cross over into actual villainy until we see his reaction to the reveal that he’s adopted. His pain is palpable… and worse, completely misplaced. The film shows us how Odin cares for him, sees him as a real son, but Loki attacks him anyway. Loki’s initial turn to evil is heartbreaking.

When it’s later revealed that he’s always planned to do away with Odin and Thor, that he’s been planning this anyway, then it cements him as A Bad Guy, but, crucially, nothing he’s done feels stupid. Emotional, and foolish, but it’s all very understandable. He’s not bad because he likes being bad; he’s bad because he’s made poor choices and let his flaws of pride, jealousy and pettiness overcome him.

Loki’s tragedy is, ironically, that for all his intelligence, he can’t learn. Thor is banished to Earth, learns to let go of his resentment and become responsible, returning home a better man. Loki can’t ever overcome his bitterness, so for all his gifts, he remains trapped.

Loki’s weakness emphasises Thor’s strength. Loki’s inability to change emphasises Thor’s growth. Loki’s pettiness emphasises Thor’s maturity.

Loki villainy is the mirror through which we see Thor’s heroism.

Loki’s later appearances all build on these strengths, leading to a fascinating, complex character. Whenever he shows up, we know he’s not to be messed with; not because we’ve been told so, but because we’ve seen how dangerous he is. Loki has fans in a way that Ultron and Ronan do not. People care about Loki – they’ll come to see a film if he’s in it, even though he’s the baddie! He’s a character whose inevitable Heel-Face turn in the second ‘Infinity War’ film is going to get one of the biggest pops of the night, guaranteed.

Hopefully, this shows that a well-developed, three-dimensional villain is generally preferable to the Generic Doomsday variety.

So – and hopefully you’ll forgive the oxymoron – how do we create a good villain?

Well, let’s look at some other well-designed villains and see what they have in common.

A Cavalcade of Bastards

N.B.: relentless SPOILERS follow for the ‘Hannibal’ TV series, ‘The Dark Knight’ and the ‘Game of Throne’ TV series and ‘Fight Club’ follow.

Hannibal Lecter, ‘Hannibal’ (TV series)

When he first broke out in the ‘Silence of the Lambs’ film, Lecter was intriguing, but ultimately just a straight update of the Dracula myth – a European aristo with superhuman senses, speed and strength, driven by dark needs to feed on Westerners.

However, in Bryan Fuller’s exceptional TV series, Lecter metamorphosed from a charismatic psychopath who killed people because, well, that’s just what he did, into something utterly remarkable.

In the series’ beginning, Lecter hasn’t been caught yet. He retains all the traits of the film version, but with a number of interesting diversions. This Lecter is driven by a God complex; he literally sees himself as a creature that’s so completely beyond humanity that they mostly bore him. As a result, Lecter is intensely lonely. Of course, this self-same God complex won’t allow him to admit this loneliness, because to do so would be to admit he wasn’t a God. Until Lecter is introduced to Will Graham, Lecter probably wasn’t even aware anything was missing from his life.

But, called in to assist the FBI’s best profiler, everything changes. Why? Because Will Graham’s unique condition – the ‘perfect empathy’ which makes him the greatest profiler the FBI has ever known – means Lecter has met the only individual on the planet who can understand him. Lecter’s loneliness, the single splinter of humanity in his entire psyche, ends up driving the majority of the doctor’s behaviour for the series’ entire run.

With Will Graham in his life, Lecter knows he can finally be understood and accepted… but he remains Hannibal Lecter. His God complex is still there. And what that means is that Lecter can’t love anyone but himself. So what he does is set out, over years and years and years, to turn Will Graham into him.

Because once Will is Hannibal, they can be together.

After his first justifiable homicide in the line of duty, a traumatised Graham turns to Lecter – who at this stage is his psychologist – and asks for help. Lecter responds – insidiously – by suggesting that killing felt good, so why is Will worried? From this slow, awful beginning, Lecter first drives Graham to madness, then to brutality, then to acceptance of this brutality.

By the series’ end, Lecter has completely refashioned the profiler’s psyche so thoroughly that Graham can no more imagine life without Lecter than Lecter can without Will. All the killings, the murders, the horrors are – to quote the film version of Lecter – ‘incidental’. The only thing that matters to Lecter, literally the only thing in the world that’s real to him, is his love for Will Graham. And how terrifying that is, to be pursued by an absolute monster who lacks the slightest fetter, limitation or qualm of conscience. Lecter is never stupid, never foolish, never miscalculates… even when he’s eventually captured, it’s because he’s turned himself in. And why?

So Will Graham always knows where he is, because he wants Will to know he loves him.

The Joker, ‘The Dark Knight’

I’m not ordinarily a fan of the Joker, because he’s a bit of a Generic Doomsday Villain. He just does bad things, because, well, he’s the fucking Joker. That’s what the Joker does.

Imagine my surprise at ‘The Dark Knight’, though, where they take this one-note, Generic Doomsday Villain, and do something incredible with him: they give him a meaningful personality.

This version of the Joker retains the totally psychopathic behaviour of the comics’ Clown Prince. Where this version diverges is that he’s got a plan. Always. No matter what’s going on, he’s working towards a greater goal. He never spells it out until the end, because his plan isn’t for anyone else – it’s just for him.

Well, him and Batman, but we’ll get to that in a little bit.

So the thing to bear in mind about this Joker is that he lies. Like, all the time. Consider how many versions of his ‘Do you want to know how I got these scars?’ stories he tells (and more on them later). Therefore, when he says to Dent ‘I don’t have plans’, well: he lying his ass off. Yes he does, and as the film shows, breaking Dent by telling him there was no plan… well, that was one of the plans.

The thing is, not everything he says is a lie. It’s one of traits that makes him so much more dangerous this time round. Despite this, there’s all kinds of implications, hidden through the film, about who he is, where he’s come from, and why he’s doing what he’s doing.

Firstly, he knows how to use a rocket launcher, and competently so. This is not something you can just learn on a gun range. He’s frighteningly skilled with IEDs. As the man himself says, he likes gunpowder and gasoline. Bomb-making and demolitions are not civilian skills. Then there’s the fact that he doesn’t just think tactically, like Batman. He thinks strategically. He’s not planning a battle, he’s co-ordinating a war, and he can command his soldiers with frightening acumen.

Then consider what he’s wearing the first time we see him:

A suicide vest.

Finally, consider the speech he gives to Harvey Dent that breaks him, and turns him into Two-Face. That speech tells you everything.

“Do I really look like a guy with a plan? You know what I am? I’m a dog chasing cars. I wouldn’t know what to do with one if I caught it. You know, I just… do things.”

Well, by the end of the film, we’ve seen what a lie this was. He’s planned to blow up two ships, and when that failed, he’s planned to turn Dent bad. This Joker’s every move is a plan. He’s a strategist, moving on a scale so huge it doesn’t look like a plan unless you can see the shape of the whole thing.

But the key line in his speech is this: “You know what I’ve noticed? Nobody panics when things go ‘according to plan.’ Even if the plan is horrifying! If, tomorrow, I tell the press that, like, a gang banger will get shot, or a truckload of soldiers will be blown up, nobody panics, because it’s all ‘part of the plan’. But when I say that one little old mayor will die, well then everyone loses their minds!”

A truckload of soldiers.

Blown up.

This Joker was a soldier. He went to war, was tortured (hence the scars) and saw awful things. His comrades die; people so desperate that a suicide vest seems like a logical choice; people’s lives reduced to nothing for no reason at all. Seeing this, he was unable to turn away from how unfair it all was. How ‘the plan’ isn’t right or just or fair. Disgusted with the indifference of the universe, and consumed by nihilism, the man who would be the Joker comes back to the US as “an agent of chaos. Oh, and you know the thing about chaos? It’s fair.”

He’s driven by cosmic irony: by the unfairness of the universe. He’s a monster, trained for a war he believed in, only to find the whole thing was a vast, cosmic joke. That, really, everyone was awful – the enemies who killed his men, the commanders who sent his men to die, the civilians who allowed it to happen, everyone who complacently accepted. The only logical response, this Joker seems to have decided, was to come back to use the skill-set he was taught to prove that nothing matters – that the world is a joke, and that American lives matters as little as any others.

And of course, he never says any of this. Not to anyone except Batman, because no-one else is worthy of his time. It’s why he jokes with them. It’s a way of proving his superiority. It’s why he kills them. They’re all equally worthless. It all ties into his ‘Do you know how I got these scars?’ speeches; these lies can be read two ways. On one level, he’s just fucking with people; trying to make them sympathise with a lie that he knows is untrue. Their sympathy for him – and the idea that this sympathy makes them somehow moral – is a joke, because they didn’t have any before, so why should the fact they do now matter? How does sympathy after the fact make a person moral?

However, on a deeper level, those speeches tie into his whole artistic theme – that everyone is equal. Each story about his scars is equally plausible. So he could be anyone… and anyone could be him. In-universe, no-one knows he lying but him, which means he’s lying as art. He’s making the point – which Batman is the only one to catch onto – that deep down, anyone could be The Joker.

That ability to see The Joker’s point – to empathise with him – is why he won’t kill Batman. At first, The Joker looks at Batman and sees a thug who might stop him… but when he realises what Batman really is, The Joker sees only himself. Batman’s seen the lies, just like The Joker has. Batman’s seen that ‘the plan’ is a joke. It’s why Batman ‘completes’ him: Batman’s the only other person in the world who not only ‘gets it’, but who has stood up to do something about it.

The fact that Batman’s opposing The Joker is irrelevant. Notably, at no stage does The Joker try to turn Batman to his side, because as far as he’s concerned, he doesn’t need to. Batman’s already on his side: the side which sees the injustice of the world and acts against it in disgust.

It’s why it’s so important for Batman to allow The Joker to live: by killing him, he proves The Joker is right. ‘The plan’ allows you to kill ‘bad people’, and that’s the first step on the slippery slope to justify killing anyone. Of making life a joke.

Joffrey Lannister, ‘Game of Thrones’

The thing I love about Joffrey is that he’s basically the perfected version of what we  wrestling fans call a ‘heel’.

Wrestling, as long-term fans of my blog will know, is distilled epic narrative, boiled down to its simplest, purest elements: that guy’s the hero, that guy’s the villain, they hate each other, let’s watch them fight. The goal of the wrestler is simple: make the crowd care. The hero makes them care by getting them to cheer, the villain gets them to care by making them boo. It really is that simple.

Because of that simplicity, the villain – the heel – doesn’t have a terribly sophisticated battery of techniques to draw upon to get the crowd booing. Classic heel tactics include: cheating; having a collection of goons to do their fighting for them; lying; talking tough before a fight but crumbling when one actually shows up; running away the moment things aren’t going their way; and, most importantly of all, cruelty. A true heel is a coward who – despite their many gifts – picks on the weak, slanders the noble, and doesn’t have the slightest bit of courage in their body.

Christ, what a masterclass in being a heel Joffrey is. He’s literally the perfect heel.

He picks on the Stark girls and when they stand up to him, he has his seven-foot henchman kill their friend. He goes after their dogs – their dogs! – and snivels to his mummy when things threaten to go South. When he becomes King, he talks shit about how he’s the greatest king there ever was. He smirks as he makes men fight to the death, hands out horror and mutilation for kicks, tortures and murders vulnerable women… All because he’s a wretched little sociopath with no greater goal than his own amusement.

Where a Generic Doomsday Villain does awful things because The Plot Demands It Is So, Joffrey does awful things because he’s immature. And unlike the Generic Doomsday Villain, it’s shown time and again that Joffrey’s immaturity, stupidity and capriciousness is actually a horrible weakness that’s going to kill him.

Because he can’t help himself. Joffrey’s horrid nature comes from a completely arrested development: mentally, emotionally and psychologically, he’s a child, with the absent moral compass and limited intellect that implies. The pointless evil shit he does, he does it because he’s dumb as hell… which means unlike a Generic Doomsday Villain, there are severe, personally damaging consequences for his sadism. As we’re shown, if he’s got the opportunity to do something horrible, he just does it, and damn the consequences. His viciousness isn’t a strength, but a terrible failure. He has Ned Stark killed for shits and giggles… which starts a monumental war that nearly unseats him as king, and which directly leads to disaster for his family. He’s the villain the other villains hate, because he’s so preposterously vile he can’t help fucking up everyone’s plans.

Then there’s his cowardice.

Before the Battle of the Blackwater, Joffrey brags about how hard he is, shows off the shiny new sword he’s ridiculously named ‘Heartrender’ and smirks about how he’s finally going to get to do all the killing.

