The Wolf Is Loose

The world of Warhammer 40k is not like our own. That really should be clear by now but sometimes I feel it’s still overlooked. There may be super-soldiers, space battles, teleporters and lasers aplenty but this is not the future. In spite of the knights, the medieval and monastic overtones, the zealotry of the Inquisition and the daily burning of heretics this isn’t the past either. This is its own beast, a complicated fantasy where daemons really do walk amongst us, legions of ten thousand year old villains plot eternal revenge and elves laugh from the gulfs of space as the realms of men crumble. Dying heroes are locked within walking sarcophagi so they might march out and fight again. The power of wizards is a known, albeit rarely trusted, element in the fabric of society. The Imperium of Man is a crumbling fortress, a bastion of civilisation surrounded not by the dark depths of the wildwood but the even darker depths of space. It’s just that some of the wolves that lurk out there in the wild places are not devils but heroes.

Some would accuse modern 40k of being sterile, of lacking the feral intensity it possessed back in the early days. Leaving the shackles of nostalgia aside for a moment (and let’s be honest, that has a lot to do with it) do they have a point? Much as the oldhammer crowd might love to keep the spirit of the elder (not eldar) models alive there’s no shaking the fact that modern sculpting blows the old stuff out of the water. Want proof? Take a look at the old Bloodthrister, the one we suffered until less than a year ago. Sculpting, however, does not equate to spirit.
Old 40k was weird and rebellious. New 40k is nuanced and complex. We’ve pushed back the boundaries of the known, filled in the blank spaces with official cannon and driven the wild beasts of our imagination into the darkest corners. Now even those dark weird corners are coming under the spotlight; the strange things that make 40k different and iconic are being realised in modern plastics. We’ve had the eldar’s clown-actors that guard a secret library. We’ve had the priest-engineers that coax life into the troubled ghosts of ancient engines they no longer understand. Now it’s the turn of the barbarian super-solider knights who’re actually werewolves.
Any drunk fool can come up with ideas this mad, hodgepodgeing concepts together into a messy lump of ‘wouldn’t it be cool if…’. The brilliance has been in making it compelling.
I know people, and I’m sure we all do, who struggle with fantasy and science fiction. They flounder, unable to stretch their imaginations around it all. Please keep in mind that I mean to cast no aspersions here – it is what it is. They’re flustered by it. “But it’s not real”, they cry, “It’s just a fantasy. Orcs and elves don’t really exist!” Most, if not all, of us reading this blog do not, I suspect, suffer from this problem. We almost certainly find orcs and elves altogether too real. Nonetheless when someone told me, via the pages of a very old White Dwarf magazine, that some heroic werewolves had spent 10,000 years hunting down a (compelling if regularly villainous) baddie through a weird patch of space where actual daemons lurked around every corner and I bought into it without missing a beat… Well, suffice to say that was a fine day for the imagination.

I loved Abnett’s shamanic portrayal of the Wolves in Prospero Burns (and in spite of the book’s flaws it remains a standout from the Horus Heresy series). I have high hopes that when I sit down to read Aaron Dembski-Bowden’s depiction of Ragnar Blackmane I’ll be similarly enthralled. Beyond this however the poor old Wolves haven’t had the best of times in recent years. Whilst other factions have developed layers of complexity and depth the sons of Fenris have turned into Space Vikings who somehow manage to maintain close friendships with wolves – whilst at the same time wearing wolves. Then again this is 40k where the average serf dreams of someday finding work as a servo-skull so maybe things aren’t so different for the average wolf who hopes that, if he works hard and dedicates himself to the Allfather, he might end up becoming a Space Marine’s coat.

Yo dog, we heard you liked wolves so we put a wolf on your werewolf Space Wolf…

There’s a bit of a recurring theme of Space Wolf miniatures showing good ideas shoddily executed. I rather like the current crop of dreadnaughts – and Murderfang, much though he is hated in some corners of the internet, smacks of raw genius to me. Whoever thought “Hmmm…. Wulfen are cool. Dreadnaughts are cool. Let’s put a Wulfen in a Dreadnaught!” and then actually pulled it off is owed a pint by me. I’m also rather fond of the Stormfang (I known right, everybody hates that model, whatever is wrong with me?). In fact I continue to believe that covering the front end of it with orky-buzzsaws and turning it into a World Eaters attack craft is one of the best things I haven’t built yet.

