Mordheim: Ulli & Marquand by Gav Thorpe, Gordon Rennie, Paul Jeacock, Karl Kopinski & Mike Perkins – Novella Review [Bellarius]
Delving into Black Library’s archives once more, Bellarius brings forth the complete collection of Mordheim: Ulli and Marquand for this week’s review.
“Essential reading for anyone wanting to stage a Mordheim campaign or see the considerably less stony faced nature of the Old World” – Bellarius, The Founding Fields.
As an aside before we begin, I think this lengthy title is why other reviewers have taken to only listing the writers.
Warhammer and its interlinking series have seen no end of fictional heroes end up on the tabletop. Gotrek and Felix have both had multiple incarnations, the Tanith First and Only once had miniatures, and even grand old Inquisitor Eisenhorn had a rather hefty model of himself made. These were traditionally reserved for those of fame and with great fanbases, yet of all these two seem to have been forgotten by time: Ulli and Marquand, the cutthroat criminals of Mordheim. It’s a damn shame as well, as their comic is easily one of the best sources of dark humour to ever be centered around the Old World.
Set during the era of the Three Emperors, the comic was a series of short tales and strips following the adventures of Ulli and Marquand, bandits on the run from the law. While many would come to call Mordheim a place of horrors or your common or garden hive of scum and villainy, yet for these two it is a home. Determined to make one big hit and retire in good fortune, the two set out to fight, back-stab, pillage and betray anyone they have to in order to emerge on top.
What ironically helped this series in the long run was the fact it lacked the lofty aspirations of other Inferno! comics and started with a structure which befitted it. Bloodquest and Titan started with awkward steps, grand sagas which were being forced into pint-sized episodic tales, and only improved once they were adapted into a true running narrative. Ulli and Marquand meanwhile was driven less by drama or an end goal so much as grim comedic humour worthy of 2000 AD, focusing upon a pair of outright villains trying to find their fortune. While certainly unsympathetic, what made this work was the fact the duo were gleefully unrepentant in their actions, balancing a ruthless streak with wit, comedic timing and a relentlessly grim grin at everything. In much the same way Deadpool works despite its gore, the series relentlessly crossed the line in the right way to go from upsetting to utterly hilarious, never taking itself seriously in the slightest.
Very few events in the collection are directly linked save for one returning villain between two issues, with it otherwise following isolated events. In some ways this gives it an edge over some modern comic stylings, with a strong single issue start rather than dragging out the introduction over the entire trade paperback, and a very definitive end. Furthermore, while neither of them are specially complex, you quickly get to grips with what makes each one tick in just a few pages – Ulli is a somewhat thuggish former resident of Middenheim closer to being a bandit, while Marquand is the knife throwing confidence man. It’s a broad enough of a contrasting style, and a flexible enough of a one to fit into most situations. As such, they are easily slotted into most stories from a borderline parody of a smash-and-grab on the Sisters of Sigmar to finding ways to bribe daemons.
The actual stories themselves follow the same format often enough, starting mid-adventure before concluding with plenty of death and betrayal, usually with the protagonists being the last ones left standing. The real fun often stems from just how they pull this off and the situation itself, seeing how they emerge more or less unscathed and giving a glimpse into the dark nature of the setting. Beyond the running story found in the main rulebook of the tabletop game, this is easily one of the best depictions of Mordheim to date and brilliantly nails the nature of the game, from the deaths to the growing corruption of the setting. This is helped to a degree by mentions of characters at points and warbands, with some of the duo’s more resilient foes being given names and brief backgrounds for the short time they battle one another. Given their fleeting engagements, it manages to make the comic resemble the game all the better by turning most (usually soon to be dead) characters as opposing sides in some great campaign turned into a comic.
If there is any criticism to seriously be held, it’s that the comic lacks substance and its style may not resonate well with some readers. Those after an adventure in the old world with more pathos, a detailed examination of the setting or developing characters will find little of real interest. What’s more is that there is a distinct lack of truly sympathetic figures within any story, and even the followers of Sigmar himself are notably vindictive in their nature. A further problem also can come from the lack of closure offered by the book, as while it does have a finale worthy of its overall style, it can easily be seen as a “rocks fall, everyone dies” conclusion.
Ulli and Marquand is by no means deep or overly complex, but as an introduction to classic Warhammer Fantasy you could do far worse. It retains an element of self-parody and grim, bloody comedy which the franchise has sadly lost over the years, and provides the right sort of villainous protagonists for the reader to follow. Combine that with surprisingly solid action for its short stories, a varied mixture of villains, fun writing and great artwork all about, and there’s really very little to criticise here. It might not have aimed especially high when it came to being a literary classic, but there remains a special place for these sorts of stories in the setting. If you get the chance, this is one definitely worth picking up.