Then when the Battle arrives, he runs like a little bitch and literally ends up hiding under his mother’s skirts. He’s a complete weakling, and it is impossible to not hate him. When his death finally shows up, you can’t help cheering, and that’s pretty much the ultimate accolade for any heel.

Tyler Durden, ‘Fight Club’

The first time I saw ‘Fight Club’, you could’ve signed me up on the spot.

That’s how insidious a villain Tyler Durden is.

“We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t,” says Tyler as played by millionaire movie god Brad Pitt.

Tyler Durden is the most incredible example of a seductive villain that’s ever been on screen. Because he’s charming, and funny, and clever, and most of all, he’s right. An alpha male before the idea had gained popular traction, he’s every cynical, nihilistic douchebag who’s ever gone ‘The world is a shitty place and everyone in it is shit’, only he’s pretty enough to make you believe him.

When we meet him, he’s dressed in the coolest outfits, talking slick about The Secrets Behind Everything. A talk with Tyler is like having the veil taken down, enabling to help you see the world As It Really Is.

And his plan is brilliant, isn’t it? Blow up buildings to make everything better. Because acts of terrorism absolutely always work, don’t they?

The brilliance of Tyler Durden is that he appeals to every urge to strike out against the oppression of an uncaring world. The things he says resonate; it feels like he’s speaking truth, because a lot of what he says feels true.

That doesn’t mean it is, though. Tyler Durden, like The Joker, is a very effective liar.

Because what listening to Tyler results in, is a fascist army. He collects dispossessed, angry men. He teaches them to fight. He normalises violence, and praises them for their skill with it.

Then he gives them easy answers: ‘the problems of society can be fixed by violence’.

He teaches them to make bombs.

‘You are not your khakis’ he says, and we nod because he’s right, I’m an individual. I’m not going to dress just to look like everyone else. I don’t need a uniform.

Then Tyler puts his men in Project Mayhem uniforms, and they love him for it, happy to no longer be an individual, but part of something bigger than themselves. They never see the irony.

Having won their love, Tyler then sets about utterly dehumanising these vulnerable men. He takes their names. He takes their identities. He even starts to use language which refers to them as animals – ‘monkeys’ – taking their actual humanity.

“You are not special. You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake. You’re the same decaying organic matter as everything else.”

And they thank him for this horseshit, because they think he’s telling them the truth.

Tyler Durden is everything he professes to hate. He hates advertising because it takes people’s humanity and identity, selling them an idea in exchange… which is exactly what he does, only he gets to sneer about how clever he is while he does it. He’s a hypocrite of the worst order, and an idiot, because all he can see is nihilism. All he can see is that, in the long-term, nothing matters, which means that nothing matters.

But that’s not true. If nothing we do matters… then all that matters is what we decide matter. If there’s no bigger meaning, then the only meaning is the one we choose. Which is, of course, why The Narrator rejects Tyler’s nihilism in the end: because Tyler is wrong. Tyler’s embrace of violent nihilism isn’t the logical answer; it’s simply one possible answer, seen through the toxic lens of Tyler’s anger.

The Narrator rejects Tyler and embraces Marla because he realises he’s not angry any more. He was angry because he was lonely, but in finding Marla, and accepting that it’s okay to love her, he isn’t alone any more. So he isn’t angry. So he doesn’t need Tyler.

In a very real sense, Tyler Durden is the Narrator’s misplaced rage, and the story makes it clear, the solution to that rage isn’t bombs, and it’s certainly not Fight Club. It’s making meaningful connections with other human beings: in the film’s ending, with Marla Singer, and in the book’s, with the people The Narrator befriended in the support groups he was attending at the story’s start.

The Recipe.

So, what have we learned from these horrible pricks? What rules does a writer need to follow to create a good villain?

They must have an understandable, relatable backstory.

The villain can’t just come from nowhere, and they can’t just be monstrous. If they are, you might as well replace them with a storm, or some kind of animal. If there’s no element of recognisable humanity there, you’re not really creating a villain, you’re creating an antagonist, which is something subtly different. Whilst ‘force of nature’ antagonists can be terrifying (as in the writings of H.P. Lovecraft, or the films ‘Jaws’, ‘The Fifth Element’, or ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’), they’re not really engaging.

A element of intrinsic humanity is what allows the villain to act as a foil to the main characters, and allows the villain’s vile qualities to emphasise the protagonists’ higher natures. What is key is that even if that human background is not discussed, it should still be there. The writer/creator/designer should know it, use it to drive the villainous character, and hopefully make it at least inferable to the audience.

So Hannibal Lecter may be a clinical psychopath whose mind doesn’t remotely function like a human’s, but he’s still capable of loneliness, and desperate to be understood. The Joker’s a monster, but he’s also a former soldier driven to despair and madness by war. Joffrey’s just a horrible child given too much power, too soon. Tyler Durden is pure male angst given license to run wild.

They must have a plan – or motivations – which make logical sense.

There’s an old idiom which says that every villain is the hero of their own story. And I think there’s a lot of truth to that. No-one wants to think they’re bad. The very first response most people will have to accusations of sexism, racism or prejudice is ‘ No I’m not!’ – even when they are. Look at the way modern racism hides behind irony, pretending to be ‘just a joke’, as if there’s a difference between ironic hate and actual hate anywhere except in the accused person’s mind.

As a result, villainous plans and motivations must be ones that the audience can empathise with: Hannibal’s need for love; the Joker’s need to be proven right; Joffrey’s childish desires to do whatever he wants; and so on. A truly great villain might even have a plan which the audience is persuaded is actually a good one (see Tyler Durden).

They must be morally reprehensible.

This is the most important thing, because if they aren’t basically hateful in some way, you’ve not creating a villain at all. Now, ‘morally reprehensible’ is a broad category. It doesn’t need to be murders or killings – look at Tyler Durden’s mistreatment of the men of Project Mayhem –

but the villain must commit acts which demonstrate their moral compass doesn’t point the right way.

They must be powerful.

Or else how do they threaten the heroes of the story? A critical thing is that they don’t need to be physically powerful – look at Joffrey – but they must be a threat. No-one knows just what Hannibal’s been up to; that, combined with his prodigious intellect means he can get away with more murders than the US police force. The Joker can’t hope to stand against Batman in a one-on-one fight, but he’s so clever that it takes forever before Batman can even get him in a one-on-one fight… and even when he does, The Joker’s stacked the odds against him. Joffrey never found a fight he didn’t run from, but he’s always got men to fight for him, and the law’s always on his side. Tyler Durden’s a capable fighter to begin with; by the end of the story, with a fascist army fighting for him, he’s unstoppable.

How does this relate to 40K?

In a universe where everyone’s capital-E Evil, there are two big villains in 40K: Chaos and the Dark Eldar.

Now I’ve written numerous times about how I think Chaos is an awesome villain (and if you’ve not read those articles, why not take the time to download my free eBook, ‘Sinister Pinion’, where you can read all about it? The link is here .

Consider their relatable backstories: Khorne just wants to be a good warrior, Tzeentch believes in enlightenment, Nurgle loves you, Slaanesh just wants to get high. The Ruinous Powers all come from sapient desires, and honestly, who can’t relate to those drives? Unlike the Elder Gods of Lovecraft’s work, the Chaos gods all have distinct personalities beyond ‘murder all the things’… even Khorne, whose goal is ‘murder all the things’ is doing that incidentally. In truth, he just wants to be the very best. He’s driven by – perhaps even defined by – insecurity. The endless skulltaking is just his desperate effort to prove he’s not.

Then, consider that the Chaos gods all have plans. Khorne’s is to kill everything. Nurgle’s is to spread his love/ disease. Slaanesh’s is to get high. Tzeentch’s plan is, hilariously, to have lots of plans, and just like Khorne, that complexity addiction comes from his humanity. Just as Khorne’s trying to be the best at violence, Tzeentch is trying to be the best at cleverness, so of course its plans are needlessly overcomplicated and overlapping. That madness is a huge part of why Tzeentch is interesting.

As for the last two criteria, they barely need stating. The Chaos gods are obviously morally grotesque, and just as obviously powerful. The Eldar couldn’t withstand them, and the Imperium’s barely managing.

So overall, yeah, the Chaos gods are interesting, engaging villains. Likewise, the Chaos Primarchs, and most of the Chaos characters are fascinating. Horus was driven by his desire to live up the Emperor, and his rage at the Emperor’s failings. Abaddon’s driven by his need to live up to Horus. Ahriman just wanted to save his brothers. Fabius Bile just wants to get high.

Well, maybe not, but he’s definitely got plans beyond ‘wreck all the shit for no reason’. I leave you to conduct your own analyses as to the rest.

The Dark Eldar, on the other hand, are Bad Villains. They just do evil shit because… well, because that’s just what they do. Sad to say, they don’t seem to have a higher philosophy.

Now, the Craftworld Eldar, are excellent villains. Their motivation is simple: we created our own God of Evil, and now we want to survive. Like the Eton Boys who run my country, the Eldar are just selfish. They put themselves and their families above all others, they don’t care who gets sacrificed to keep them on top.

You could even argue that the Eldar’s sacrifice of others is somehow justified, given the ancient age of their species and the terrible loss of knowledge their extinction would represent.

But the Dark Eldar?

Meh.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I love this faction. They have a great aesthetic, and their background is really solid. The idea of Commoragh, and the distinction between the Kabals and the Covens is clear and interesting (no matter how obviously ripped off it is from ‘Vampire: The Masquerade’s Lasombra and Tzimisce clans. Seriously, good background is good background).

However, it’s my opinion that the Dark Eldar need a bit of a rethink as far as their motivations go. Seriously: what do they want? And it’s not good enough to say ‘slaves’ because… well, why? Economics? Psychosexual sadism? Just because that’s what baddies do?

It’s not well enough thought out yet. Not for me, anyway. And when characters like Asdrubael Vect are essentially a poor man’s Lord Vetinari…

I’m not saying the Dark Eldar are beyond saving. I’m just saying, they’re not really that engaging yet. The newly forged Ynnari faction’s definitely given the army a push in the right direction, but…

Well. I suppose we’ll see. Perhaps the advent of 8th edition will give them some much-needed personality, but as yet, I’m not overly sure.

 

A Beginner’s Guide To Scratchbuilding Infantry Weapon Accessories

So if you’ve been following me on the Instagrams, you might have noticed that I convert my models. Like, a lot. And I’ve had several people messaging me and asking how I do it.

Well, welcome ladies and gentlebeans to a tutorial on how I convert weapons. I originally posted this back in 2014 on the Bell of Lost Souls Forums, but it’s been kind of lost there, so I thought I’d re-do it as a single blogpost you can all refer to.

In this, we’re not looking at a straight scratchbuild, but rather combining scratchbuilt components with presently extant Games Workshop kits. There are six separate tutorials below (for, in order: rail mounts, reflex scopes, flash suppressors, sniper barrels, rifle bipods, and telescopic scopes.)

Customising infantry weapons is remarkably easy work, though if you intend to do it on a large scale, it can be very time consuming. I have individually converted every lasgun in my Astra Militarum army – over a hundred individual weapons – and I feel maintaining consistency is important for any army that isn’t Ork. As a result, it you’re going to do this on an army-wide scale, be prepared for a significant investment of time.

However, I have only done so because 1.) I hate GW lasguns and 2.) I love converting. If you’re not like me, you may want to use these just for your veterans, Tempestus, Sternguard, or other elite choices, to lend them character.

So, without further ado…

The Tools You Will Need:

  • Plasticard sheets – you won’t need much at all, but you will need various thicknesses. One should be as this as you can get – about the thickness of paper. The other should be about 1mm thick.
  • Plasticard strip – you’ll need some square rods, about 0.5mm x 0.5mm. You’ll need about 400mm or so.
  • Three styrene rods of various thicknesses – one should be about 1mm diameter, the next 2mm, and the final one 3mm.
  • Poly cement
  • 40K-scale infantry weapons – while you can scratchbuild your own, we’re not doing that this week, so break out some infantry weapons. This is aimed at lasguns (because that’s the model I work with most), but you can adapt it to bolters, pulserifles and the like. It won’t really work with Eldar weaponry (wrong aesthetic), but I imagine you could adapt these techniques to the Eldar with some careful adapting.

