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Friday, August 30, 2013

Brief Review: The World's End

Hey there Chaos maniacs! Hope that these last days of summer are treating you well. So, Mrs. Chaos and I saw The World's End this weekend- the last of the hysterically funny and very clever "Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy". So, did The World's End live up to the reputation of the previous two entries, or is it a shadow of the others? Let's find out...

I saw Shaun of the Dead on its opening weekend. I had no idea who the cast was (Bill Nighy excepted). I went to see it because it had zombies and looked like fun. The movie was just incredible: it was a great comedy, a brilliant satire, a homage, and quality horror/zombie movie in its own right, all at the same time. It pays homage to all the Romero "Dead" troupes, while having great characters, thrilling/scary set pieces, and characters that you love and relate to.

Then came Hot Fuzz. I was certainly in the pocket of Pegg et al at this point. Again, the movie was fantastic. An interesting (and ridiculous) mystery, great cop humor, and a ton of action make Hot Fuzz a worthy successor to Shaun. Now, I liked Shaun more, but that's because I love the zombie stuff. However, Fuzz was amazingly good, the equal of Shaun in every respect.

So, of course, I had high expectations with The World's End. The movie is indeed very funny, and Pegg and company do a fantastic job. However, it is not as good as the previous two- it is the weakest of the three in a few ways. I do acknowledge that I'll need to see it again to make the final determination (Hot Fuzz has grown in my estimation on repeat viewings).

To sum up the basic plot: Gary King is a frustrated adult who desperately wants to re-create the glory days of his teenage years- he is a study in being a regressive individual. His plan is to get his old friends together and do their infamous "pub crawl"- hitting all the bars in their home town, including the final one, The World's End (which they never made it to as teens). King's friends, however, all feel and act as if they are 40 (which they are)- but they are convinced to go due to King's mischief. Now, back in their old town and ready to drink (despite their misgivings and a lot of personal baggage against King), they find their old town is not what it once was- both literally and figuratively. Up against a mysterious force, the old crew must band together if they are to figure out what is happening and survive to tell about it...

There's a lot of good stuff here. It is no spoiler to tell you that this is a sci-fi/comedy mash-up just as the other two were mash-ups. In this case, it is an alien invasion, and they make a lot of subtle (and not so subtle) references to sci-fi classics like Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It is a very clever premise, and makes for great comedy (and action) fodder. Also great is how The World's End goes along with the previous 2 in terms of theme. Shaun was about growing up, Fuzz was about doing what's right no matter what, while this movie suggests that you need to do both- simply getting a "job, house, family" is not enough. Grow up, yes, but don't lose that youthful idealism, don't lose that moral compass. King's character is all about that youthful passion, but he's stuck in the past in all the wrong ways. His pals, meanwhile, have grown up, but they are bland, dry, and banal. In the course of their epic battle/ pub crawl, these characters are going to have to rediscover their youthful ideals, or else fall pray to... well, I think you get the idea. Further, the actors are really good, with Pegg doing a great job of being both sympathetic and an ass all at the same time. Also, I found Martin Freedman funny as well, with far more offering here than he did in the entirety of The Hobbit, sadly.

The movie is really funny, and the sci-fi plot is imaginative. The problem that I can't ignore though is the ending. See, Shaun and Fuzz had fantastic conclusions. Shuan as the terrifying (and zombie traditional) final, massive zombie assault, while Fuzz had a balls to the walls shoot-out (with bits of shooting, car chases, and pyrotechnics that put action directors to shame). The World's End denouement is... they TALK to the "intelligence" to stop its invasion. The scene isn't that funny at all, and the whole movie just grinds to a halt. It's too bad, as I think that, with a bit of revision, it could have worked. As it stands, it just doesn't have the humor or spark the rest of the movie had. The final 2 minutes of the movie is funny and appropriate (what REALLY happens when you stop an alien invasion? This movie has the right idea, I'm afraid). Sadly, the "final confrontation" falls flat and hurts the film.