Sadly the GW team are still struggling to design decent looking wolves. The Fenrisian wolves may be better than those awful lumps that the Warhammer goblins have to ride around on but they still look fairly ropey to anyone who’s seen an actual wolf. Or a modern miniature for that matter. The Thunderwolf Cavalry are a bit better but not to such a degree that they can carry the show on their own. As for Logan Grimnar’s wolf-drawn flying boat – I want to love it, I really do. If we’re going to have space Vikings then let’s really go for it with a model that’s burst out of Norse myth via the grim darkness of the 41st Millennium. I keep trying to tell myself that the model itself isn’t too bad, that it’s the studio colour scheme and cartoony style that lets it down. Some days I almost believe myself…

Leman Russ – back in the days when Primarchs were smaller and wolves were sculpted to look like wolves. No idea who painted this I’m afraid, or if its an official model or not, so if anyone knows who deserves credit speak out.

I want to like the Wolves. Maybe it’s fair to say I want this too much. They are a proud, feral warrior brotherhood, a holdover from more heroic days. They are the Imperium’s outsiders, the noble savages who go their own way. Regardless of who tells them otherwise they stand together and fight for what’s right. Heroes are thin on the ground in 40k. Outside of a dog a wolf might just be man’s best friend. When the Wolves drove off the agents of the Ecclesiarchy I cheered with the best of them.
None of which changes the fact that, more often than not, the complexities of these shamanic warriors are pushed aside and we end up stuck with the cartoon Space Vikings – and none of the nuance of real Vikings. At times it all feels a little cut-and-pasted. They feast in mead halls (in space!), they worship Space-Odin, they cover themselves in Space-runes. It brings us back neatly to the discrepancy between complex-40k and simplistic-40k. Sometimes the people of Fenris appear as a shamanistic hardship culture, tribal, totemistic and predator emulating. Other times they live in a Hagar the Horrible theme park. And can someone explain how a planet with no obvious plant life still manages to support such a large population of alpha predators – all of whom have nothing to do all day but battle each other? Far better the haunting glimpses of beasts in the icy wastes and the chilling question – if there are no wolves on Fenris then who howls in the night?
In the most recent codex the fiction took another turn for the worse with the introduction of a crudely bolted-on ‘magical-winter’ theme. Glimmerfrost crystals are used to power ice-weapons and at one point the wolves even battle a pack of Ice Trolls. One feels that smart-arse remarks like “World of Warcraft just called, they want their IP back” might send GW’s layers into a flurry though so let’s move swiftly on.

Stormcaller 1

I’ve never painted a Space Wolf so here’s one by mate Sam instead. Check out more of his work here.

The background fiction for the Wulfen has always been pretty unequivocal – their return to real-space heralds the Time of Ending – or more accurately The Wolf Time. Obviously, given what’s happened just across the wall in Warhammer itself, this has caused much wailing and gnashing of teeth amongst those who think that GW may be about to kill the golden goose. What about the models themselves though? Are they worthy of all the hype and consternation that surrounds them?

Well, at first glance I’ll admit I was a little disappointed. Overall it’s undoubtedly a mixed bag with some definite hits and, unfortunately, a few misses as well. Take a look at this one for instance:
Overall I think he’s rather impressive and a lot of boxes are definitely being ticked. The snarling expression is suitably fierce and animalistic and the hair is a wildly dishevelled mane without the appearance of being styled that way (some of the ‘standard Space Wolves’ undoubtedly spend too long in front of the mirror applying gel). The armour is battered and has clearly been subject to numerous field repairs down the millennia and all the expected trinkets and trophies are in place. The pose is full of power and energy and those wolf skulls on the backpack are dying to be snipped off and used as helms for your wolf lords, wolf priests or whomever else.
On the other hand the gun on the backpack looks a bit tacked on and impractical and GW still haven’t worked out how to transition between bare flesh and fur (having presumably learned nothing from the fantasy beastmen and their chest wigs).

Not all of them however are quite so successful. The squad’s leader, for instance, appears to be the victim of the creative team trying too hard, robbed of instant-classic status by his weird dancer’s pose. All the components are in place, and the paint job is considerably better than on his squad mates (more on that later) but his stance suggests landing with style rather than launching with ferocity and that’s not right. It’s all about displaying the character of the creature depicted, rather than simply what it’s capable of. Yes, a Wulfen does have the poise, balance and acrobatic skill to make an excellent ballerina – it’s just that it would rather be ripping your head off.