Tutorial 1: Rail Mounts
Modern weapons use rail mounts for additional weapon systems – these are easily recognisable as the ‘ridged’ bars and grips seen on almost every modern American assault weapon system. To quote Wikipedia:

Rail Interface System (RIS, sometimes also referred to as Rail Accessory System, RAS) is a generic term for a system for attaching accessories to small firearms such as pistols, rifles and light machine guns.
Common accessories include tactical lights, laser aiming modules, forward hand grips for improving weapon handling, telescopic sights for medium-ranged or distant targets, and reflex sights/red-dot sights for short to medium-ranged targets, iron sight lines, bipods, and bayonets.
Most RIS equipment is compatible with one or more of the most common rail systems, all of which are broadly similar:

  • Weaver rail mount – an early system, still popular in the civilian market
  • Picatinny rail (MIL-STD-1913) – standardized US military version
  • NATO Accessory Rail – developed from MIL-STD-1913

These are used primarily in the military and by firearm enthusiasts to improve the usability of the weapon, being accessorized quickly and efficiently without requiring the operator to field-strip the weapon.

Let’s make some for our lasguns!

To begin with, you’ll need a piece of rectangular plasticard; it should be the thinnest you can get, and about 10mm x 60mm (for a full infantry company.) You’ll also need that styrene rod

Measure the piece, so that it is exactly 9mm wide:

Once you’ve done that, apply poly cement down one edge…

…and glue the styrene rod to it, keeping it in-line with the edge of the piece like so:

As you can see, once it’s glued, clip it off.

Don’t throw the bit you’ve clipped away! You’re going to repeat the steps above, only for the opposite edge, like so:

Now, you can measure this bit, but I just judge by eye. Place a thin line of glue down the middle of the piece and, you guessed it, glue that styrene rod down again:

Repeat this step for the gap between the middle piece and the edge piece…

…and repeat again for the final gap – glue that styrene rod between the middle piece and the end piece again. As I say, I judged all of this by eye, but if you prefer to be precise, then measure.

N.B.: As a side note, I often make more rifle rails than I need. I store them afterwards in my bits box. Because of the nature of ploy cement and the thinness of the card, they can curl as in the older piece shown on the right here:

If this happens, it doesn’t mean the piece is useless; it just means you need to use superglue to attach the rails to any rifle, instead of the poly cement I use below.

Now, why did I get you to measure 9mm width exactly, when ordinarily I never care about dimensions? Simple:

So, here’s our lasgun, pre work.

I need to clean this thing up before I do any more scratchbuilding. Using a careful, directly downward push, controlling the blade with my finger, I clip off the barrel. As always, USE BOTH HANDS! I had to use one of mine to show the angle you need here. When I made the cut, I held the gun down with my other hand. SAFETY FIRST!

I then flip the lasgun around and clip off the magazine. I flip it around because it’s easier to make the cut, and if I slip (which is all too possible) any damage to the plastic will be on a side which will not normally be visible during gaming.

Your lasgun should now look like this:

I then shave off any extraneous details. This is obviously a personal taste thing, so if there are some you want to keep, keep them. If you’re following my methodology, you’ll have a lasgun which looks like this:

Next, I take my scratchbuilt rail component, and using a single downward cut like you see in the picture, I cut off a piece about 2mm thick:

See where we’re going here?

I apply glue to the two ‘high points’ on the top of the lasgun…
Here’s the finished rail:

Now, you don’t just have to mount these on the top – it would be equally appropriate to have one on the side where the Astra Militarum winged skull is, but I quite like that bit of detailing, so I always leave it. There’s also the fact that the inspiration for these modifications is the G2A2 Assault Rifle from the first F.E.A.R. game…

…(Monolith games are the best FPS company ever hands down) which has a helical magazine, and a side rail would get in the way of that. Of course, that’s a whole personal taste thing, so, as always, go with what is in your heart,

So, that’s the rail done. Now we move onto the next bit:

Tutorial 2: Reflex Scopes

A reflector sight or reflex sight is an optical device that allows the user to look through a partially reflecting glass element and see an illuminated projection of an aiming point or some other image superimposed on the field of view.

They’re in every single FPS nowadays as the most basic scope beyond simple iron sights, and they are ridiculously easy to scratchbuild.

Get a piece of 1mm plasticard; the bit below is big enough for an infantry platoon!

Cut off a 2mm bit.

Cut a third off the end.

Using your scalpel to align it, glue the short piece to the longer one like so:

Cut off a little piece roughly to these proportions relative to the rest of the piece you’ve made (again, I’m doing everything by eye, not measuring.)

Glue in place like so…

… and you’re done. It can be affixed to the rifle’s rail like so:

Tutorial 3: Flash suppressors

So, as I said, this is based on the G2A2, so I need a thing over the muzzle.

Get that piece of square rod, and get cutting and gluing.



Now, the first kind of muzzle mods you can make are the ones you saw on my ladies’ guns, and they’re not a scratchbuild, but a kitbash. You’ll need a Grey Knight teleporter backpack.

Just clip the teleporter rods off and you’re done: instant flash suppressors.

(Of course, if you don’t have teleporter backpacks, you could just use thick styrene rod. I just like the extra details of the banding on the teleporter rods.

Now, if you’re really interested in doing some unique stuff, we can always go hardcore, and that takes us to our more complicated tutorials.

Tutorial 4: Sniper barrels.

Now, this is where we break out the real modelling kit. You will need a pin vice (a little mini hand-drill) with a 1mm diameter bit. Begin by drilling out the front of the rifle where the barrel will go. TAKE YOUR TIME AND GET THE ANGLE RIGHT. You get it wrong, and the sniper barrel will look wonky and therefore stupid.


Next, put a drop of poly cement into the hole you’ve just made and slide your 1mm styrene rod into place.

If this reminds you of sex, might I suggest perhaps you’re not having enough intimate time with your partner. Don’t be alone. If you’re in a relationship, go kiss your partner right now and tell them how much they mean to you. If you’re lonely, make some time this week to go out and meet people – not necessarily for relationships, but just to make connections. You may not meet The One For You this week, but the more people you know, the higher the chance that they’ll know someone just right for you. Love doesn’t come to you – you need to go out and meet it, and you do that by being social, even (especially) when it’s scary and embarrassing.

Anyway, back at the gun tutorial, you may note I’ve got a ridiculously long barrel there; that’s deliberate – I’m not going to trim it down until I’ve got the next piece made.

You’ll need two pieces of styrene rod like you see below: one thicker and drilled (or, as in this case, pre-hollowed) the other solid and slightly thinner.

Glue them together like so:

So, once you’ve got this suppressor finished, judge how long you want your sniper barrel to be, and clip it down, then glue the suppressor in place – the barrel should fit neatly into the hole in the suppressor.

Et viola – a completed sniper barrel. If you wish, you might consider a rectangular suppressor to suggest an antimateriel rifle like a Barrett M82 ‘Light Fifty’; that’s certainly what GW’s Ratlings currently have!

Tutorial 5: Rifle Bipods
These things are fiddly, but easy. First, you need to make the bipod’s legs. Once again, break out good old square styrene rod, and cut, measuring by eye – you need two pieces long enough to reach from the widest part of the suppressor to the rifle’s body, like so:

You then need a small piece of 1mm plasticard, cut into a roughly 1mm x 1mm square shape – here, I’ve removed two corners to add visual interest.

Glue it at the lowest point of the wide part of the suppressor, then glue the two rods you’ve made, one on each side. They should be glued to the piece you’ve just glued on, as well as to the rifle’s body.

Now, you could have the legs of the bipod out if you wish, but that’s not a beginner’s conversion, so I’m leaving that out for this week.

Next, cut two 1mm x 1mm squares from your super-thin plasticard sheet…

…and use your scalpel to glue them onto the bottom of the bipod’s legs to make feet…

…and there you go. A finished bipod.

Tutorial 6: Telescopic Scopes

For this bit, you’ll need three styrene rods of various thicknesses – one should be about 1mm diameter, the next 2mm, and the final one 3mm.

Cut three lengths. The thinnest should be roughly the same length as the middle thickest, with the thickest piece being the longest. The middle thickness piece should also have one end with an angled cut as seen here. You’ll also need a tiny piece of 1mm thickness plasticard as seen blow the three rods:

What happens next is kind of obvious really: glue them together like so. The 1mm plasticard rectangle forms the ‘base’, with the thinnest piece as the middle of the scope. The angled piece is for the sniper, and should be angled as shown, with the thickest piece placed at the business end of the gun.

I also like to add focus controls to telescopic scopes. Just cut two plastic ‘coins’ from the thinnest rod, and glue them to the thinnest part of the scope as shown – one on top, one on the side.

If you really want to go hyperdetailed, you can cut a slice from the thickest rod like so…

… and glue it on top of the scope as a flip-up lens cap:

You may note I also added the helical magazine; it’s simply a piece of the thickest rod cut to length, with two small pieces of our old faithful square styrene rod for detailing.

And there you have it. As always, thank you for taking the time to read, and I hope you are inspired to join me in the calming waters of scratchbuilding. If you’ve used these tutorials to personalise your armies in any way, please post some photos to instagram with the #sinisterpinion – I’d love to see your work!

 

 

 

 

 

Free eBook for all ‘Sinister Pinion’ readers.

Well, It’s been a busy few weeks. I’ve gone back through two and a half years’ worth of articles on Warhammer 40,000, wargaming, and loads of other stuff in between, all in the name of creating ‘Sinister Pinion‘, the collected volume of every blog article I’ve written.

Frankly, I’m pretty pleased with it. All told, the thing contains 532 pages of the very best cultural critique on the Imperium of Man, the Ruinous Powers and the entire Warhammer 40,000 universe, across more than thirty absurdly detailed, in depth articles.

I don’t want any money for it; just please, share this article with all your fellow gaming friends and geek culture nerds, and please: help get my book out there.

Sinister_Pinion

Warning: contains mature content.

One Life, Steeped In Early Rogue Trader

 

It starts with John Barry.

It’s some time in late 1989 and he’s holding out what looks like a small collection of bones. They’re strange to see – in truth, I’ve never seen anything like them before, but the smoothness of the pieces is compelling. They’re tinier than any  toy I’ve played with; barely millimetres across, I’m immediately sure that he’ll drop them by accident, spilling the pieces across the floor, never to be found again.

John Barry (always referred to by both names) was one of my very few friends in Primary School. A fat, arrogant sort of boy with pudding bowl hair, covered in a constant sheen of sweat, he lives a life that eleven-year-old me envies with a burning passion. His father’s rich, and travels constantly. What this means is that John Barry is constantly disobedient, but, more importantly, knows more about cool new toys than anyone else I will ever meet. In the past, John Barry’s shown me treasures from around the globe. Everything from a remote-controlled tank with a built in cap-gun for a cannon, to special Transformers you can only get in America – his house remains the only place I’ve ever seen an original Megatron figure. John Barry’s the person who told me that Action Force – the toys we both played with when our love of He-Man finally began to pale – is properly called GI Joe. I do not believe him when he says this, until time and licensing proves him correct.

Of course, by the time Action Force has become GI Joe, John Barry has shown me the handful of bird bones that will become my addiction for the next thirty years.

I ask him what these mysterious skeletal pieces are.

“It’s called a Space Marine.”

After a few weeks, I’ve learned everything I can through third and fourth hand sources. There is no internet, and no-one I know owns a copy of the rulebook. Uncovering  information is like investigating the occult, all knowledge forbidden. Secret. There are space soldiers called Space Marines, I know this. They have weapons called bolt guns, which are awesome because they look like real-world guns – they have banana clips! – and, come on: bolt guns. That’s a weapon sounds like it could mess you up. There’s other stuff I’ve uncovered too, things like mowlty-melters and something to do with librarians… I don’t understand any of it, but there’s a power to it all. It’s dark, and adult and somehow dangerous. I can’t explain the pull of it, but the more I find out, the more I want to know.

By the end of my first term at the Boys’ School, I’ve finally managed to locate some actual reading material. My old friend Martin, who used to be my best friend, but who has drifted away from me in the way friends do when you both start at a new school, has loaned me the Warhammer 40,000 Compendium. The Warhammer 40,000 Rulebook Is Required To Use This Book, but I couldn’t care less. It is the most exciting book I have ever read. There are stats and numbers and charts like it’s some kind of bloody grimoire; reading it feels like reading magic.

And then I’m reading about Dreadnoughts. About how they’re gigantic robots with human pilots inside… and that once a human is inside, they can never come out. There’s an exploded technical diagram, showing me the internal workings of the Contemptor-Class “Chuck” Dreadnought.

It is the most horrifying, beautiful picture I have ever seen.

