As if the Thousand Son’s release last autumn wasn’t exciting enough the Death Guard are here, a fully realised Chaos Legion as distinct – indeed arguably even more so – from the Chaos Space Marines as the Space Wolves are from the Space Marines. This is something that we Chaos fans have been banging on about wanting to see pretty much forever so there’s no way I was going to let the occasion pass without comment. Let the suffering of the False Emperor’s servants begin!
Needless to say this release has been hotly anticipated not just since GW teased us with shots of the Sons of Barbarus back in the spring, nor even since we saw the Thousand Sons last autumn, but pretty much as far back as there have been chaos fans who looked at the love and attention GW lavished on their loyalist cousins and dared to dream. Let’s not forget after all that the first ever codex to be released covered the Space Wolves, yet for a very long time it seemed that even to hope for the same treatment for the traitors was to imagine the ridiculous. To even suggest that such a thing might some day be possible was to invite ridicule with many chaos fans, as stubborn and bitter as the legionaries they unleash on the tabletop, insistent that GW would never indulge us as they have the Emperor’s pampered lapdogs.
Unsurprisingly then this release has also been hotly debated. We’ve been waiting for it for so long that expectation management has gone out of the window. Everyone agrees that something foul has been unleashed upon the galaxy but the gloves are off when it comes to the question of whether that’s in a good way or not. Hobbyists are divided; is this mana from a particularly pestilent heaven or an affront to the eyes and an affront to the sensibilities? For some anything less than perfection will be an insult, for others the fact that GW has acknowledged our existence at all is justification for grovelling abasement. For those of you without a strong opinion on the subject, but who want to join in on the general bickering, I’m here to help. Simply pass off my thoughts as your own and hey presto – heated argument can be yours!One of the most popular criticisms levelled at the Death Guard is that they are too heavily mutated, that they should be more restrained, the dreadfulness of their disease ravished forms a subtle horror that creeps up on the viewer as the model is explored rather that leaping at them bombastically from the moment you open the box. It’s a complaint I can certainly sympathise with, although I enjoy a good mutation myself my vision of the 41st Millennium also calls for a degree of nuance and realism.
Part of the problem, as ever, are the studio paint jobs. With almost every release from GW you hear the same refrain (and I’ll confess I’m as guilty of this as the rest of us). “I don’t like it”, we cry, “it looks too cartoony!” Then we see the bare plastic, or a version painted in a suitably grubby, gritty, Blanchian style and suddenly we realise it’s not so bad after all. The Death Guard encapsulate this to a T – and we shouldn’t blame GW for that, their hands were tied on this from the beginning.
At the end of the day the Citadel house style is all about making the models look bright and sharp, having them pop out at a distance, and not about making them look too real. This is particularly true with Nurgle – these models are thick with open sores and weeping wounds, spilled guts hanging from rotting flesh, fly-like mutations and crawling maggots. Paint these bad boys as too realistic and people will be loosing their lunches left, right and centre. Certainly that kid who’s trying to convince his mum to put some Blightlord’s on her credit card is going to be out of luck if the outside of the box looks like a still from a particularly gruesome slasher flick.We’re also familiar with Plague Marines of a less mutated stripe than we’re seeing now. We’ve been sticking horns and spikes onto loyalist space marines and greenstuffing on guts to create our own Plague Marines that we’ve become used to it. Now when we see a bunch of hideous mutants shambling towards us with murder in mind we react with horror rather than embracing them as we should. Yet our situation hasn’t really changed, it’s just reversed. Whereas once we had to stick extra mutations on to our models now we need to snip them off but the result is the same, if you don’t like the models that come in the box then change them. Nothing will ever be good enough to please everyone after all.
Many dislike the level of mutation on the new models, accusing them of being cluttered and defined by their horns, tentacles and other mutations. Personally I like my 40k models to be “blinged-up” but it really is a matter of taste. That said I’m pleased to see that most of them don’t have their guts hanging out – it’s a powerful look but the shock value of it has been reduced by the fact that for a while every Nurgle model was suffering from it.