So, where does it stand? It is a very funny movie with great ideas and imagination. You would expect nothing less from these guys. However, the final bit goes off the rails, and sucks the life out of the movie. As a result, I'm giving it 3 1/2 out of 4 Marks of Chaos. It is worthy of being alongside Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead, but it is just under those two overall. If you loved Fuzz and Shaun, you do need to see this...

Until Next Time...

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Champions of the Scions of Gorechild

Hey there Chaos fanatics and cultists! I have been doing a good share of painting and modeling for my up and coming World Eater Khorne Bezerker army. The other day I posted some pics of my new Khorne bikers. Today, I wanted to share with you my Khorne Bezerker Chaos Champions.

First, I must confess that I have never been much good at creating extensive backgrounds for my armies. I have seen 40K people create all kinds of complex and compelling story lines for their forces- conflicts that they have been involved in, great deeds that they have performed, praises and rewards earned, and the lasting hostility of embittered foes. I think it is amazing, but I have never been able to do that so well. Some of my Plague Marine champions have names, but that is about it.

Last fall, I had been so inspired by Campaign of Fire that I tried my hand at writing a campaign of my own. I did indeed finish it, but I don't know if I'll ever get the chance to play it. I did however, generate a bit of background for my Bezerkers in this campaign, who are called the Scions of Gorechild. Since I had Kharn, I wanted to reflect his presence or influence with this particular warband. Being the Scions of Gorechild, it may be pretty apparent that they are indeed quite bloodthirsty and savage.

The Scions of Gorechild are led by Lord Korlath. This arch-traitor was present at the gates of the Imperial Palace itself, taking part in the darkest battle of the Horus Heresy. He remembers the bitterness of that defeat, and he has vowed to drown the galaxy in the blood of those that follow the false emperor. His warband contains both "old school" World Eaters, renegades from other traitor legions, and other more recent Space Marines that have since yielded to the call of Khorne. After these new traitors prove their worth and their loyalty to Korlath, the lord has his surgeons preform the psych-surgery on these new recruits, making them Khorne Bezerkers. With such warriors at his call, Korlath has led many assaults against the Imperium. He seeks neither plunder nor conquest- he and his warriors simply want to spill the blood of those that worship the false emperor. With his twin lightning claws, he leads his Bezerkers into battle, collecting skulls for the skull throne.

Well, that takes care of the Lord, but what about his champions? Well, I have crafted 6 such champions- if I take that many squads, or perhaps one would head up a squad of havocs or something. For each, they have been placed on a skull base from Armorcast I think... I had put ALL my Khorne Daemons on such bases, and I discovered that I had a few small bases left so- bam! That made them for my champions. Let's take a look at these guys:

Valten: This champion of the Scions is shrouded in mystery. Even many in the scions itself are unsure of this champion. He certainly was not a member of the World Eaters originally, and it is unclear to many in the warband just when Valten joined them. He has, however, proven to be a strong asset to Lord Korlath. Valten has an uncanny knowledge of modern Imperial defenses, and has given his knowledge to Lord Korlath, enabling the Scions to plan devastating raids on Imperial worlds. Valten has also been a fierce if coldly calculating warrior in battle, defending his Lord while laying waste to whole cities. Currently, Inquisitor Bonniface of the Ordo Malleus has been seeking Valten specifically. Just why Valten is of such interest to the Inquisition remains a mystery also, however, it may have something to do with his cloak and power fist- both bearing the markings of the Ultramarines. Is Valten a vicious killer who stole trophies from an Ultramarine that he murdered or is he maybe, just maybe, an Ultramarine who succumbed to the lure of Chaos?

Gladiator: This champion has been at the side of Lord Korlath since the days of the Great Crusade. He is simply called "Gladiator"- his real name has been forgotten in the millennia since, known perhaps only by Lord Korlath and, perhaps, Galdiator himself. In the days of the Great Crusade, Gladiator had been deeply inspired by the story of Angron's fight in gladiator duels, and Gladiator became one of the first to embrace Angron's psycho-surgery and the Butcher's Nails. Gladiator became a savage, maddened fighter, a prototype for what the legion would become. His "luck" in battle is legendary, almost equalling Kharn himself in "near misses". Lord Korlath believes that Gladiator is indeed blessed by Khorne. In battle, Lord Korlath often orders Gladiator and his men into the very front of the line, knowing that Gladiator's blood lust and skill with his blades will ensure that the enemy will be overwhelmed and destroyed.