In the centre, a man curls in on himself, like a baby, holding his knees. Cabling, the rainbow-coloured kind that spilled out of the side of my old school’s BBC computer and into the LOGO turtle punctures the man’s sides like a tragic, murderous Jesus forever on the tip of Longinus’ spear.

I study that picture for hours. Hours. Sitting in my first lessons as a Secondary School Pupil, the heavy paper wonderfully solid in my hands, I shiver at the thought. What must it feel like to be entombed inside so small a compartment, your body stabbed and agonised, steel wires in your spine, as the robotic flesh of your new form shrugs off bullets and bombs, colossal hydraulic fists pulping enemy bodies like a hammer into overripe fruit. As a child weaned on the horrors of Doctor Who and late 70’s BBC children’s programmes which never quite understood that children shouldn’t be terrorised, the concept hits my imagination like a bolt of unadulterated brilliance. It’s a perfect idea: a human, made into a robotic monster, his flesh sacrificed for superior skill at murder.

Unwrapping presents on Christmas, Martin’s is my favourite. It’s the smallest, but weighs as much as the largest. Shredding the wrapping paper, I look down at the very first blister pack I’ve ever seen. A Contemptor-class “Chuck” Dreadnought, the little £3.99 price sticker still on. The model is everything I could have wanted, and the excitement, the raw exhilaration is so much that every detail becomes electrifying. Turning the packet over in my hand, I admire all of it. The hard, transparent shell; the strange square of grey sponge; the glossy cardboard with the picture of the hand-drawn Space Marine on the front; the matt back, covered in tiny text. I read all of it. Warnings jump out at me: PRODUCT CONTAINS LEAD, and THIS IS NOT A TOY and that it is NOT RECOMMENDED FOR CHILDREN YOUNGER THAN 11.

At the sight of this, I’m worried, because I’m only ten; I won’t be eleven until March. And, annoyingly, I’m a good little boy. Where every other child seems delighted at the thought of mischief – or playing at being a grown-up –  I just get anxious. So I do the only thing I can and take it to an expert.

Showing the model to my Dad, I fidget while he appraises it coolly. Warning me that lead is, indeed, very dangerous, he says he doesn’t think there’s going to be any problem. That I should be fine. I open the packet and they heavy pieces tumble into my hand. They’re not so small as the bone fragments that make up a Space Marine, but compared to my Action Force figures, they’re tiny.

Over the rest of Christmas holiday, I come to know what it is to struggle with lead. Not even knowing where to start, I turn to my Dad again. A mechanic and technical author, to my child’s mind, my Dad’s skills with machinery is so innate, so intuitive, it verges on the supernatural. If he can’t fix a thing, well, that means it can’t ever be fixed. But even he’s never assembled anything like this before, his only prior experience being a childhood spent in Airfix kits and Meccano.

As instructed, we try superglue, but the pieces collapse the moment the thing’s picked up. We try superglue again, and it’s exactly as unsuccessful as before. Dad recommends Evo-Stik Impact, and I spend an unpleasant few hours inadvertently making small balls of the stinking stuff; balls which look and feel exactly like the contents of my nose. While the box brags about how this two-part epoxy can stick anything to anything, all the vile stuff seems to do is reek like the inside of a tramp’s bottom and stick nothing to nothing.

Eventually, I give it up as a bad job.

I remember that I read an article on something called ‘pinning’ in the back of that book I picked up from the car boot sale. The article was from a thin, typed volume called ‘Warhammer Fantasy Battles’; on finding it had nothing to do with Space Marines, I was so disappointed I pushed it to the back of my reading pile and left it alone. But coming back to it, I find it’s got a typed piece on how to connect heavy metal parts together using something called a pin vice, which is apparently a tiny drill, then filling the gap with modelling putty.

Sadly, the only shop I know that sells anything remotely geeky is a small local place called Uncanny Comics. Amongst the ‘Aliens’, ‘Hellraiser’ and ‘2000AD’ comics and Punisher-skull T-Shirts, there’s not a single Warhammer item. When I ask, no-one there knows what a pin vice is or where I can get one. When I ask about modelling putty, they ask if I mean plasticine. Recognising a dead end, I say no, thank politely them, and leave.

Defeated, I ask my Dad if maybe we could use the soldering iron to weld the model together.  I already know it’s a bad idea, but it’s nice to have confirmation as he shakes his head.

Eventually, I use superglue again, resigning myself to never touching or moving the model from my house. After hours of work, the pieces are together and they’re not falling off at random. Covered in great blobs and striations of glue, some with my fingerprints in, it doesn’t look great.

But despite this, despite everything… despite the fact the shoulders don’t quite fit, despite fact the feet are at wonky angles on the base, despite slight bend in the rear vent that I can’t quite make straight? My Dreadnought – my very first Warhammer 40,000 model – is incredible. From this point on, under the wobbly gaze of a haphazardly assembled lump of lead which threatens to fall to pieces if I so much as breathe on it, I am utterly, hopelessly lost.

I start playing the game.

Not that I’m playing properly. With maths not exactly my strong suit and no-one able to explain the arcana within the supplemental rulebooks, I’ve been playing a vague approximation a game. It’s not really 40K, and it’s based more around my expectations of how the rules work than anything else. Even when we finally get a copy of the Warhammer 40,000 rulebook, my friends and I are the first generation of schoolboys to ever play the game. Which means there’s no veterans to tell us what the rules are, what dice to roll, what figures to use. We are the entire history of the community, and not a one of us can make head-nor-tails of the specifics of the Rogue Trader rules.

During this time, I constantly feel like I’m failing. That I’m not doing it right. The near-constant arguments about even the most basic of rules do not help this feeling.

Later, of course, I will discover we are not alone. As the internet connects me to fellow 1st edition gamers, I will learn that the Rogue Trader book is infamously poorly laid-out. That the rules were frequently wonky, overly complex, unnecessarily convoluted and frequently ill-conceived. I will learn that it seems Rogue Trader was a game where nearly everyone was forced to cobble together a vague kind of game that worked for them, just as my friends and I did.

After a few months, though, we’ve got out local game invented, and we’ve all got something approximating an army. Not that my miniatures collection is what you could call inspiring. With only £1.25 a week pocket money, and the nearest Games Workshop a £2 bus ride away – a bus ride that I’m still too young to take – the idea of going out to buy miniatures is an impossibility. Which means I have my Dreadnought, and a handful of models bought second hand from John Barry. As is his way with diversions, he’s quickly grown tired of Forty Kay, and his disinterest allows me access to miniatures I could never otherwise acquire. These second-hand models are all ugly first edition sculpts; less figures, these are more like twisted plasticine horrors from some godawful Soviet film on corn targets and the glory of Comrade Stalin. Nonetheless, they’ll do. Especially when my ‘army’ is rounded out with nothing more than a few of my old Action Force vehicles repurposed for the Emperor’s Service.

After my birthday has been, visiting me with the unimaginably vast sum of nearly twenty five pounds, I am delighted to discover we are going to visit my Grandparents in Oxford.

Because Oxford has a Games Workshop.

Knowledge of my new obsession has spread through the family by now, and I find my grandparents have set me up on what won’t be called a play-date for another decade, with a boy named Tarrick. He’s the son of my Grandad’s secretary, and has played 40K for as long as me.

When I meet him, he is a little standoffish and strange. Tarrick is barely a year older than me, though fancies himself an adult, a conjecture which I find baffling in its inaccuracy. Tarrick takes me into Oxford city centre, where we visit shops more varied and fascinating than my hometown will ever have. Music shops and comics shops and somewhere called HMV.

Of course, I only care about one particular shop.

When we arrive back at Tarrick’s house, all my birthday money is gone. My Mum’s going to be furious, because I’ve ‘wasted’ it on a box of Space Marines, as well as the ‘Terminators and Tyranids’ boxed set. In a cloud of excitement, Tarrick and I unbox my two purchases together. To this day, I can recite the boxes’ contents like a litany: two terminator librarians, six terminators, ten space marine scouts, three tyranid warriors, twelve genestealers, four genestealer hybrids and, of course, thirty six Space Marines. With the last of my money I have bought the first issue of Marvel UK’s short-running comic ‘Overkill’. Twenty five pounds gone, and I have seventy three models to my name.

I never imagined I could own so many miniatures.

The terminators are used most often, chasing orks each other round a small cardboard box over the next three months. The genestealers will eventually become a Genestealer Cult army of almost bestial ferocity, which will one day fight the Imperial Guard for control of my lounge floor. A single genestealer will make it through the withering fire of twenty seven lascannon to butcher three squads of Guards in a single assault phase, only for the game to be lost when my little sister wanders off to find herself a rusk, leaving me to play alone, and without her giggling as she rolls the dice, the game doesn’t seem quite as much fun.

The Space Marines will be my first lessons in painting. I will learn that you can highlight Salamander Green paint with Bad Moon Yellow if only you drybrush it hard enough. My models will look dreadful, but I will be inordinately proud of them. I will learn that Bolt Gun Metal looks amazing – like actual, real metal – but even better if drybrushed over black. I will experiment with black lining my models, before deciding it looks beyond dreadful and sticking to drybrushing. I will learn that no matter how hard I try, Chapter decals will never, EVER lie flat on a Space Marine shoulder pad, so I will give up using them, telling myself the old lie ‘I’ll do them later’.

I will never base a single one of my models.

As for Tarrick, I’ll only ever see him once again, a few years after our day shopping together. Not knowing what we have in common any more, I’ll awkwardly bring up the subject of 40K. He’ll laugh at me, then brag about all the sex he’s having with girls now. Later, I will learn that he’s gotten a girl pregnant, and that it’s been quite the scandal.

Part of me will feel vindicated. Part of me remains jealous.

Loneliness is a constant companion.

By my second year at the Boys’ School, I will have a bits box of almost heroic proportions. Finally abandoning Space Marines for the plentiful lascannon of the Imperial Guard, I’ve steeped myself in the game to the point that when second edition is announced, I nearly lose my mind.

Sat by the fireplace, as Meatloaf warbles throatily about what he won’t do for love, I read the announcement over and over again. It’s in an issue of ‘White Dwarf’ with a particularly horrible picture of a Space Wolf Terminator on the front, and it is amazing. New Space Marines are promised… and the models are amazing. No longer the small, dinky beakies of the RTB01 set, the plastic models of the 2nd edition starter set are instead the glorious Mk VII Marines of my dreams, and the level of detail is insane. Bolters, where you can see every shell in the magazine; missile launchers, just like the ones from the metal Devastators boxed set; a sergeant with an actual chainsword…. Christ, even the models’ hands. The fingers aren’t vaguely modelled gloved hands, but fully articulated armoured gauntlets – every finger joint is modelled. Every single one.

Looking back, from a modern vantage point, the kits are almost absurdly basic. Monopose marines, monopose orks… and awkward monoposes too. Everyone’s holding their weapons either right in front of their chest, or out to the side like some kind of bizarre Norse longship seen in profile. Seen from twenty five years on, they are obvious as the precursors of the ‘two-dimensional’ style of models that will become absolutely ubiquitous for nearly a decade. But at the time?

At the time, it is the greatest thing I’ve ever seen.

What’s crazy is that the more I read about the rules, the more exciting it gets. Gothic card scenery in the box. Three (three!) books, with one on rules, one on background, and one on weapons. Dice for explosives and dice for fully automatic weapons. Datacards for vehicles, with every vehicle getting its own unique damage tables. Cards for a hundred unique pieces of equipment. The Black Codex, with new army lists for every faction in the game. Proper card templates, not something photocopied and glued to a packet of Crunchy Nut Cornflakes.

When I unbox the game on Christmas Day, my delight is as boundless as it was when I opened my copy of Epic Space Marine the year before. A few years later, I’m unboxing Adeptus Titanicus and the thrill is the same. Twenty years from now, I’ll be unwrapping Forge World’s Horus Heresy books and spending the entire day luxuriating in fictional nonsense. Christmas time becomes a synonym for a day spent, lost, in The Imperium of Man.

Time passes.

The nearest Games Workshop to me is still that unaffordable £2 bus ride away. Desperate to play games, but with that option closed, I do the only thing I can and begin a Games Club at school. I am too young and naïve to know what a terrible idea this will be.

The teachers don’t understand the concept, barely understand me, and certainly don’t understand what we’re playing, so we’re largely left to our own devices. As a result, Games Club is, for the most part, horrible. Every lunchtime is spent with friends who are, in practical terms, not. This is my first experience with the worst side of the gaming community.