This one in particular bothers me and one has to ask if the studio team were having an off day when they put it together. Unfortunately the only image I’ve managed to find of it so far is rather small – it’s almost as though GW were hiding it at the back and hoping we wouldn’t notice. Hopefully once better images start to circulate I’ll be able to update this post with something easier to make out.
Of course there’s a lot to be said for the twisted, animalistic super-warrior looking into the dead eyes of the skull and recognising the humanity that both have lost (regardless of the fact that they undoubtedly nicked the idea from me). However why would he do that whilst running full pelt? Is he in fact just throwing the skull over his shoulder? What’s going on with his other paw – swatting at a fly? If someone had put this together as a conversion I’d suggesting they swapped out a few components to make the model more cohesive and give it more direction – as a part of the studio showcase though I’d say it’s unacceptable.
Oh and I’m sure I’m not the only one who, when he saw the first blurry images that ‘leaked’ online, thought this wolf was looking at himself in a little hand-mirror or possibly taking a selfie?

The last time the Wulfen were roaming our tabletops this was how they looked. I’m not going to pretend, out of nostalgia or otherwise, that they were without their flaws but they’re still models I remember fondly. The teeth on the blade of the leader is a nice touch and the faces are generally far superior to most of their modern counterparts. The biggest difference though is in the legs. Where the new Wulfen have bestial hocks and paws the older models simply had the legs of ordinary Space Marines. Whilst the latter lacks a little in terms of imagination I actually prefer it to the new iteration which at times seems overly obvious and equally uninspired. Surely something midway between the two could have been possible? After all this is the studio itself were talking about, the creative fountainhead from which Games Workshop’s world renowned product line springs. Surely when there are people out there creating Space Wolf models as good as these GW should be rising to the challenge of making models that are even better, even fiercer and more impressive. They’ve shown time and again recently that there is a reason that they still stand at the top of their field – the Blightkings, the Bloodthirster, the Ad Mech, all have proven their skills as leaders in miniature design. There is no need to aim low here, these are the Wulfen. Any potential customer already knows what they are buying into, knows that we’re off the edge of the map, into the dark corners of the 40k universe. Here be dragons indeed. The lowest common denominator have no place here. In the end I almost feel that the designers have acted like the Adeptus Mechanicus themselves – not fully capturing the creativity of yesteryear, merely replicating it.

It’s become a bit of a cliché but I suspect that the Wulfen would look better painted differently. The studio scheme makes them too clean ad that robs them of a lot of their impact. I understand the need to maintain visual cohesion across the range as a marketing tool but just think how much more impact the Wulfen would have if they were painted in pre-heresy colours. Take a look at the two schemes side by side (30k on the left, 40k on the right):
Regardless of whether the 13th Company paused in their marauding, set aside the hunt for Abaddon and Magnus and sat down to repaint their armour, wouldn’t the darker scheme alone give them greater visual impact? Right now they are too bright, too heroic, too much like cartoon characters. Look again at the first piece of art I showed above. That to me is how the Wulfen should look, the Imperium’s own monsters, equal in their ferocity and rage to the daemons they battle. These are creatures of nightmare, monsters who come tearing out of the darkness and never for a moment seem like golden heroes. There is no glorious war here, no champions, just vicious, rage-filled animals tearing their victims apart with their hands.

Wolf gone bad: leaving aside the hints of chaos these traitor Space Wolves from Alex of Leadballoony has a feral intensity that the official Wulfen fail to match. Mördaren (on the left) in particular has something of the werewolf about him.

Overall though I’d call this kit a success, although it’s not one that will reach its full potential painted to the studio style and assembled to match the figures on the box. Swap a few components in, paint them darker and grubbier, emphasise their monstrousness and you’ll be well on the way to creating your own pack of werewolves truly worthy of the 41st Millenium.

The Wulfen have always been exemplars of everything that makes 40k so magnificent, everything that pulls me back to it time and time again. The models themselves could have been better executed but there’s always room for clever converters to make improvements. 40k was missing its wolves, it was weaker without them and regardless of their flaws I’m glad to see them back.

All images, unless otherwise credited, belong to Games Workshop and are used with a flagrant disregard for permission.

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22 responses to “The Wolf Is Loose

  • bigbossredskullz

    I’m actually not very excited about these despite being a huge 13th fan. I suspect the paintjob as usual let the models down instead of lifting them up but I feel the wulfen gene is to dominant and the cobbled together and worn armor is toned to much down. I’ll reserve final verdict until someone gives these the gritty reboot.