Beneath the mutations however these models still owe a lot to the original Death Guard designs.
Exciting though the new Death Guard are, we do not need to be passive consumers here, fat little baby birds glutted with new plastic toys but still begging hungrily for more from GW. The New GWTM prides itself on listening to the fans, but listening to the fans is a dangerous and soul destroying business akin of wading through a river of sewage. Visit any website where more than a handful of GW fans are gathered together and the complaining of the entitled becomes a deafening chorus. Yet why should we build our shrines to the GW cargo cult and wait for the gods in Nottingham to deliver us a bounty only to moan that the sculpts we receive have too many tentacles (or not enough)? No-one was asking for Sky-dwarves or crying out for an expanded range of treemen whilst Sisters of Battle fans continue to pour their rage into the uncaring void and receive nothing.
Our hobby is one of craftspeople and it is at its best when we embrace that. If you love the new Death Guard get them painted. If you hate them make them better. If you want to see Chaos developed to the level and depth which it deserves get on and develop it. We don’t need to sit in a passive aggressive-sulk waiting for GW to see fit to provide us with a fully realised suite of plastic models for the Iron Warriors or an Alpha Legion codex – we are Chaos fans and born convertors. Our hobby lives and breaths through the efforts of those who push the envelope, who refuse to accept what they have been given by GW but strive to make it better, to fit it to their own vision. Without such creatives it would wither and become stale and be swept aside by newer, flashier pastimes (and now you know why I chose to name this blog the way I did).
It’s this that makes events like #MakeTheDeathGuardGreatAgain so exciting to me. Now without wishing to open up a political debate or imply criticism of any politicians or their voters, the phrase “Make (insert cause here) Great Again” has been used by such massive arseholes lately that it’s now so toxic even Mortarion won’t touch it. Truthfully just that hashtag was enough to put me off the whole idea at first, especially as I think the new Death Guard are pretty damn great to begin with. However once I got over that I actually got pretty excited about the idea.
Plus, as I’ve noted above, I love a grittier, darker, more honest version of the 41st Millennium than the somewhat over-the-top style favoured by GW. Hopefully #MDGGA will bring out the Inq28/Blanchian creative streak which would lend so much to Mortarion’s sons and I highly recommend that anyone who’s dissatisfied with the new models (or even those like me who love them) get’s involved.
Another complaint levelled at the new Death Guard is the odd proportions of their torsos (the old rib-cage-fusing-straight-onto-the-pelvis ailment that marred pre-primaris space marines). Having suffered for my art and googled images of fat men I’m still unconvinced by this.
People will say “of course their proportions are odd, it’s Nurgle, they’re all mutated in there” but that’s a cop-out. The truth is their proportions are odd because they’re really fat. These are not the Primaris marines who have the chiselled torsos of Greek gods under that armour. The Death Guard may well be muscular but they carry a lot of weight with it.
Then we need to factor in the weight and thickness of power armour. After all this is the 41st Millennium where everything is outsized and over-engineered. Sci-fi which chooses to depict a shiny, hopeful future may provide its soldiers with formfitting, bullet deflecting body-armour which owes its life-saving properties to the wonders of technology but in the 40k universe such heresy is best left to filthy xenos like the Eldar. Humans, regardless of which gods they worship, know that the best way to make armour better is to make it thicker.
So is it really fair to claim that their proportions are wrong? Time to break out the artist’s dummies!
Well, I’m satisfied but, as a picture is worth a thousand words, you can make up your own mind.
Another complaint about the marines we saw released in the past was just how short they were – hardly the towering warrior giants described in the background. Thankfully GW seem have woken up to this glaring error at last. Seen next to a Primaris marine the new models remain suitably bulky and imposing.
And now we see why the defenders of the Cadian gate were so worried – there were fully armoured Chaos Marines in there that were actually taller than guardsmen!