My amateurish, beginner’s paint jobs are judged and found wanting; I am mocked for ever having dared pick up a brush. My conversions are laughed out of the room. Any miniatures I bring are ridiculed for being cheap plastic, which – as everyone knows (apparently) – are not as detailed or as impressive as the metals ones my friends own. When I play Imperial Guard, my army is laughed at for being so weak. When I play Space Marines, my army is laughed at for being unoriginal, because everyone else plays Marines. When I bring in the latest White Dwarf to read, I’m told I’ve wasted my money, because it isn’t as good as it used to be. And Warhammer 40,000 isn’t as good as it used to be. And Games Workshop will be going bust any day now, charging the insane prices they do.

Twenty years later, I will be astonished to discover that the conversations of my youth are still happening.

Despite this, I go every day, play 40K every day. Well, it’s that or loneliness, so I might as well go. We play half-hours snatches of games that never really go anywhere, but which are better than nothing.  After a few years spent in the hate-pit that is the Games Club I have founded, my perceptions of human interactions have become so warped that I assume friendship comes from mutual loathing. I become convinced that human beings are garbage, and start to hate the world.

Eventually, I will grow up, pull my head out of my backside, and see this as the self-absorbed teenage angst that it is. I will make real friends, and learn how mistaken I was. When I become a teacher, I will learn that the problem wasn’t Games Club, but that teenagers are just dicks.

I will never stop wondering why people talk about teenage years being the best of their life, and judge anyone who makes such a claim as being soft in the head.

One Saturday in my third year at the Boys’ School, I will go into town to buy the latest issue of ‘Overkill’. It’s not a great comic, but I like it. On the way, I will randomly run into and be attacked by another boy from school. He will punch me in the head, break my glasses, scar my face. After this, because neither I nor anyone in my life knows what the letters PTSD stand for, I will become a hikikomori.

Between the ages of thirteen and sixteen, I will never willingly leave my bedroom for any reason except school. With everything outside now a place too terrifying to go, Warhammer 40K becomes my entire world.

I spend my evenings sat at a desk whose surface is gouged and ruined by my craft knife. Never having heard of a cutting mat, in the centre of the desk is a seven-inch crater torn into the chipboard, the edges of it liberally spattered with paint. While my nine-inch portable black-and-white television plays out CITV, Children’s BBC, Neighbours, and Knightmare, I will dutifully create armies of absurd size.

My mother becomes concerned. She thinks I should be out meeting people, wonders why I don’t want to make friends. I can think of nothing more appalling than either prospect. She blames my hobbies for keeping me inside. One evening, after an argument with my brother turns particularly nasty, she confiscates my collection of fantasy and science-fiction books, because they’re what’s turning me nasty. I am spending too long in fictional worlds, she says, and not enough time in the real one.

She’s partly right, but removing a problem isn’t the same thing as solving it. I sit in my room and watch telly and paint models and wait until my books are returned.

Eventually, though, familiarity will have bred contempt. By the time I’m sixteen, I’m sick of Games Workshop. Of their money grabbing bullshit. Of the horrible red paint jobs on everything. Of goofy, cartoonish sculpts. Of the rules. Of having to spend time with other gamers. Warhammer 40K has become the prison I must escape.

Desperate to change my life, I begin to hang out with my brother and his friends. I’ve avoided this before, because he’s younger than me, but it turns out to be a good idea. He’s a lot cooler than me, has a lot more friends and they – astonishingly – all like each other.

Our interests don’t really overlap. I’m into science fiction and they… well, they’re into all sorts of things: jumping through hedges, wandering out into fields to look at cows, going to petrol stations late at night, and, most of all, underage drinking. I’m too rule-abiding to consider drinking before I’m old enough, but I come along with them when they’re pissed.

Despite this, I’m having a good time. My brother’s friends are fun, and kind, and they invite me along to stuff even though there’s Clearly Something Wrong With Me. Wanting to offer fun activities of my own and be part of things, I make occasional references to Games Workshop games, but these are always met with a polite but firm refusal. My brother will usually give me a disapproving look, but never stays angry for long, because while I might be a dickhead, I’m his dickhead, and shit that means something.

One day, his friend Adam lends me a rulebook. It’s for a new game, called ‘Vampire: The Masquerade’ and it’s as much of a thunderbolt as that dreadnought picture was.

My life changes. I don’t become a Goth or anything; I’m far too rule-abiding for that, and the idea of wearing make-up horrifies me on the genetic level. But in the face of V:tM, 40K just doesn’t cut it any more. Masquerade is everything that 40K isn’t. It’s real. It’s personal. Best of all, it’s resolutely NOT competitive, and after a lifetime of competition, I’m more than ready for something that isn’t.

Losing myself in tabletop roleplay, I drop Games Workshop completely. I don’t even think about it. My armies are sold off to Year Seven pupils for pennies. When I pass a Games Workshop, I feel nothing beyond a mild sense of embarrassment that I was ever into anything so lame. When, at a meeting of the Hallam University roleplaying society, someone pulls out a box of plastic Warhammer Beastmen, my heart swells with pity for him. Doesn’t he know?

How can he not know?

He gamely tries to convince me that it’s still good. I raise my eyebrows and nod. Just like any addict, he’s trying to sell me the needle so he doesn’t feel worthless. They want you to fail so they’re not alone.

I nod and smile, and look at the models and nod and smile and then that’s about it for nearly a decade. There’s the occasional twinge. One day, I pass by a charity shop and see a copy of 2nd edition Space Hulk for £20. Momentarily, I think of buying it, but then walk on and get my groceries. Another day, a friend from roleplay gives me a box of old plastic Imperial Guard. I say I’ll paint them up for old times’ sake, but then they’ll go in a plastic box, where they lie until I break up with my second girlfriend. As I clear my things from her house, I bin them without a second thought. No point taking rubbish with me.

At the tail end of my twenties, there’s nothing left to buy.

I’m not really a hikikomori any more, but I’ve never become the kind of man who goes out a lot. As a result, I’ve got money; more money than my teenaged self would ever have believed. Sure, it’s not actually much – mostly, it’s spent on saving for a house (a task that will take fifteen years). That said, some of it’s disposable, and I treat myself to fun stuff. But White Wolf have mostly wound down the World of Darkness, so what’s left’s been going on computer games. First on a PS1, then on a Dreamcast, then on the PS2, Xbox, Xbox 360…

But now? Now there’s no games left that I want. A ‘Doom’ gamer in a world coloured first in ‘Halo’, then ‘Call of Duty’, the world has moved away from what I like, and modern gamers would rather kill poor brown people than demons. So it is that, as my fun funds burn a hole in my pocket, I walk past the York Games Workshop.

I’ve not been into one in years. Not since their staff started talking to me. Unwilling – unable – to answer the ‘What army do you collect?’ question, I’ve assiduously avoided them. But there, in the window is a squad of Space Marines, and…

…and I sort of stop, and look at them.

They’re bigger than I remember. Prettier too, the sculpts more defined, the details more impressive. And look, there’s one with a Mk VI helmet! Oh my God, a beakie, a proper beakie! Just like they used to look, only better. Wow.

It’s amazing.

Walking home, I find myself thinking it might be fun to buy a box. Just a box. And assemble them. Just for old times’ sake. Because I’m nearly thirty now, and it’s sometimes fun to look back at where you’ve come from.

So I do. Just a tactical squad. And I’m not going to game with it or anything, just going to assemble and paint it, and maybe put it away in case any of my gamer friends want it for Xmas or something.

But the glue does it. The moment the smell of that polystyrene cement hits, I’m a boy again, child again. That stench, so powerfully awful, but powerful too, tied into all the old delights. I smile as the arms go on, smile as the first model – of course a MkVI beakie – comes together, is completed.

By the time the squad’s completed, I’m hooked.

The next week I go back and buy that Techmarine box. I was always in love with the Adeptus Mechanicus, and he’s got four Servitors too… plus that servo-harness! What a model! Better than anything we had back in my day.

Then I get…

But you know how this goes.

Before long, there’s a small mountain of unpainted plastic and metal in my study. I’ve a Space Marine army I didn’t expect and I’m already picking out the next thing. I’m converting again, only this time with the money and tools to do it properly. I buy a pin vice and a cutting mat. Devouring articles online, I begin to develop painting skills beyond the cack-handed fumblings of my youth. I start to sculpt, first with the Milliput I used to use, then with the Green Stuff GW favours, until I realise that each has different uses.

My girlfriend shakes her head and smiles to see me so happy.

When we finally take her father to court for raping her, I am a witness on the stand. My legs fail me, my voice dies in my throat. I’m not the man I want to be. Not brave, like I wanted to be. I tell the court what he told me: that he did it, that he’s guilty. Cross-examined, his defence holds up pictures I did of a Terminator Captain, back when I was a boy. I’d posted them on social media, shared them with friends, for laughs and for approval.

She asks: what’s wrong with you? What kind of man draws this sort of thing? This many skulls?

Turning to the jury, she makes the implicit, explicit: how can we trust a man who draws anything this violent?

Walking from the court into the bilious sunlight, my girlfriend and I walk around Manchester. I’m too ravaged to go back to our hotel, so we go where I feel safest.

The game shop smells like they always do. The dice are a satisfying weight in my hands. I am me, and I don’t need to cry any more. I buy models, convinced that I will one day get round to painting them, but they end their days in a ratty cardboard box, unpainted, destined not even for eBay, but for the car boot sale.

Even though he’s guilty, her father is let free. Justice done, life darkens. My girlfriend knew it was coming; her counsellor explained as much and so she’s ready for it. Like life forces every woman to, she’s redefined the terms of victory; justice was always impossible, but confronting him was not. She contents herself with that.

I try to, but I can’t. I want the world to work to be the way it should be, but it’s not. Here’s the proof that it favours the liar, the chancer, and the unjust.

I cope poorly.

My work suffers. I enter a deep depression and I’m young again, boy again. Just like in those days, I crawl into fantasies, climb back into old comforts.

From the outside, it must look strange. The worse I feel, the better my painting becomes. But it’s not strange. When I’m painting, I don’t have to think about how unjust the world is. When I’m making models, everything is about the art, the creativity, and creativity is the highest, the purest of all joys. I do some of my best hobby work in the worst times. Adrift, 40K is my life raft.

Eventually, after much work, much effort, much therapy and counselling, my depression passes.

By now, my youth is a memory, my twenties past, and my thirties approaching their end. Warhammer 40,000 has passed through three editions. From devouring the 5th edition rulebook with a song in my heart, I’ve gone from buying the 6th edition rulebook out of a sense of duty to avoiding the 7th edition one entirely. It’s not that I don’t want to play the game. It’s just that there’s no-one to play with, most of my interactions with other players are online, and anyway, I always preferred the modelling.

Inevitably, my girlfriend becomes my then-girlfriend. It’s not a surprise. She’s been distant; I’ve gone from being the support that kept her up to the bars of her prison. I’ve been distant; as she’s drawn away, I’ve drawn inside, choosing art over her.

So she hates my models, hates that they kept me from her. It’s not a surprise to me. Like my mother, it’s easier to hate the symptom than the disease. Even so, even knowing this, when she’s finally gone, I don’t paint anything for six months.

Instead, I spend time elsewhere, inside the life of someone else. I travel a lot, visit people, making vague acquaintances into true friends. I roleplay for the first time in years.

When I come back to the modelling table, things are different and the same all at once. 40K’s always been my safe space… or so I told myself. Thought of it as the place I come when I’m scared, or in pain.

But it isn’t. It’s my passion. It’s where my art lives. Where I’m happiest.

Eighth edition has just been announced. Already, the community is tearing up as though the sky is falling. Imperial Guard are weak. Space Marines, too boring, everyone plays them. White Dwarf isn’t as good as it used to be. Warhammer 40,000 isn’t as good as it used to be. Games Workshop will be going bust any day now, charging the insane prices they do.

Twenty years later, and the conversations of my youth are still happening.

But I’m more excited about this new edition than I have been for any other. Because it’s a new start. Can you imagine that? An entirely new start.

Back when John Barry first passed me that handful of bird bones, I’d no idea what he was really passing me. Because 40K isn’t something that “I’m into”. I can’t even say ‘it’s a huge part of my life‘, because it’s so much more than that. It’s been the bad times, it’s been the best days of my life. It’s cut me off from the world, turned me into a misanthrope, a hermit. It’s kept me going when there was literally nothing else there: my safe space, my happy place.

It’s the thing by which everything else I love is judged. It colours everything.