Eratex: He is certainly defined by his singular, overwhelming hatred for the Space Wolves, more than any other in the warband. Eratex was present when Angron fought Leman Russ so many thousands of years ago. Eratex has never forgotten the shame and frustration of that day, and when the Horus Heresy came Eratex yearned to destroy the dogs of Russ once and for all. Although that victory did not happen during the Heresy, Eratex still feels that anger and rage. He joined Lord Korlath when he promised that his warband would seek out the sons of Russ and make them pay. The Scions of Gorechild did indeed make bloody war on worlds protected by the Vlka Fenryka, and Eratex was always the first to hurl himself at his hated foe. In the intervening years, Eratex has taken many trophies from his fallen enemies. In order to increase his anger and blood lust, Eratex wears one of these spoils into battle, and he imagines that every foe is a hated Space Wolf. Woe for any mortal to be on the other end of Eratex's sword!

Sincline: Khornate warbands are fragile things, with groups forming and breaking apart quickly, with members of the same warband falling upon each other just prior to the dissolution of the warband. Sincline has been in many such warbands, and has killed friend and foe alike, for Sincline believes in Khorne's mantra: "I care not from where the blood flows, as long as it flows". It was only a matter of time before Khorne blessed him for his devotion. In a savage battle, Sincline lost his left arm (and his weapon) to a Dark Angel Chaplain. Enraged, Sincline took a nearby rock and slammed the Chaplain in the head. Knocking him to the ground, Sincline continued to rain blows upon his enemy, and ended the fight by ripping off the Chaplain's arm AND head! After the battle, Sincline refused to have a mechanical arm grafted on. However, Khorne had indeed blessed Sincline, and within a night in the warp Sincline grew a new and much stronger daemonic arm! Eventually, Sincline's former warband broke up, and he came to be with the Scions of Gorechild. Sincline quickly rose in Lord Korlath's esteem, and has become one of his champions, earning himself the name "The Strong Arm of Korlath". But Sincline knows it is only a matter of time- this warband will also break up in violence. It is simply the way of Khorne.

Ignav: Lord Korlath knows the old saying: keep your friends close and your enemies closer. At one point, Ignav had been the second in command for Lord Korlath. However, Ignav had his own ambitions, for he sought to show Khorne his strength and be worthy of leading the Scions of Gorechild. He had performed many deeds to get the Lord of Skulls' attention, in order to receive his blessings. Finally, confident that he was ready, Ignav challenged Korlath to single combat in the arena on Korlath's ship. Korlath knew this was coming, and welcomed the chance to once again show his dominance. They fought without armor or weapons- only bare hands. The fighting was vicious, but it was clear that Korlath was going to emerge the victor. At this point, Ignav tried to run- a mistake and a clear sign of weakness. Korlath grabbed the fleeing Ignav, and cursed him: "I will not kill you, for you are a coward, and your skull is NOT worthy of being laid upon the throne of skulls. You will be my slave- doing my will without honor, without glory. You are lower than a mortal, and your very soul belongs to me!" Locked in a dungeon, Ignav had to live with his disgrace. Over the decades, Ignav began to mutate. He never quite became a spawn, but he lost most of his intelligence and ambition, though his mutations made him a vicious combatant, nor did he lose his cunning in battle. Seeing Ignav's fate, Korlath decided to allow him to fight once more- Korlath knows the value of example, and Ignav is the perfect example to ensure discipline within the Scions of Gorechild.

Praevarik- during the days of the Horus Heresy, Praevarik was the loyal second in command to
Korlath. However, while most of Korlath's followers became bloody minded bezerkers, as did most of the World Eaters, Praevarik believed that Khorne did not simply demand blood- he demanded martial skill, honorable killings, bravery, and more- he lamented the legion's decline into bloodthirsty madness. This attitude set Praevarik at odds with the rest of the Scions, and many have challenged him for being weak. In such duels, Praevarik proved them wrong, quickly killing all who fought him. Despite his "unorthodox" views, he retained the favor of Korlath, due to his skill with a blade and his long-time loyalty. While Praevarik refuses to kill unarmed civilians (since they cannot fight back, they are not worth fighting), Korlath uses Praevarik as a battering ram against Imperial forces. Praevarik views Space Marines as dishonorable fools, worth being put to the sword and flamer.