Whilst old-fashioned space marines look more ridiculous than ever now that they’re surrounded by sensibly proportioned models.
Plus, I’m pleased to see that my old Blightking based Chosen fit rather well alongside the new Plague Marines and can look forward to being incorporated into the ranks of my new squads.
Ah, how our little family has grown!
This also seems like a good time to mention the Thousand Sons. Although not quite on the same scale as the Death Guard and the Primaris they come pretty close and, in spite of my inclination to rail at GW for the kind of fence-sitting that’s left the sons of Magnus looking a little short beside their brother legions, they’re close enough that a few spacers will save the day. Simply by blue-tacking this one together I’ve added enough height that he can meet a Primaris’s gaze.
And I could hardly move on without a power-armoured line up for those like me who like to see who’s tall and who’s not. Just keep in mind that the Thousand Son is a little longer in the neck than he will be once his head is glued in place.
One thing that’s slightly marred this release for me has been the number of extra releases tacked on, seeming only by way of spinning a little extra money for GW. Whilst the plague marines in Dark Imperium and First Strike were excellent, did we really need things like the Plague Brethren as well? Surely with so many plague marine champions already available (one in the Dark Imperium boxset, one in First Strike and one in the plague marine box itself), did we really need another one; particularly one that’s aimed straight at the completists and hobbyists on higher incomes? Nice though this model may it brings nothing to the release beyond a unique head and a humorous nurgling – the latter of which could be converted easily from a spare nurgling and leftover helmet, both things that Death Guard fans are likely to have lying around in abundance.
Plus, amazing though this banner is, surely it could have been added to the main plague marines kit rather than justifying a £15 price tag by itself?
In the run-up to this release a betting man would have guessed that some kind of terminators would be present. The return of terminators dedicated to the individual gods has been at the top of many a wishlist for years, the Thousand Sons have the Scarab Occult and loyalists like the Blood Angels, Space Wolves and Dark Angels all have their own variants so something for Nurgle sounded like a safe bet. Those of us who were boldest (or most fanciful) even speculated that there might be some kind of duel kit, providing alternative heads and scythes so that one could build one’s Nurgle terminators as Mortarion’s elite Deathshroud. Two entirely separate kits though – that was a bounty we didn’t dare dream of.
With the Death Guard terminators we actually get to see a nice microcosm of the knife edge path walked by a champion of the dark gods. The Deathshroud stand tall and proud. Their proportions are accurate, their mutations generally functional. Chaos has bloated them in strength and stature but they retain an appearance which implies autonomy of will. They look like humans, albeit humans which have been empowered by the very best that Chaos and the pre-heresy Imperium could offer. Look at a Deathshroud miniature and one sees a character and, by implication, a mind.
Not so the Blightlords. Their mutations are more severe and crippling. Their poses are hunched, their stance feral. Here are men who’ve been killing so long they’ve forgotten how to do anything else. The weapons and armour they carry on themselves are remnants, the collected scraps that hint at the kind of men they once were. These are not the accoutrements selected by a warrior to aid him in battle but the part-sloughed skin of a creature on the path to becoming something other. The Deathshroud are stationary, controlling an objective, letting the enemy come to them through the flesh-devouring toxic fog. Meanwhile the Blightlords are lunging forwards, desperate to bring the battle to their unfortunate victims. The suggestion is that these are warriors who have lost their way, their instincts becoming animalistic, their bodies mere puppets to Chaos. Whilst the Deathshroud appear to be on the path of champions with Princehood lying within their grasp, the Blightlords are each on the slippery slope to becoming spawn.
Look at this one for instance – he’s turning into a fly. He’s not going to be making any tactical decisions apart from how to get into the jam.