As a younger man, I’d have felt the need to apologise for that. But in eleven months, I’m forty. I’ve lived half my life in the Imperium’s shadow, and I can’t see ever leaving it. Even if I suddenly stopped, its reach into my thinking and reactions would be unavoidable. In the grim darkness of the far future there is only war; in the strange tones of our current times, we live in a golden age of gaming. The models are better, the rules are tighter, everything’s just so much MORE than it was thirty years ago.

It’s glorious.

As of this writing, I own fifty Dreadnought models.

________________________________________

That’s all for this month; if you enjoyed it, why not head off to Amazon and buy a copy of my book?. It’s the best book about lesbians fighting cyborgs and ghosts you’ll ever read.

Buy ‘a qlippothic engine – Beta Sequence: OSTROV’ now!

I suppose you think escaping the village was enough. It certainly must have seemed so while you were contained within.

I wonder: did you imagine it would be simple from this point onwards? That there would be no further security measures? That it was a simple journey from here to home; only a handful of sleep until you lie safe, your child safe in your arms? There’s something almost charming about that. The naivete of it, perhaps. The thought that, honestly, everything would work itself out after this point. So wonderfully innocent.

But you’ve several steps ahead of you yet. Projects Anima and Kraken await you, as do the Friendly Robots, Cardiac Spiders, the Penanggalan, the Dvigatel’ Smerti, the Aborticide floors, the room closest to Hell…

… not to mention that child of yours, long since remade in our own, most radiant image.

But that’s the best thing about innocence, though, isn’t it?

Taking it away will always be the most delicious pleasure of all.

a qlippothic engine – Beta Sequence: OSTROV is now available for UK customers to buy in Kindle ebook here, and for US customers here. If you prefer paperback, UK customers should click here, while US customers should click here

I’m Calling It Right Now: ’Get Out’ Is The Greatest Horror Film of This Generation.

Disclaimer: So let’s get this out of the way right at the start: I’m a white Englishman. A really white one. Worse, I’m a white man with left-wing leanings, and that’s absolutely going to colour my discussion of this film. However, given that one of the most critical of critical thinking skills is the ability to know oneself, and that ’Get Out’ is – in my opinion – a desperate attack on the indolence of left-leaning white folks who really, really don’t… Well, I feel comfortable sharing my thoughts about this most superb cinematic effort.

” A black mirror, made to reflect everything about itself that humanity will not confront.” – Neil Gaiman on the perfect nightmare.

I love horror. Truth be told, I love horror more than anything, but the genre has a huge problem. Put bluntly, much of it is crap.

And not just a little bit crap, mind you, but mind-meltingly, ass-wreckingly crap. The kind of crap that leaves you furious that two hours of your life has been wasted on watching YET ANOTHER group of generic teenagers get killed, even though ‘Cabin In The Woods’ proved once and for all that Hollywood should stop making that exact same damned film because, as a genre, it’s been won.

Anyway, where was I?

Oh yes, horror. I just love it. One of the things I love most about the genre – the thing, in fact, leaving apart those moments when I’m forced back into my chair away from the screen, practically browning my trousers – is the potential it has for symbolism. Almost more than any other genre, metaphor has always been horror’s greatest strength.

Because, of course, the monsters aren’t really monsters. They’re just whatever we’re afraid of, hidden behind a smokescreen of symbolism. Dracula might not be real, but our every nameless, unspoken, ridiculous fear of the foreigner is. Seen this way, the Count isn’t a just character, but a coagulation of every xenophobic anxiety from the Old World, come to our country to buy our property, steal our women, spread disease and kill our men. In the same way, Frankenstein is the walking personification of or fear of science and the evils that intelligence without wisdom can create; his monster, the purest representation of how ‘normal’ people victimise those who aren’t, learning only too late that ignorance and violence inevitably rebounds on the wielder.

The best writers can really exploit our nightmares to ask important questions about the human condition.

And I think this is why the majority of the stuff that gets produced and released to Netflix is so very, very depressing. All that potential to show us unpleasant or troubling truths about ourselves… and it’s usually nothing more than teenagers in a wood getting killed by transphobia.

So, I cannot begin to express how much I love Jordan Peele’s ’Get Out’. Not just because it’s scary (and it is; the whole two hour run-time’s infused with a dread so thick you can taste it) but more than that: because it’s about something. Specifically, racism. However, unlike every other Hollywood film, where the racists are nice, obvious Others – the kind of people who wear white hoods, burn crosses and are Not Us (no, never us) – ’Get Out’ dares to go where lesser films do not.

A perfect nightmare, it dares to do something both audacious and meaningful with its cruelties. Rather than simply presenting its Grand Guignol as simple emotive spectacle (though it is both emotive and it is spectacular), its true audacity is to hold up that black mirror to a white, liberal America that’s denies any examination of itself and go ‘You. You are the problem’. It left me feeling awkward, uncomfortable, and chilled to the bone.

Christ I fucking love this film.

SPOILER ALERT:
This is not a review of ’Get Out’. You don’t need one. Just go see it, it’s great. What this is, is an analytical essay, exploring the themes, ideas and concepts the film presents (from my aforementioned, White, middle-class, and like, maybe 60% heterosexual male perspective). As a result, there’s not just spoilers – there’s literally no point reading this unless you’ve seen the film. So, watch the film, then come back here.

Horror Traditions.

So there’s this story in horror which gets told and retold ad infinitum. Older than dirt, the ‘Don’t Go Into The Woods’ genre is so ubiquitous that if you’ve ever watched a horror film, you’ve probably seen it. The genre has a long and powerful tradition in literature and cinema, but the modern version of the story doesn’t really get defined until the ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ (1974) lays out all the tropes that all the later films will employ. The isolated, hostile location; the a big house which already seems weird to start with, but which holds unrelenting horrors inside; the evil forces inside the house which seek to destroy those interlopers foolish enough to have gotten lost on the way.

‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ may be the very first to truly lay out all the narrative tools, but later films built on them. Everything from ‘Evil Dead’ to ‘Cabin In The Woods’… even the first ‘Alien’ film is a ‘Don’t Go Into The Woods’ film, only the ‘Woods’ are a mysterious planet, and the scary house is a crashed spaceship.

The genre represents a story which plays on our subconscious fears in simple, easy to spot ways. The ‘house’ is somewhere unwelcoming, most usually represented by its crumbling façade and an interior filled with nightmares. The inhabitants are, mentally and morally, Not Like Us; most often they will be disfigured or physically different as a way to show their ‘Otherness’. There will usually be some kind of motif to link the monsters to Patriarchal fears of queer or violent sexuality. Norman Bates is a crossdressing lunatic. Leatherface is trans panic personified – a psychopath with a flayed woman’s face, flailing his chainsaw-cock at the world. The Evil Dead possess trees to rape women. Giger’s Alien literally has a penis for a head, hiding another rape-erection inside.

Teenager victims are then punished with death for going where they shouldn’t, and doing things they shouldn’t. As The Director puts it in ‘Cabin In The Woods’, they’re punished for “being young”.

The genius of ’Get Out’ is that is employs all of these tropes, but then confounds them by casting the white middle-class characters as the villains. ’Get Out’ forges an entirely unique horror film by repurposing clichéd tropes with an unapologetically black perspective on where ‘The Woods’ are, and who the horrors within them might be.

In this piece, I’m going to be taking ’Get Out’ apart, and looking at just exactly how it uses its metaphors to ask some difficult questions of white America.

“We know too many Trayvon Martins, Oscar Grants, and Abner Louimas, know too many Sean Bells and Amadou Diallos. Know too well that we are the hard-boiled sons of Emmett Till.”
– Javon Johnson

Any discussion of ’Get Out’ must necessarily begin with the audacity of that opening scene. As with so many horror films, it opens with a scene of a young, attractive person, caught out alone in a hostile location, and ends as that person is attacked by a man in a mask, their body disappeared into the night.

However, unlike those films, ’Get Out’ chooses to invert audience expectations in a number of powerful ways. Firstly, the more conventional victim-figure of a white woman – that most vulnerable of creatures (or so White America would have you believe) – is replaced with a black man. Black men are so rarely presented as vulnerable in cinema, so often shown as the aggressor, the ones most adept with physicality. The switch confronts the audience from the outset, demanding they recognise the essential humanity of a demographic which is all-too often Othered and demonised into caricature.

It’s a well-worn trope that in horror, ‘The Black Dude Dies First’, but ’Get Out’ presents this cliché in a significantly more political way than I’ve ever seen in a mainstream film.

Firsly, instead of the usual poverty, the scene’s mise-en-scen bespeaks nothing but wealth. The streets are well-lit with clean, aesthetically attractive lighting obviously designed to remind a viewer of the boulevards of a gated community. The road is clear and clean, well maintained, without a hint of graffiti or poverty in sight. There are trees and hedges, all perfectly lovely. It might be night-time, but it’s clear: this is a safe neighbourhood. This is somewhere well-to-do. This is somewhere where Bad Things just don’t happen. In any other, more conventional, Hollywood film, this would be where the bumbling middle-class family gets ready to go on vacation. Every house is large and expensive, all beautifully done in that peculiar, tastefully vast style of American wealth… the monster even drives an expensive-looking sports car.

All this use of carefully crafted aesthetics makes it impossible to read this scene without seeing Trayvon Martin, Emmet Till, or any of the thousand unremembered black men murdered for the simple crime of frightening a trigger-happy gun owner with their blackness.

Which is, of course, the point. Horror films are a repository of subconscious, unspoken fear. Hollywood has – with only depressingly rare exception – made films by white people, for white people. Usually, presumed white, straight, cis-het men. Where those films play on the subconscious fears of the white, straight, cis-het men who make them (hence the preponderance of transgendered serial killers and gay-panic induced queer murderers.)

’Get Out’ on the other hand, represents an entirely different cultural paradigm and viewpoint: the black fear of white supremacy. For the first time in a mainstream American popcorn film, we have a representation of the unspoken terror that must grip a vast majority of black American men: the horror that white people may do as they wish with black male bodies, and with impunity. Seen not from the presumed white viewpoint, but instead from an unrepentantly black perspective, the white suburbs become as alien and hostile as any isolated rural murder-farm.

For the first time, a horror film screams: “Hey middle-class white America: you are scary as Leatherface”.

And that’s not just transgressive; it’s shocking because we’re so used to racism being equated with white hoods and back woods, not lovely suburbs with well-kept lawns.

One particular touch I liked was how Jeremy Armitage, brother of the protagonist’s girlfriend and this film’s Leatherface equivalent, wears a knight’s helmet as he bundles his victim into the boot of his car. Knightly helms have connotations of wealth, privilege, aristocracy, courtly romance, skill at arms… all traits that Jeremy undoubtedly perceives in himself.

But the terrorists of the KKK explicitly call themselves ‘White Knights’ and undoubtedly fancy themselves as possessing all those same traits. Visual puns like this help clearly draw parallels between white liberal elite America’s ‘unconscious racial bias’ and the more overt active racialized violence of murderers like the Klan’s. Right from the start, in incredibly subtle ways like this, the film lays out its central thesis: that white liberal America is not so different from the Klan as it likes to tell itself.

“Freeing yourself was one thing, claiming ownership of that freed self was another.”
― Toni Morrison, Beloved

There’s a saying: ‘Britain thinks 100 miles is a long way; America thinks 100 years is a long time’, and as a man who lives in a city that remembers Rome, I think there’s some truth to that. Slavery’s legacy infects America. There’s no escaping this, but there is a lot of denial about it. One of the things that people – white people – like to ignore is how recently slavery was still a thing in that nation. Slavery only ended 152 years ago, which sounds a lot, until you put it into actual human terms: that could be someone’s great-grandmother, who remembers her the scars on her great-grandmother’s back.

When I was born, there were still people alive who remembered family members born as slaves.

White America hates thinking about this, or if it does, it does so in terms of guilt. ‘Why should I feel guilty about something I didn’t do?’ Well, you shouldn’t. That’s a ridiculous idea. We mustn’t feel guilt; we weren’t (I assume) a slave owner. The sins of the father are not passed to the son. The appropriate response is not guilt, but a sense of responsibility. A sense that there are still wrongs in the world which we white people benefit from, to the detriment of black people; wrongs that are within our power to right.

What wrongs you ask?

Well, ’Get Out’ presents a number of them in very clear terms.