For the record, I used some pieces of The Foresaken Fantasy set for some of the bits on my Champions. The box is a bit pricey (thanks to my wife for getting it for me), but there are a TON of cool bits in this kit- I will be using more in the future. It is awesome for conversions!!

Well, that's my stab at creating a background, for now. I'll need to develop more background for the Scions... We shall see. Hope you enjoyed this bit of fluff (and the pics as well). Until next time...

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Would You Like Some Khorne Flakes? Or how about some bikes?

Ha ha ha! I love that- Khorne Flakes! I wonder what the Lord of Skulls would make of that? Anyways, Old Man Chaos is back in action. I finished reading Deathwatch by Steve Parker (review coming by next week) and I'm about to start Vulkan Lives (excited for this one- I know little about Vulkan but being tortured by Kurze just can't be missed). However, I have also been very busy painting and modeling and stuff. So, I would like to share my creations with you... Khorne Bezerker Bikers!

When I was playing Plague Marines in the 3.5 edition, playing a true Death Guard army meant that you couldn't use several options, notably bikes and raptors. In the following book, Plague Marines could take those options, and I did some bug-winged Raptors, but I never did bikes. Maybe I was just used to being a foot slogger, but I just never got around to doing them. I only have a couple of bikes for the Black Legion, but that is an army I have kind of "inherited", and I don't use them much (though maybe if I buy that supplement...). I also have bikes for my Ultramarines, but I haven't used them in a dog's age (though with the new codex... who knows?).

In any event, my buddy Pete recently decided to get rid of his Chaos stuff so he could focus 100% on his Nids (Thanks Pete!). He gave me lots, 5 bikes being amongst them. Like me, Pete is a conversion nut- so he put these bikes on pins and held them aloft- making it look like they are banking, speeding, popping a wheelie, etc. With a few additions and tweaks of my own, I made them into Khorne Bezerker bikers.

Basically, I put a couple of heads on them (but not all... a bit of diversity is fine). I added a spike to the back of one, a banner to the other, etc.

It was weird painting them, as I haven't painted bikes in a long time. It was strange having all that red- man and vehicle like that, and I had to make sure that the red didn't overwhelm the model. Now, Khorne Bezerkers should be red and bloody, but you still need some variety on the model. Plus, red is a pain to use on a whole model- I seem to get different shades no matter what I do- I have learned to live with it and just accept that some parts of the armor are more bloody/dirty than others.

All told, they came out quite well. I particularly love the chains on the Champion. Put all together, the Khorne Bikers look quite dynamic- Pete did a good job of giving them a lot of motion and energy, which certainly fits Angron's progeny. They look as if they are racing in for the kill, or perhaps cutting off heads as they are speeding through.

I keep hearing that Bikers are good in this version of the Chaos Codex, so I am excited to give them a "spin" so to speak. Hehe!! I'll be trying them out as soon as I game again--- whenever that chance comes up.

I hope you enjoyed the pics. I'll have more Khorne goodness soon. Until next time...

Monday, August 12, 2013

2 Brief Movie Reviews: The Wolverine and Elysium and a Prediction

Hey there Chaos fans! Old man Chaos is back with a 2 for the price of 1 deal- Mrs. Chaos and I have seen 2 movies in the past two weeks- The Wolverine and Elysium. One had a lot to live up to, while the other desperately needed to improve on its predecessor. Did these movies achieve their goals? Well, let's take a quick look...

Elysium: I really enjoyed the director's previous effort, District 9. In that movie, Blomkamp and company created a complete, realistic futuristic world with a strong moral message at its core, an allegory for racism. It was a movie in the best sci-fi tradition. Now, with Elysium, Blomkamp has a bigger budget and more credit/goodwill- so, would he live up to that previous effort?

