Horus Heresy: Macragge’s Honour by Dan Abnett & Neil Roberts – Comicbook Review [Bellarius]
Returning to the Horus Heresy, Bellarius weighs the best and worst of Dan Abnett and Neil Roberts’ Macragge’s Honour.
“Shallow and short but still somewhat entertaining.” – Bellarius, The Founding Fields.
Despite its critical acclaim among journalists and fans alike, there was always one line in Know No Fear which irked its readers:
“It is the beginning of one of the most infamous naval duels in Imperial history.”
That was the last we saw of the Ultramarines flagship, wounded but still deadly, powering away from the warzone in pursuit of Kor Phaeron’s battle barge, the Infidus Imperator. The two exited the book, and ever since fans have been chomping at the bit to see what fate had in store for the conflict and the Macragge’s Honour. Well, we were finally given our answer and, in all honesty, it’s not the battle many wanted. It’s not bad by any means, but it hardly lives up to that teasing line.
Perhaps the biggest problem of the entire story comes down to the flaws of its creators. Both are renowned for their skills to be sure, well known for their abilities, but this was a test which neither truly fared all too well in. For example, Roberts is famed for his work on multiple Black Library covers. His distinctive look, ultra-detailed and all, has adorned a multitude of books, posters and promotional materials. However, those were single images not viewed through sequential storytelling. As a result, the book has a very skewed aspect to it. Many of the images are individually told, without any lengthy fight sequences or one-on-one duels. The closest we get are fragmentary images of a massed battle, too chaotic to really be told individually. The rest of the time, his scenes are extremely brief, with fights often resolving themselves in one or two panels at the most. This is in part due to the page layout, which seems to have been intended to make use of his best skills. The panels are massive, often coming down to four or five per page with multiple splash pages, each of which looks beautiful but it results in an extremely brief experience.
While the artistic approach and design might have limited the story, Abnett himself is not above criticism. He’s a master when it comes to writing novels, but much of his work in comics often paired him up with Andy Lanning. This often resulted in his strongest works, and it always seemed that the two balanced out one another’s most notable weaknesses. As such, the tale here seems to be slipping back into a few bad habits which we discussed in Inquisitor Ascendant. Abnett here seems to be focusing upon repeatedly giving the reader more and more action, introducing something new at every turn so the reader never gets bored. In theory this is great and, admittedly, up to the point sorcery is introduced it’s going well and keeps the story flowing. The problem is that, to be blunt, after a while he seems to stop wanting to resolve things. The Macragge’s Honour gets boarded twice over, and each time these actions are dealt with off page. In one we only see a single brief duel before it’s over, and in the other it’s covered in a very chaotic page which shows little of the fight itself.
Even the duel between battleships itself is oddly shortened, and Abnett sadly seems to have focused upon big explosive action over anything of substance. The duel really is resolved in mere minutes, and for all its infamy it boils down to a surprisingly simple stunt on the Ultramarines’ part. It doesn’t help that almost the entire thing is basically a series of brief stunts with each vessel broadsiding the hell out of the other without much in the way of real variation, and little subtlety to their tactics. Rather than getting Red October, this is sadly the Horus Heresy’s version of Battleship. Honestly, there’s time when the pursuit makes you stop and admire how Battle for the Abyss handled some elements. Whatever its failings, that book took more time to try and pace things out and flesh out its cadre of various astartes. By comparison, few if any sailor or marine on either side is worthy of mention. Even the figures dueling on the cover get barely a line between them, and many listed in the Word Bearers’ Dramatis Personae don’t even get a line. Hell, most don’t even appear outside of a single panel right at the end.
So, from all that you’re probably guessing this book is terrible, right? Not entirely. It’s a disappointment to be sure, but it’s not without its strengths. There are some admittedly awesome moments which still drew a smile, from the Macragge’s Honour quickly silencing three cruisers to a full company of cataphractii boarding an enemy warship. When the book does stop for a few moments to offer real sequential art, it does it surprisingly well, and it helps to offer some surprisingly memorable scenes admit the action, such as Legion Master Gage taking on a fifteen meter long daemon. The art, as mentioned before, is quite beautiful all throughout. While focusing a little too heavily upon single prominent colours, it aims to be big and bold, and the incredible detail in Roberts’ artwork is always a sight to behold. Even at his absolute worst, he still produces several striking scenes, and the book’s best moments come from when he relies upon that factor. This is especially true of the Warp which, crude as it can sometimes seem, offers a brilliantly 90s style psychedelically view of the daemonic realm.
As for the story’s strengths, to his credit Abnett kept it relatively open to new readers. General knowledge of the betrayal of Calth is all that’s needed to get by on this one, and it serves as a fun side-story to the more comprehensive novels. The final engagement which sees the Ultramarines’ victory is still entertaining, and rather than feeling cheap or delivered by deus ex machina it was a victory well earned. For all its failings, the story also never drags and even the very end offers a nice element which establishes that little bit more about the M41 setting.
Overall, Macragge’s Honour is insubstantial. It’s pretty to look at, but you’re not left with much in the way of real meaning or impact in the grand scheme of things. If you enjoy Roberts’ artwork then it’s certainly worth a gander, but at this moment in time it’s hard to justify the steep price this title is going for. Don’t write this one off, but don’t go out of your way to nab it either.