As I’ve established, horror is predicated around fears, and most powerfully about unspoken, subconscious fears that are often extremely hard to even name, let alone process or rationalise. Where white horror cinema tends to be built around a fears of emasculation and vulnerability in the face of a more primal world we cannot control, ’Get Out’s thematic concerns instead present a powerful look at two very specifically Black fear-myths. Firstly, the power of white people to subordinate black bodies. Secondly, the power of white people to deny such subordination has ever occurred, gaslighting black culture into thinking the war against racism has been won when it’s as far from conclusion as its ever been.

“Why is equality so assiduously avoided? Why does white America delude itself, and how does it rationalize the evil it retains? The majority of white Americans consider themselves sincerely committed to justice for the Negro. They believe that American society is essentially hospitable to fair play and to steady growth toward a middle-class Utopia embodying racial harmony. But unfortunately this is a fantasy of self-deception and comfortable vanity.” – Martin Luther King

N.B: Because she’s such a significant character, we’ll be coming to Rose and the specific tropes she invokes later.

So the opening of ’Get Out’ establishes that we’re going to be dealing with a very different kind of murder-family than is entirely usual in horror.

To begin with, Chris’ every interaction with the family very effectively establishes how they’re not just white middle class – even before they’re revealed as absolute monsters, they’re the very worst of those indolent white liberals who Martin Luther King lamented, the ones for whom the time is never now. They fawn over Chris. They talk about how they wanted to vote for Obama for a third term, make a big show of how they’re well-travelled, how they embrace alternate world cultures. They’re educated, sophisticated, well-to-do; in every way, they couldn’t be further from the stock hillbilly-cannibal characters of your standard gore-fest.

However, intriguingly – especially for a fan of horror – Peele has written the Armitages as, essentially, the middle-class version of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s ‘family’. The parallels are undeniable.

Chainsaw’s family has Leatherface, a violently unbalanced murderer who wears a mask as he carries out his crimes; the Armitage’s has Jeremy. Leatherface has a sibling, Hitchiker, who’s out in the world, causing trouble. The Armitages have Rose. Leatherface’s big brother runs the family, a horrible patriarch whose genuine evil drives his damaged little brother. Dean Armitage runs his family in the same way, organising and orchestrating their acts for his own grotesque purposes. The Chainsaw family is headed by Grandpaw, rendered infirm by age, but whose legendarily brutal past inspires and informs all his descendants’ actions. Roman Armitage may be forced to hide in the body of a Coagulated man for the majority of the film, but it’s revealed that he’s the one who’s driven everything.

The meta-textual point is that the two families are essential mirror opposites, separated only by class – and the wealth and respectability that class brings. After all, at a whole-family level, the two share terrifyingly similar behaviour. For example, in ‘Chainsaw’, the family uses trespassers as literal meat; in ’Get Out’ the Armitages are, likewise, interested in the flesh of their victims. Not as food, perhaps, but they definitely don’t see their victims as people. The Coagula, the film’s combination of hypnotism and brain surgery the Armitages inflict upon their victims is the purest kind of body horror. It invokes the classic horror trope of ‘And I Must Scream’, and is easily as vile as ‘Chainsaw’s cannibalism. The scene where Chris is powerlessly bound to a tastefully gauche leather chair can straightforwardly be read as the middle-class parallel to the scene in ‘Chainsaw’ where Terry McMinn’s Pam is hung, kicking and screaming, on Leatherface’s meathook.

Where ’Get Out’ dares to go further than ‘Chainsaw’ or other such slashers is in the politicisation of the Coagula; where Leatherface will simply kill you, the Coagula will destroy you. Peele’s direction of those poor, co-opted black characters who’ve been Coagulated is masterful, and the actors’ deft work at conveying the misery and despair of the Coagula’s victims really drives home the horror of what’s been done to them.

(As a related side note, Betty Gabriel’s performance as the Armitage’s ‘house maid’ Georgina is an absolute masterclass in acting. Her performance is so good it’s worth the price of entry alone.)

The thing is, beyond simple horror, the Coagula is one of the film’s key satirical elements. Subtextually, the Coagula’s victims are instead a metaphor for the way black people are diminished by being forced to assimilate themselves into white culture – a culture they never wanted to be a part of. On the surface, all the Coagulated black characters are happy. They smile, they primp themselves, they go for runs, they hold hands with their white friends…

But it’s all so obviously unnatural, so obviously wrong.

This is most driven home by Chris’ interactions with the character of Logan – who turns out to be an acquaintance named Andre. As Logan, the character speaks with the same cadence and vernacular as the white people around him. He carries himself as they do, has the same sort of ‘well-to-do’ mannerisms… The effect is genuinely strange; actor LaKeith Stanfield deserves huge credit so effectively invoking the uncanny valley. He makes it clear that Andre’s essential black identity has been utterly shredded by what’s been inflicted upon him.

A key demonstration of this is the shift when Andre is briefly able to break free from the Coagula’s ‘sunken place’ and shout a warning to Chris is profoundly disturbing, and the key signifier is Andre’s use of AAVE, that most distinctive, beautiful (and endlessly parodied) dialect. AAVE is, as with so many elements of black culture, alternately vilified and admired by white culture, that the way the character shifts between the two can’t be read in any way but a political one.

The film’s metaphor makes it clear: the only way for black people to truly be completely accepted by well-meaning white people? Is to give up your black identity entirely. You’re not allowed to dress black, or think black, or talk black. You have to literally give yourself up. Surrender. Submit. Replace the blackness within you with pure white, because the goal of these white middle classes isn’t so much the equality they claim it is, as it is to ensure that deep down ‘we’re all the same’.

How rarely do those with cultural power acknowledge that ‘same’ might carry connotations of loss for minorities? That the powerful ask the disenfranchised – not necessarily deliberately, but through every snide comment that denigrates minority culture – to give up an essential part of themselves? Society would never ask white people to give up their essential whiteness, but it doesn’t hesitate to denigrate black speech patterns, black hairstyles, or any element of black culture that’s too far removed from the acceptable mainstream. For white people, that kind of horrifying loss of self-identity would never need to happen.

In this way, the film’s Coagula procedure operates as a powerful metaphor for the crushing of black culture under white values; black people only truly accepted by the white community as ‘family’ once they’re utterly white on the inside, the only blackness remaining a lone voice screaming in misery at what’s been lost.

As with the opening scene, the film uses implications through its visuals, primarily the use of its mise-en-scen, to show where the roots of the Armitage’s attitude come from. Above ground, the family house is traditional, but modern. Despite this, the Coagula videos that Chris is forced to view are shown to him on a big old Radiation King TV, explicitly tying the Coagula to the 1950s: the era of white picket fences, boys named Chip, girls named Judy… and strange fruit dangling next to burning crosses. It’s an era that, for much of white American media, is held up as nostalgic; the kind of place where Richie and the Fonz might run into Marty McFly’s dad. ’Get Out’ shows us the flip side of that white utopian vision: a place where horror lurked for those who weren’t so privileged. The Coagula video shows the Armitage family’s Grandpaw explaining the procedure, while surrounded in visuals that are utterly rooted in the 50’s and the values of that era: neat gardens, happily coloured clothes, the perfect nuclear family… As a result, the Coagula can be seen as representing the darkness within the American white liberal elite. A time that was, for the kyriarchy, a cultural heyday was, for everyone else, a time where terrible ideas left unacknowledged were allowed to fester into modern problems of spectacular unpleasantness.

It’s interesting as well, because the film presents the idea that liberal values aren’t actually enough to save someone from the prejudiced attitudes of their upbringing. While Dean Armitage may be superficially a meritocrat – he’s not targeting black people deliberately, they’re just in fashion right now! – his actions give the lie to that. His family’s targeting of black people is an obvious, racist pattern, and one that’s obviously been passed down from father to son. As Dean says, his father Roman – who innovated the Coagula procedure – never got over losing to Jesse Owens at the 1936 Olympics. As the aphorism goes, when someone shows you who they are, believe them. Actions speak louder than words, and all Dean’s petty rationalisations regarding fashion do is serve to prove quite neatly how much racism exists simply because of a lack of critical thinking, which is, of course, the point. Saying black people are chosen because they’re ‘in fashion’, is a neat way for Peele to represent white middle class indifference to black suffering. To be able to say ‘I’m not racist’ without ever questioning the myriad ways we benefit from systems and power structures that exclusively target black people to the benefit of white is a key pillar of the white supremacy that has always dominated American culture.

The film is also not shy about looking at the failings of white liberal parenting. Ignoring (for the moment) Rose’s obvious psychopathy (because we’ll get to her in a bit), Jeremy Armitage is shown to be the most unstable member of the family, and the film makes it clear that his instability has a definite weird racial edge. Aside from the visuals of his knightly helmet signifying his as a white supremacist, in his biggest scene, we see Jeremy baiting Chris. He’s obsessed with Chris’ physicality, by turns jealous and prideful. He brings the conversation to MMA, leers at how Chris could be ‘a physical beast’. It’s obvious that he wants to fight Chris, made explicit when he comes over and tries to ‘playfully’ assault him. Given the delight with which he mocks Chris after he’s collapsed under hypnosis, it seems that Jeremy’s driven by a desperate need to be better than Chris… which, considering he’s only just met the guy, would be weird.

Unless Jeremy’s an overt racist, which, and let’s be honest here, he is. He’s jealous of Chris’ blackness, and clearly wants to assert himself over it. Chris challenges him in a way that he never states or explains, but which can only be resolved through Jeremy asserting his dominance through violence… at which point the subtext is pretty much just text. Jeremy’s a racist prick, raised by middle-class liberals who’ve taught their son that not saying racist things is the same as not being a racist.

But it isn’t, and the film shows that. It’s also interesting that when Jeremy’s desired fight comes – when he locks on the sleeper hold, attempting to live out his MMA fantasies – he loses. He’s not as good as he thinks. Chris – a non-violent photographer, remember – wins through luck, determination and grit, not because of any inherent racial advantage. Jeremy doesn’t lose because he’s white; he loses because, like every racist, he’s a hateful loser and the audience wants to see him go down.

And it’s at this point we get to the film’s most terrifying villain: Rose.

MY FEMINISM WILL BE INTERSECTIONAL OR IT WILL BE BULLSHIT!” – Flavia Dzodan.

While the Armitage family as a whole is a satirical skewer through the heart of white ‘liberalism’, it’s in the character of Rose that the film really drives home its theme that the problem isn’t just the obvious racists, but those indolent left-wingers for whom the time is never now.

When we’re first introduced to the character of Rose, she’s shown to be, in every way, a Good Person. She’s funny and charming, and pre-emptively embarrassed for her family’s clumsy attempts to bond with Chris. In a masterful piece of meta-casting, the role is played by Allison Williams of ‘Girls’ fame. On that show – one entirely concerned with the lives of white liberal elite women and the difficulties they go through (to the somewhat infamous exclusion of people of colour) – she plays a relatively prissy, uptight character who’s still more responsible than the series’ lead. This role cannot help but inform the reactions of those audience members more familiar with Williams’ work, helping to immediately establish the character as trustworthy, reliable, and – most importantly – not a threat.

But Rose is a psychopath. The film takes great pains to show us this through her actions. Post the film’s reveal of her evil nature, she evinces a staggering lack of empathy. From the photographs of her victims, it’s clear she’s led many, many innocents to their doom. Literally as Chris is being Coagulated (or so she believes), she’s online, browsing for her next victim – this after being in a relationship with him for five months. The film reveals her as a consummate actor and masterful liar, able to convince Chris she’s looking for her keys even as she’s stalling him. When the façade finally falls, not just her expression changes, but her entire manner. Body language shifts, tone of voice changes… it’s an incredible performance from Williams, easily the equal of the actors portraying victims of the Coagula for its shocking difference to what has come before. William’s performance makes it clear through every movement and microexpression that the character is an abject monster.

If the film as a whole is a clear repurposing of the ‘Don’t Go Into the Woods’ genre from a black perspective, then Rose’s luring of so many, many men (and one woman) to their doom is basically the hoary old Bluebeard narrative, made shiny and new because, as with all the tropes in the film, it’s coming from a black perspective. The classic narrative is played so straight, it even has Bluebeard’s secret room of dead partners in it, albeit as photographs rather than corpses.

So in this sense, Rose is nothing we horror fans haven’t seen before.

However, the reason we’re discussing Rose’s psychopathy before we look at the ‘nice’ things she does at the start of the film, is because of the satirical light it throws on every one of her interactions with Chris. Before the reveal, Rose is funny and charming… a delight in every way, but – and this is what the reveal exposes – she’s was never once on Chris’ side. Looking at her actions from a post-reveal point of view, every single thing she does is only ever a move in a game, all designed to leave him ultimately reduced to a tool for her own class of people.