For the most part, he does. First and foremost, Blomkamp is truly successful in creating a gritty, wasted, and despairing future earth. Overpopulated, running out of resources, suffering environmental damage, and diseases still uncured- future earth is a rough, poor place. Making matters worse, the richest people have fled Earth, building a huge space station / habitat, complete with clean technology, robot guards and servants, and medical technology that can cure just about anything. These rich elitists are totally out of touch with Earth's problems, and actively try to shut their eyes regarding the plight of the rest of humanity. Indeed, though the political aspects are murky in the movie, it appears that the government on Elysium exercises a great deal of control over Earth, with security robots acting as the police.

So, the movie is clearly an allegory for the 99 percent versus the 1 percent. Although this concept was skewered in The Dark Knight Rises (Bane talks about taking Gotham back for "the people" but he's full of shit), it has always been a theme- the poor masses versus the rich. Though I have no problem with rich people being rich, I have a problem when the rich or the elites lord it over others, when they abuse their wealth and power. This movie clearly speaks to that theme, and it does so quite well, for the most part.

The movie is gritty and rough, with cool action scenes, some moments of real tension, and some solid acting. Matt Damon is Max, a regular guy who dreams of being on Elysium (as most people do)- he was a criminal, but is now trying to make an honest living, hoping to save money to get to Elysium (which most people don't, naturally- carrot and stick style). One day while working in a factory, he gets poisoned by radiation, and will die. Max decides to work with his old criminal partners to get to Elysium and be cured by their advanced medical technology. He is NOT a hero, he is just trying to save himself. Matt Damon does a good job, solid as the everyman. His nemesis is Kruger, an assassin working for the Elysium government sent to kill Max- he is vicious, but also quite intelligent and has is own ambitions. Played by Sharlto Copley, Kruger is a monster- a hit man with no soul, and he is a great foil for Max.

I don't want to give the story away, because it is worth seeing. There's some explosive action, and some great twists and turns. For me, the problem comes in at the end. District 9's ending was quite ambiguous. Here, the ending is far too Hollywood happy ending for this gritty movie. Indeed, the central problem of rich versus poor seems to be solved by the end--- huh? Really? No way. It could never be solved so easily. It was a bit of a false note, and I felt that it weakened the rest of the movie.

So, Elysium was a fun action ride, with great special effects building a gritty futuristic Earth, good thrills and suspense, solid acting, and some interesting moral questions to consider. However, the ending is far too sweet and neat for me- and it weakens the allegory and grit that was built up earlier in the movie. So, I'll give it 3 out of 4 Marks of Chaos.

 The Wolverine: Let's face it- the previous solo Wolverine movie pretty much sucked ass. I am actually a defender of X-Men 3 (all the main characters face a test of choosing the lesser of 2 evils and the human "antagonists" are not bad at all- they think they can cure these poor mutants), but X-Men Origins: Wolverine was just awful. Awful. Bad. Horrendous. Hugh Jackman was solid as usual as Wolverine, but the rest was sad. A non-sense, forgettable plot, bad casting (Liev Shriber is good, but he is NOT Sabertooth), too many mutants, and it doesn't fit into the timeline at all (perhaps I should forget that as even the books chronology is a mess). So, The Wolverine had quite a job ahead of it- it had to make people forget the bad predecessor, while also making Wolverine grow as a character. The movie does both quite well, as it turns out. They do a few smart things:

First, they fully acknowledge the events of X3. Wolverine murdered Jean Grey, his true love. Though he undoubtedly saved many lives (the world?) by killing the out of control mutant, it has brought him no peace. He has withdrawn from the X-Men, and is living alone in the woods, pretty much like an animal, going into town only to buy beer.

Second, they get Wolverine out of his comfort zone. A Japanese woman appears, asking Logan to go to Japan and say his goodbyes to a Yashida, a man he saved in World War II (told though some great flashbacks). By taking Wolverine to Japan, they have removed him from his regular habitat, so to speak. Wolverine is now an outsider in several ways- he's ancient, he's a mutant, and now he's in a foreign land. This leads to some great little scenes- some humorous, some deadly for Wolverine.