    • Wudugast

      You make an excellent point actually – fans of the 13th company are unlikely to be wanting something as clean and heroic as these, whilst those who prefer their Space Wolves square-jawed and gallant are more likely to collect Ultramarines… ahem… perhaps I should say, are less likely to want their 13th in their collection.
      And yet again I’m left feeling that there was a lack of imagination at play here, instead of fusing together wolf elements with more human/technological elements, it just appears to be a straight graft – stick some paws on it and it’s done.

  • Alex

    Thanks for the mention mate & nice write-up 🙂 I’m on the fence with this new release… nice bits, great ideas, but a bit silly looking if you ask me :-/

    • Wudugast

      Exactly. I suspect there may have been a design directive to avoid them looking too gritty in order to make it clear to the uninitiated that these were the ‘good guys’ and not chaos. Still they can be redeemed by conversions, and they can provide lots of useful bits to make the rest of a Wolves army look more feral, but they’re a long way from what they could have been.

  • imperialrebelork

    I have only read a third of this post so far and I am loving it. You have a fantastic writing style. You should seriously write a book. I’ll be back later to read the rest.

  • imperialrebelork

    The Wulfen look good for kit bashing.

  • imperialrebelork

    You actually made me laugh out loud with this little nugget…

    sons of Fenris have turned into Space Vikings who somehow manage to maintain close friendships with wolves – whilst at the same time wearing wolves.

    Ahahaha.

    I like the Wolfies because they’re futurist vikings. I love vikings. These new models aren’t doing too much for me though.

    • Wudugast

      Cheers! I do ‘get’ the Viking elements to the Wolves, and of course it makes sense from an anthropological perspective that a sea-faring hardship culture from an icy planet would evolve in a similar direction to the Norse. However the Wolves often seem to lack a lot of the complexity and nuances of Viking culture which makes them seem a bit superficial (again leaving aside the likes of Prospero Burns etc). They needed the werewolf side of the coin to give them depth though – hence why I’m glad to see them back – but they dropped the ball on the models big time.

      Having said all that I do agree with you that these look like a kit bashers’ treasure trove. I didn’t really dig into this in the article but there’s a lot to be explored here for making feral marines from both sides of the chaos/imperial divide.

  • SLMNN

    What a great post! A really good, analytic read. Have to say I agree with you on almost everything. I really can’t wrap my head around how these new wolfen are so toy-like and somehow oddly proportioned in light of the all new great releases

    • Wudugast

      Thanks! If there hadn’t been so many other great releases recently perhaps the Wulfen would look better but GW must be aware that anything they release will be compared against other recent models. I love that the Blightkings are so convertable but I’d love them a lot less if it wasn’t for the fact that they make a damn fine looking unit assembled straight out of the box.

  • Ruins of Arotha

    I really dont like the new wulfen, very missed design opportunities I think. Nice article though 🙂

    • Wudugast

      I know – even though I see the opportunities to improve them it seems all too obvious that we shouldn’t have to do these things, GW should have done them for us. Converting models at its best should be about taking something already good and improving it, not making it into what it should have been.
      Glad you liked my tribute to the wulfen though 🙂

      • Ruins of Arotha

        I can’t help but think that maybe the new Wulfen kit should’ve been a little more like the CSM Possessed in a way. Maybe not sooo chaotic, but at least a bit mis-matched. The new models all have matching feet/claws, matching facial mutations and even matching armour sections. They look and feel too clean like you said and could’ve done with being more feral. The gymnast pose really doesn’t help either…what the hell happened there? It reminded me of the CSM Raptors and their power-ranger poses haha

      • Wudugast

        I suspect they decided they wanted to avoid looking too chaotic (small c) in order to reinforce the idea that these guys weren’t Chaos (big c). However I agree with you that they missed a trick there – the 13th have always blurred the lines between what is morally acceptable in our society (we would generally see them as heroes on a ten thousand year quest to halt evil) vs the Imperium’s idea of morality (they are mutants and deviants). I also like the vagueness that used to surround them in the background fiction (not sure how this ties into the modern iteration of them in Curse of the Wulfen). Did Russ send them to hunt down the traitors, did they go tearing off of their own accord like wild dogs or did they succumb to the chaos in their souls and go to join the heretics in exile? Are they still loyal servants of the Imperium or are they planning to betray it? I remember, at least in the fiction, that the cannibalised chaos armour into their own – but was this a sign of their new allegiance or just what was necessary to survive all those millennia in the Eye? All these questions gave the Wulfen depth – they don’t work so well as clean cut goodies (again, in terms of the models, haven’t seen the new fiction).