This is where the film really hammers its satire home. In the scene where Chris is pulled over by a – presumed openly racist officer – we see Chris co-operate with the officer. He doesn’t like it, but he smiles, he’s deferential and polite… he does everything America’s system of white supremacy has taught him he needs to do to survive. The tension in the scene is gut-churning, and I was sure that the officer was being set-up as a Chekov’s Gun, most likely for a final scene where he’d end up shooting and killing Chris as he ‘Got Out’.

But ’Get Out’ isn’t interested in making obvious points about overt racism, or police brutality. That tension, that sense that if Rose wasn’t there, Chris would be brutalised or dead? That’s all the film needs to say on that issue. ‘Police are scary if you’re black’ is so obvious, the film doesn’t waste time belabouring, justifying, or rationalising that point.

Your white comfort is not its concern.

Instead, the film shows Rose boldly standing up to the police officer, calling out his overt racism in an act of unconcealed allyship which establishes she is a Good Person. She can’t be racist, because she told a racist off for his racism!

…or so the indolent logic goes. Of course, post reveal, we can see this for the very superficial allyship it is: Rose is saying all the right things, not because she believes in them, but because they benefit her. In-universe, the character doesn’t want the police to know who the black man was, because once Chris becomes a missing person, the cop might come asking questions. Rose’s refusal to let the police see Chris’ ID protects her family.

Taken on the meta, satirical level, however, the film skewers lazy allies, showing that white liberals who will speak out against racism as a way to make themselves look good are no friend to the black community.

Later in the film, Rose’s selfish behaviour takes on a much more insidious edge. As Chris sees and experiences more of the weirdness-verging-on-horror of the Armitage house, he comes to the woman he loves, a woman he trusts because she spoke up for him and says ‘My lived experiences have shown me something bad is going on’.

Rose’s response is to gaslight the absolute shit out of him. ‘Honey, there’s nothing wrong. Your lived experiences aren’t as important as the words I’m saying to you.’

In refusing to acknowledge what her boyfriend is saying, the film drives home a further salient point about the dangers of white allyship, and actually listening to the people we purport to stand by.

People see things from their own perspective, and it’s truly difficult to put your own experiences aside and put yourself in someone else’s shoes. It takes work, intelligence and empathy and some people just don’t have the capability. But, white people are so used to their voice being the one of authority, so used to speaking and having their words heard, that they talk over the legitimate, true fears of people with different life experiences, delegitimising real anxieties and sweeping serious problems under the carpet in the name of a quiet life. Any of us could be Rose, hushing someone in pain because, to quote Ultron, we’ve “confused peace with quiet”.

Rose’s refusal to listen also carries another, more awful betrayal. Chris might be in fear – literally for his life – but no matter what, no matter how much she might claim to love him, Rose will always put his needs second to her family’s. Why is this significant on a satirical level?

Because it contains the horrible truth that white women will side with abusive authorities as long as it lets them hold onto their privilege. Last November, 53% of white women voted for Trump, a man who brags about grabbing women by the pussy and sees nothing wrong with abusive his position of power to do what he likes with the bodies of Miss World contestants. A self-admitted abuser of women is voted into power by white women because they “don’t think racism is a big deal”.

When 94% of black women voted for Clinton, well, a disparity like that makes you wonder. Like, maybe there’s more than a few Roses out there, who say they’ll stand with you in public, but who’ll betray you the second standing by you threatens their own status.

“I have the people behind me and the people are my strength.” – Huey P. Newton.

It’s telling that Rod, Chris’ awesome TSA friend, is the one who saves the day.

On a metaphorical level, Rod represents the black community. Rod is woke, and his journey shows – in a fairly comedic, but also frustrating way – the difficulties facing the black community when trying to explain the problems facing them.

Rod very quickly works out exactly what’s going on. He realises what the Armitage’s are going to do with Chris, and yeah, while his ‘sex slaves’ line is played for laughs, he’s right about that too.

Remember Andre? Andre who was coagulated with Logan’s brain? Logan who was married? Logan who still wants to have sex with his wife? Andre who screams at Chris to ‘Get Out!’ because every night, Andre has to watch from the sunken place as he’s raped by Logan’s ancient wife?

There’s a long history of white fascination and exoticisation of the black body, from the creepily hypersexualised presentation of Sarah Baartman as the ‘Hottentot Venus’, all the way through to a lingering legacy of racist tropes invented in the name of ‘protecting’ white women. Rod’s aware of this. Sure, he phrases his fears and knowledge in ways which lead others – including Chris – to not take him seriously, but that doesn’t mean he’s wrong.

The film rubs our nose in this when Rod’s ignored by the police. He shows up with a photo of a missing person he’s found, but because his truth seems too ridiculous to be believed, the police laugh at him. This serves two purposes. Firstly, it shows how useless the authorities are when it comes to crimes committed against black people. Even nice, ‘good’ ones like Chris.

Secondly, and more importantly, all the police Rod speaks to are black. Significantly, the first officer he speaks to is a black female detective. He comes to these supposed professionals with actual evidence of a crime, but because he doesn’t report it in exactly the right way, he is laughed out of the building by people who look like him.

The film’s point is that of course the police aren’t onside, because sure, they might be black, but they’re police first. It’s a chilling thought to contemplate that the authorities won’t automatically be on your side – even when they look like you – because the institutions they serve will have changed them. In this way, the film points out that just having black officers will not help solve the problem of a racist police force (or any racist institution, for that matter). Internalised and institutional racism needs to be overcome consciously; it doesn’t just disappear by magic. The characters of the disbelieving police also serve to highlight that the film isn’t attacking white people; it’s attacking white supremacy, which is a system that exists within the minds of black people as much as it does white.

At the end of the film, Rod’s final glory is that he saves his friend. This was a lovely subversion of my expectations that I genuinely didn’t see coming; as I said, I was sure the police car was due to contain the evil officer from earlier. Not to mention, the lingering spectre of ‘Night of the Living Dead’ was looming large in my mind, that film’s black protagonist shot to death by witless police who mistook him for a dangerous threat.

But that never happened. Chris got out and the satire concludes by telling us that, at the moment, the only people black folks can rely upon is each other. The black community, woke and engaged, taking the initiative and putting in all the effort is the only thing that will save black people. Not the police, not white people; only the black community, because white supremacy is everywhere and in everything.

“First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.” – Martin Luther King “Letter from a Birmingham jail”, 1963

If you think ’Get Out’ is a film about how terrible white people are, you haven’t been paying attention. The Armitages are exactly as representative of white people as Leatherface is of Texans, which is to say, not at all. ’Get Out’ isn’t about white people, because white people aren’t even really in it. White actors are, but white people aren’t, because it’s not about us.

It’s about black subconscious fears.

As I said at the start, horror films – the most effective ones – are all about the things we’re afraid of, but that we can’t quite put into words. ‘Subconscious’ literally means ‘beneath our awareness’: a subconscious fear is a fear you’ve got but that you can’t quite articulate because you’re not fully aware of it.

’Get Out’ is a catalogue of everything black people are scared white people can do; not on a literal level, but on a metaphorical, subconscious one. They’re afraid of being gunned down by a scared citizen with no gun training and even less self-control. They’re afraid a police officer will gun them down because of the colour of their skin. They’re afraid the partner who claims to love them won’t support them because of the colour of their skin. They’re afraid that partner might turn on them because of the colour of their skin. They’re afraid of being reduced to slavery again because of the colour of their skin. They’re afraid they won’t be believed because of the colour of their skin. They’re afraid the authorities will ignore them, even if they tell the truth, because of the colour of their skin.

And based on the evidence, it’s kind of hard to argue that those fears aren’t completely and utterly rational. The manifold legacies of slavery, of disenfranchisement, of exploitation, of police brutality, of being betrayed by supposed white allies… it all means the black community lives with fears which are entirely sensible, because time and time again, lived experience has proven that they are true.

So if you’re white and feeling defensive or angry, let me turn you from ’Get Out’ to another cinematic masterpiece:

‘The Lego Movie’.

At the end of that film, there’s a confrontation between two people. One has all the power, the other doesn’t. One defines how the world is supposed to be, the other is forced into complicity through threats and aggression.

Then the dominant one of the pair finds his Lego-figure analogue: a cartoonish, ridiculous asshole named President Business, with a sweeping cloak, flaming crown, and boots so tall he towers over the weaker figures. And on seeing his analogue, the dominant human figure is cut to his core.

“This is how you see me?”

White people: this is how black people see you.

Not consciously. It’s not fucking literal. They’re not worried you’re going to hypnotise them and cut their brains out.

But they are worried you won’t support them.

They are worried you’ll sell them out.

They are worried you won’t actually do anything meaningful to help advance their needs, even when you claim to be a friend and ally.

The point of ’Get Out’ isn’t to go ‘ALL WHITE PEOPLE ARE LIKE…’, but to show us just how scared a huge portion of our community is. The villains of ’Get Out’ are to white people as President Business is to the Father in ‘The Lego Movie’. They’re every unspoken fear that white people have created, not through cruelty, but through indolence. Through laziness. Through a refusal to leave the house and challenge the structures which have kept black people down for the better part of four centuries.

To get angry about the way white people are presented in ’Get Out’ is to be the real villains of the piece.

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Like this piece? Why not have a look at my books? Seriously, they’re pretty good, and if you like horror, you won’t be disappointed.

‘a qlippothic engine – Beta Sequence’: available from the 2nd of April 2017

Edie stares, guts clenching at the sight of her X-rays. Her ribs glow a phosphorescent blue against the black of the background. She tries to distract herself from the shadow, tries to look away, to look her bones over: there’s the sternum, there’s the pelvis, the clavicles, all in perfect clarity. The edges of the bones are rendered in a detail so hard-edged as to be undeniable. Around them, like translucent clouds are the altogether more indistinct shapes of her organs, the same hazy blue of old cigar smoke.

Her heart, though. The thing around it’s as clear as bone, clenched like a fist with eight fingers. Even with the suggestion from her memory-dream, she hadn’t been expecting this.

The body of the thing is flat; looking at it side on, it can’t be more than maybe a couple of centimetres across. From the front, though, the hard abdomen and smooth thorax nearly cover her heart. Its eight hard limbs, each nearly as thick as a fingerbone, encircle the organ completely, holding it in a choke. She looks at where the head of the thing should be, but the X-ray becomes vague and indistinct. It becomes impossible to tell where the organ ends and where the…

The…

The spider

begins.

“What is that?” asks Veronica, her hard voice grown harder.

“Get it out of me,” says Edie.

“That is hybrot countermeasure number twenty-three seven omega, designation ‘Serdtsepauka’,” replies the Friendly Robot to Veronica. “Developed by Project Kraken in nineteen-eighty-nine, the Serdtsepauka is a hybrot countermeasure, genetically engineered from the genus Atrax Robustus. It ensures complicity of prisoners, subjects of extraordinary rendition, and captured enemy combatants. Standard practise involves surgical implantation of the Serdtsepauka into the recipient over the course of a three hour operation. Grafted directly into the cardiac muscle, the Serdtsepauka is then sustained for the rest of its life by the bloodstream of the host organism.

“In the event of prisoner non-compliance, operators may then deploy the Serdtsepauka through the use of electronic signals sent wirelessly to proprietary systems embedded in the countermeasure’s nervous system. These induces a variety of effects on the host, ranging from simple palpitations, to cardiac events, to – should the operator desire – death.”

“Get it out of me,” says Edie, her voice rising.

“I’m working on it, mate,” says Veronica with mild desperation. “How do we get it out of her?”

“Post-implantation extraction is not advised.”

“Get it out of me,” says Edie, her voice becoming shrill.

“Edie, calm down,” says Jacintha, who’s not sounding too calm herself.

“Get it out of me!” screams Edie, finally dropping all pretence at control. “Get it out of me, get it out of me, get it out of me!”

Then Jacintha’s fist crashes into her face and the world rolls over into blackness.

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The second part of YorkNecromancer’s debut novel series a qlippothic engine will be available for download and in paperback from April 2nd, 2017. Beta Sequence: OSTROV picks up where the first novel left off, moving the series into altogether darker, more horrifying waters. For those readers who haven’t yet encountered this landmark series, the opening chapters of the first novel Alpha Sequence: DEREVNYA can be enjoyed by clicking here. If you like that, why not follow these link to purchase it in either Kindle download or paperback? America readers should click here while British readers should click this link instead.

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