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Looking back through the mists of time once more Bellarius returns to the Bloodquest Saga by George Rennie and Colin MacNeil.
“A true classic worthy of the Blood Angels” – The Founding Fields
If there is one comic which can really be named a classic when it comes to space marines it undoubtedly Bloodquest. Running for a total of three volumes and delving deep into the realms of Chaos, the series had everything a saga needed: Crusading heroes in search of redemption, sinister forces thirsting for power, gunfire, swordfights, drama and demons to be slain. It’s likely responsible for the comparative popularity of the Blood Angels over many other first founding chapters and alongside Titan it’s easily the best on-going series ever to use the licence.
Unfortunately the series suffered from the exact same problem as Titan: A horrendously bad beginning.
Set in the dying days of the 41st millennium (because that seems to be where ever story is set) the comic follows the disgraced Blood Angel Captain Leonatos. Having lost one of the chapter’s most holy relics in battle with orks, the Blade Encarmine, he is tasked with finding the weapon once again. Exiled until his quest’s completion, he is joined by a number of similar individuals. But none know how far they will have to travel to retrieve the blade nor the sacrifices which will be required of them before the quest’s end.
The chief problem from the very start is the characters themselves. While the first issue devoted itself to setting the backstory and objectives of the heroes it left no time for its characters, many of who were introduced at the final page. There’s really no disguising that many of them were simple cannon fodder which bulked out the cast beyond what the writers could handle. A good number who die within the first volume are given few to no lines and even those beyond it are only given baseline characterisation. More than once I found myself mentally replacing every mention of “Cloten” with “Wolverine” due to their almost identical personalities.
Even given leeway for its age Bloodquest’s early issues offered little beyond disjointed episodic events, with the only spikes of excitement originating from a few moments of awesome. This was something definitely not helped by the art style which fairly bland and textureless, not reflecting the grittier looks of the universe and only shining at a few points. Usually when a big splash page was required or huge panel with a large amount of objects for artist Colin MacNeil to play with. Even the fights were often brief, unsatisfying events which either ended as soon as they began or went unresolved.
Thankfully this changed by the conclusion of the first volume as Leonatos’ team came to a world’s defence against an ork Waaagh! For the first time there were suggestions of catching up with the Blade, a consistent foe was introduced and significant improvements were made with both the art and the combat. Better yet it introduced a single location for the final novels, warped enough to offer variety but lacking the sparse, underdeveloped nature of previous instalments: The Eye of Terror.
While certain aspects of the canon might have altered for better or worse, the location of the second novel is still one of the best visual examples of a Chaos corrupted location on paper. Warped and mutated beyond recognition, ravaged by constant war, shifting with the altering influences of each god as their champions vied for power, it emphasised upon what the Eye of Terror was. A place just stable enough to sustain moral life but hostile beyond all reckoning.
The story itself was more solid as the Blood Angel’s objective was always within sight, but every just out of their reach. Constantly raising the stakes at every turn with growing threats and more consciously utilising sub-plots introduced within the story: Focusing upon Cloten’s slowly losing battle with the Black Rage and the manipulative presence of a mysterious Dark Angel shadowing the group’s path. The comic also began to make use of the characters’ inner demons as they began to fall victim to their character flaws, many meeting their end as a result of them. Said character deaths frequently held far more focus, with time devoted to seeing how they impacted the characters and furthering the plot rather than suddenly included as a number of previous ones had been. Even when they were refused a heroic sacrifice, the character was at least given more than a panel’s focus as they fell.
The continual story further helped to emphasise upon the climax to events where the remaining exiles finally encounter the blade and its new owner. Ending the arc with far more of a bang than many Warhammer comics were offered with the added twist of the tale continuing for one final instalment.
Having seemingly sacrificed himself to allow the surviving two other Blood Angels to escape with the sword, have fun guessing which two, the final volume turns its attention to searching for Leonatos. Heading back into the Eye of Terror, the Blood Angels now faced an even more perilous task: Successfully infiltrate and search through the ranks of a Black Crusade to find signs of their captain’s survival. The art shifted styles again, this time to better reflect the corrupt nature of environments and the greater risk of the characters falling to Chaos. Often distorting to having strangely airbrushed effects at the points where reality warps or the protagonists are dangerously approaching becoming as bad as the Chaos followers themselves.
While definitely set on a more personal level than the second volume, without quite so many acts such as slaying Banelords, the finale none the less is a satisfying finale. Containing the sort of grim, bittersweet victory which best exemplifies the Warhammer universe. Being a conclusion it is hard to discuss without spoilers but just as the second book escalated from the first one, the third book kept what worked from the second book and enhanced it. Focusing upon themes of betrayal, loss, endurance and finally concluding in an ultimately bittersweet victory against humanity’s foes.
Ultimately the story is very flawed and very much a roller-coaster ride of quality. At its worst it’s early 90s Youngblood, with all the bad writing tropes you’d expect, but when it hits its stride it’s of a quality which still holds up well even against the best of the New 52. It preserves what’s best about Warhammer and while it does have the occasional slip in canon, it’s fairly loyal to the basic facts of the universe and the space marines are clearly space marines.
Is it worth looking up and buying? If you can find it for a reasonable price and are willing to accept its early failings to get to the vastly superior better arcs then definitely. If you’re looking for a perfect Warhammer story from beginning to end, or want a story about the Guilliman worshipping jokes who are featured in the pages of the latest Codex: Blood Angels, look elsewhere.