        Another thing that would have been nice about more variety would have been to create models at all stages of transformation from ‘human in need of a shave’ to ‘wolf wearing broken armour’. Think of the amazing looking squads that could have been created that way! Of course, we can still do this ourselves, but with a lot more unnecessary leg work.

  • Thousand Eyes

    Well said that man. Sadly the painting style of standard GW minis was never really going to work for these.

    • Wudugast

      Cheers 🙂 Yeah, it’s much too clean. Once I see the first grubby, Blanchian one – or even just some bare plastic – then I’ll feel happier making the call on whether I like them or not (or more accurately, how much I like them in execution as opposed to in concept!)

  • Arkhangelsk

    Excellent write up. As someone whos not seen those old models before, I think they actually look better than the new. But I understand why they have them so mutated, they’ve been in the warp how long? I think they went too soft on them though. They should be a bit more vicious looking, maybe wearing less armor even, an ambiguous good guy element to them would be nice.

    Holy shit some of those poses though, I suspect it might be to get all the weapons looking right, but geez, squadleader is straight out of karate kid and the guy holding the skulls, well maybe hes just doing hamlet? “Be all my sins remembered” … fitting maybe.

    I like the wolfen because I like what they represent. That good and evil, chaos, can be subjective even in this world. Which is why I like the Crimson Slaughter, people trying to do good and only paving their way to damnation. I hope we get the continuation of this story, obviously the wolfen are here to stay but how is the rest of the Imperium going to react to them?

    Angrons probably having a good chuckle to himself over the crazy mutated wolves that encourage others to loose themselves in the killing. Maybe some khornate wolfen counts as beserkers would be good hehe.

    I look forward to seeing how people paint these, your right about maybe a paint job might make them look all the better, heresy armor or changing the skin tone to look a bit more fucked up would be good I think, making sure that all the fur is the same colour, even the hair.

    • Wudugast

      Wow – what an essay! Lots of great points in there mate. Those old Wulfen had a real charm to them didn’t they? I can’t help but think that the designer knew when to stop with them more than the designer of the current crop.

      I completely agree on the point about the road to hell being paved with good intentions as a recurring theme throughout 40k – not just for the Crimson Slaughter (although they are a particularly tragic example) but also for most of the Chaos Legions and the Imperium itself. Even though I don’t want to see the story of 40k advanced very much (it’s a setting not a novel – adding new narrative hooks is great but no need to push it on beyond the point where its recognisable) I would like to see the Wulfen bedded in a little more. Before they were very much an unknown element lurking around both sides of the Cadian Gate – now they’re back on Fenris and half the Imperium is mucking in. Then again I suspect that its just a case of each faction getting moved a step closer to their suggested end-game as we’ve seen with all the recent codexes (Orks prepare for Great Waargh! Blood Angels rally their successors to defend Baal etc).

      Oh and the suggestion of Khornate Wulfen is a good one, and already supported by the background. Alternatively they could be kitbashed into all kinds of area beasts or monstrous spawn to be used by the World Eaters. If I recall correctly there was a snippet in one of the Dark Eldar codexes about the DE making Wulfen from captured Space Wolfs so maybe there’s potential there to make converted Clawed Fiends or Grotesques as well.

      • Arkhangelsk

        So just read this bit last night in the campaign book, they sorta explain why they’ve got the armour that they do and the weapons.

        Paraphrasing; Iron Priest Swordssomethingviking went among the wulfen that Harald brought back, looked at their armour and managed to remove it. Its described as basicly scraps of metal, he then reforged some more fitting space marine armour and gave it to them to replace the areas where it was scrap.

        Weapon wise the standard weapons were too small for them, TH/SS were fine for them though. Also one of them grabbed what was thought to be an antique weapon off the wall but was perfect for the Wulfen. So Mr Iron Priest ran around checking out all the old stuff and finding it might have been designed for the Wulfen all along! dun dun daaaah. They;ve just been sitting around for 10,000 years and no one had worked that out or tried to give them to terminators or any other possibility. Also there was some plans for grenade launchers that only worked with the Wulfen bio signatures for control or some shit.

        Yeah… armour makes sense.. the weapons goes off the deep end a little, but so far most of the book does.

      • Wudugast

        Wow, that sounds a bit contrived – were the weapons made of Wulferite by any chance?

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