Third, they wisely cut back on the number of mutants. It seemed that with each new movie, there were more and more mutants, leading the audience to wonder if there are indeed any normal humans left! Here, there's only 3 mutants! Several members of the Yashida family look at Wolverine as a "dirty mutant". I think it was very wise to cut down the mutants- it makes this more realistic and also gives weight to what the mutants can do to impact everyone else (humanity at large), rather than just mutants firing blasts at each other.

Fourth, the plot is a bit complex, but not confusing. The central plot has the wealthy and dying Yashida offering Wolverine a "gift"- he can remove Logan's healing factor, thus allowing him to live a normal life. Logan would no longer suffer the "curse" of immortality (losing loved ones, endlessly fighting, etc.). Wolverine refuses, though he is sorely tempted by the offer. Then, Yashida dies, and there is an assassination attempt on Yashida's granddaughter, Mariko. Wolverine takes it upon himself to protect her, but makes a startling discovery- his healing factor is not working as it should, and he is barely able to heal from wounds. Between this an the murder attempt, Wolverine is plunged into a mystery, and he must keep himself and Mariko one step ahead of ninjas, Yakuza, assassins, and the police (no one can be trusted).

Finally, The scale of the movie is perfect, in my opinion. There's a lot at stake, but it isn't a world crisis or something. There's plenty of action, and some desperate moments. However, as comic book movies seem to get bigger and the stakes and destruction increase, its nice to see this movie have a bit more personal approach. This allows them to build up Logan as a character, and he slowly begins to rebuild himself, finding redemption and a new understanding in his quest to save Mariko.

Overall, The Wolverine is really, really good. The only thing that I disliked about it was that the character Viper was so underdeveloped. She is one of the major adversaries and very central to the plot, but her motivation is quite murky. Tying her in more thematically might have helped (is she an "animal" like Wolverine? That kind of thing). As it is, this movie is a huge step up from the lows of Origins, and I hope, that with this, First Class, and the upcoming Days of Future Past, that the X-Men are going to just get better and better, regaining their former glory. I give this 3 and a half marks of Chaos.

So, I also promised a Prediction, and it is about Days of Future Past. In the past few weeks, we have seen images of Sentinels, past/future versions of some key mutants, and our first glimpse of Bolivar Trask. Many are speculating, so I'm going to offer my own prediction. As I did with The Dark Knight Returns based on their first 2 trailers, I will do now (in abbreviated form) for Days of Future Past:

With Bryan Singer directing, you can look at what he's done previously and get a shrewd idea. X-2 was his version of Wrath of Khan, right down to mind control, a doomsday device that was a perverted from a better device, and even the death (and end narration) from Jean Grey. Superman Returns, of course, was based on the Donner Superman movie. I mean, right down to Lex Luther's ultimate scheme. Based on these two movies, you can see that Singer has done riffs based on other movies.

So, what does that mean for Days of Future Past. I believe that it will be a riff of Terminator 1 and 2. Naturally, I don't have all the holes filled, but the promo stuff showed Sentinels guarding the Reagan swearing in ceremony in 1981. Something happened in the past, that caused the Sentinels (terminators) to be in place, and thus leading to a massive attack on mutant kind. I don't quite know how this will square up with X 1-3 and The Wolverine, but let's just continue on this.

With the Sentinels wrecking havoc on mutantkind, Prof X and Magneto decide to send Wolverine back in time to prevent an incident that would put the Sentinels in motion. Obviously this will have something to do with the younger versions of X and Magneto- thus you get the First Class cast (Wolverine is now basically Kyle Reese from Terminator 1 or Ah-Nold from Terminator 2). 

So, what incident will Wolvie have to help stop? Hmmmm... Let's look at Bolivar Trask here. Now, there MUST be a reason that Peter Dinklidge was cast- it certainly isn't that he's going to be a 2-dimmensional villain that creates sentinels. Indeed, I view him as Miles Dyson- the guy who would create the computer program Skynet, which would usher in humanity's destruction. In Terminator 2 Dyson is building Skynet without realizing what it would one day become. Once he does, he tries his best to destroy his work. I suspect that Trask will be similar here- Dinklidge will play a brilliant guy who wants to help humanity, and some incident will make him create Sentinels, even if he doesn't know how bad they will become. His casting is crucial- he will be sympathetic, not villainous, indeed- as a "small person", he may be able to relate to mutants, being genetically different- and that might be key in getting him to stop his work.

So, that is my Prediction- Days of Future Past will borrow a great deal from the first 2 Terminator movies. I could be wrong, but that's just what I'm thinking... so there.

Until next time...

Saturday, August 3, 2013

2 Book Reviews For The Price of One: Mark of Calth and Space Wolves: Blood of Asaheim

Hey there Chaos goons! Old Man Chaos is back with a pair of book reviews- I promise I'll be brief here (I always try to be brief with the book reviews, but I end up writing too much). Today I'll be reviewing Mark of Calth and Space Wolves: Blood of Asaheim. One is fantastic, one is a disappointment. Which is which, you ask? Let's find out, shall we?

Mark of Calth (Anthology by various writers): If you have been reading this page, you know that I love the Horus Heresy books. Sure, not all of them are winners, but overall I love the rich tapestry this series is creating. We know how the Heresy ultimately ends (or do we? Or have we just been hearing Imperial propaganda about that final battle?), but each book takes a look at characters great and small, and events that are tearing the galaxy apart. In particular, the focus has moved to the "Shadow Crusade", the war to sever the realm of Ultramar from the rest of the galaxy- thus allowing the forces of Horus to move against Terra without fighting the Ultramarines. Of course, there is a lot more at stake here, which is why Know No Fear and Betrayer were both so great- You have this terrible war going on, but there's a lot of other things happening, particularly the ongoing rivalry between Lorgar and Guilliman, the politics within the Word Bearers, little nuggets about "the perpetuals", and, particularly amusing/compelling, the fate of Angron. I read Know No Fear and Betrayer back to back, and it was just amazing, with Abnett and Dembski-Bowden giving a fantastic one-two punch. I was thrilled to see the announcement of the anthology Mark of Calth- more action and intrigue in the Shadow Crusade...

Well, it dawned on me as I delved into it- these anthologies rarely go well. Every anthology I've read from Black Library is always the same- there's a couple of good ones, and a bunch (more) bland or even bad ones. Sadly, this is the same, despite the excellent backdrop. The best one was by Abnett, which followed Oll Persson and his group as they escape from Calth. Oll is a "perpetual"- and the hints dropped here about these "perpetuals" is just fascinating- are they the actual biological children of the Emperor? Are they like the Emperor, but just not as powerful? I loved that Oll was disdainful of the Emperor's "game" as he called it, and quite resentful that he's been drawn into it. Also, John Grammaticus makes an appearance too (always welcome). The other tale I really enjoyed was by John French regarding the origins and "path" of one particular ceremonial chaos knife- from its crafting to its role on Calth. The story was told in an interesting way (someone is telling the knife about its blood-soaked history), and the ending was connected very well both to Know No Fear and the Oll story.

The others, sadly, just weren't that good. There's a short bit about Marduk from the Word Bearers series- I want to read the other two books in that, but I haven't had the chance to- that said, the story was OK at best (though perhaps that's because I haven't read all of Marduk's adventures). Then there's the first story about Erebus learning about the ceremonial knives and such- the story kind of just goes nowhere. Unfortunately, the rest of the anthology is the same, with stories about the "Underground War" that are just kind of dull. Worst of all, the short story by Dembski-Bowden is fairly bad. Its about a Word Bearer that realizes that Lorgar has screwed a good chunk of the legion- a Chaos fanatic having a crisis of faith. While this is a cleaver conceit, again it just kind of goes nowhere because of the rather poor ending (it kinda never happened). I think Dembski-Bowden should keep to telling longer stories (Night Lords? Word Bearers? World Eaters? Grey Knights? He's good with all of them!).

So, this is a big disappointment- a couple of good stories can't save the whole- See, I have low expectations when it comes to things like Treacheries of the Space Marines... but when it's Horus Heresy AND about Calth- I was hoping for more. As it stands, I'll give it 2 out of 4 Marks of Chaos.

Space Wolves: Blood of Asaheim (BoA) by Chris Wright: While I had enjoyed Wright's previous book, Battle of the Fang, I regarded it more as a conclusion to Thousand Sons and Prospero Burns than anything else (and it was indeed a worth companion to those two, no doubt). After I finished Mark of Calth, I really wanted something that would be good- to get the bad taste of Calth out of my mouth. Now, I wasn't sure what to pick- I had heard that BoA was really good- when I checked the description, it said that a Space Wolf squad was going up against the Plague Marines... my biggest (and favorite) army. Well, that piqued my interest. Now, would it be any good?

Oh hell yeah. This book was absolutely fantastic. One of the best Black Library books I have ever read- I'd put it up there with the best from McNeil, Abnett, and Dembksi-Bowden. The book is one part zombie/horror story, one part epic city siege, reminding me of the attack on Gondor from Lord of the Rings. Basically, a small squad of Space Wolves called Jarnhamar has been sent to aid a battalion of Sisters of Battle on a world that is under attack (they don't know what, as astropathic communication has failed). The squad gets there and discover that the forces of Nurgle are all over the place- as the plague spreads, the defenders become infected and become part of the invading host- growing like a cancer until only the holy shrine city remains. The Space Wolves face overwhelming odds, as they must not only fight such a massive force without any further aid, but they must also bolster the defenses and boost the human morale. They face further complications in dealing with the Sisters of Battle, with whom the Wolves don't have a good track record. The result is a tense and action packed story, with a real see-saw battle that sees zombies, cultists, siege engines, and of course, a handful of Plague Marines running rampant.

While all of that is great, it would be for naught if the main characters weren't interesting, and here is where Wright really, truly shines. This cadre of Space Wolves is one of the best set of characters I have come across in the Black Library. Gunnlaugur is the leader of Jarnhamar, and frankly, things have been better for them. They have lost several members of the pack, and they have been constantly been sent on missions, without any real respite. They have been worn down, inevitably and inexorably, by the constant warfare of the 41st millennium. They are fighters and warriors without peer, but they are getting strained and wearied.

What makes this squad work is the through line in the book- people questioning their place (in the squad, in the scheme of things, etc.). Gunnlaugur is the leader by default, as the previous Wolf Guard died years before without selecting a successor. Gunnlaugur is brave and strong, but he is haunted by self doubt. This is only exacerbated when Ingvar comes back to the squad. Ingvar seemed to be the natural leader, but he had been selected for the Deathwatch. Now, 50 years later he is back, and he is questioning his place- he's a wolf, but he has learned so much from other chapters in the Deathwatch- he now questions the teachings of Russ. Further, he questions Gunnlaugur' s decisions, which puts the two characters at odds, and makes for great tension at key points. The rest of the Wolf squad is equally good, such as Halfoi, the young Blood Claw recruit who isn't sure about being in such a squad of old-timers, and Jorundur, the oldest Wolf, who is growing more and more weary (and sarcastic). The other members include Valtyir the swordsman who must constantly prove his worth, and one wolf who has a secret that may cost the squad dearly.

The interactions among the squad are great- sometimes humorous, sometimes serious, but always compelling. They are both super human and sympathetic all at the same time. They are brash and heroic, but not invincible. However, the main idea of "knowing your place" is present for each character, and I think its great that a Black Library book is capable of asking a bigger question. Drawing on that further is the parallel that is made between Jarnhamar squad and the Death Guard. Wright portrays the Death Guard is impossibly ancient and weary. They are tired of war, tired of endless strife, but they believe that they know their "place", which is to tear the Imperium down, and spread that weariness and illness throughout. If Wright wants to write a book from the Plague Marine perspective (a la Dembski-Bowden's Night Lords trilogy) he has my full support!

I don't want to give away the ending (or some of the twists in between), but I believe that it is just one of the better stories from the Black Library. The book is, of course, just the beginning for squad Jarnhamar, and I can't wait to see more! I give it 4 out of 4 Marks of Chaos.

I was so inspired by Ingvar and his Deathwatch background that I have decided to read the book Deathwatch next. I'll let you know how that goes. Until next time...