The new incarnation of Typhus has certainly proved to be a divisive model, not least because of the lofty pedestal the old version was placed upon. Yet whilst the old model was contemplative the new one is anything but, showing the captain of the Terminus Est as a dynamic warleader urging his rotten troops onwards to victory. That said I’m not entirely sure I love the new pose, there’s something slightly over the top about it that recalls an anime character more than the brutal hostility of the 40k universe. Personally my inclination would be to build him with the pose adjusted, scythe held at his side as he scans the battlefield for his next victim, rather than the super-power-up pose GW have gone for.
That said this disappointment is tempered by the fact that he can be build without the ridiculous looking cloud of gas and flies venting from the destroyer hive. What’s more this one, clipped free of the trailing gas, would make for a fine sidekick/familiar/pet to a Nurgle character.
In spite of these reservations, and the vigorous slagging that the model has received in some quarters, I’m actually rather fond of the new Typhus. Notwithstanding the radical difference in pose a lot of elements from the old model have been repeated in the new, from the head to this cheeky nurgling fishing around in his guts.
Indeed if one really wanted to one could recreate the old Typhus fairly easily as the old model has been translated almost exactly into plastic as part of the Deathshroud set. In fact the designers probably had little choice but to amp up Typhus’ pose a little to make him stand out from Mortarion’s impressive new bodyguard.
Another nice thing about this release is the level of effort that’s been put into expanding the Death Guard as a legion. From being just plague marines, a colour scheme and some greenstuffed boils they’ve been rebuilt into an army packed with depth and character. Nowhere is this more apparent than the range of specialists that have been added to the army. By giving the Death Guard their own unique units in this way GW have moved the army out of the shadow of the legions and turned them into their own entity. No longer are they a Nurgle version of the space marines whereby one took the same base units and added furs for Space Wolves, hoods for Dark Angels and boils for Death Guard – and in the later instance renamed the Librarian as a Sorcerer and stuck some spikes on all the tanks. These guys have spent their time in the warp evolving, both in appearance and in organisation. Just as each loyalist chapter has become a separate entity from the codex adherent Space Marines so too have the Thousand Sons and Death Guard evolved away from being just another flavour of Chaos Space Marines. Nor is the Death Guard simply a copy of the Thousand Sons release – an event that seemed staggeringly generous at the time but which now almost seems miserly in comparison. It would have been easy enough for GW to turn out a similar package to that received by the sons of Magnus; a squad in power armour, some terminators, a character, a primarch and something to add flourish – hell, if they’d kept to the Thousand Sons framework exactly and given us pestigors in place of the tzaangors I’d have been happy enough. Instead, probably inspired by the popularity of Nurgle, they went above and beyond, choosing to release the Lords of the Plague Planet as a legion entire with a fleet of Nurgly vehicles and a cast of specialist individuals.
Of these one of my personal favourites is the Plague Surgeon, a lean, reaper-like figure who looms, ghastly and imposing, over the ranks of his brothers. Unlike the other Nurgle models, all of whom feature a distinct distended gut, the Plague Surgeon is a gaunt figure, tall and thin in a way that is both instantly befitting a servant of Nurgle and yet strikingly new in a range otherwise dominated by jolly fat men. Indeed the slender, slightly spiky look of the figure helps emphasise its grim bitterness, especially in comparison to the malevolent cheer of his allies. After all this was once an Apothecary, and one only need look at the rest of the Death Guard army to see how badly he failed in his duty.
Sadly they can’t all be winners and the Foul Blightspawn, like the Plaguecaster from Dark Imperium, feels a bit like a grab bag of crazy ideas. In essence a miniature should represent a character doing something (locked in battle, standing guard, casting a spell, pointing out an interesting local attraction). The trouble with the Blightspawn is that he appears to be doing a bit of everything. He’s throwing a grenade, and he’s stepping forward to do so, but the implied lack of speed suggests he’s only chucking it a few feet away rather than lobbing it maliciously into a trench full of cowering guardsmen. Meanwhile he’s also filling another grenade from the noxious pump on his back but the fact that he’s not looking where he’s pouring suggests he’s about to slop the toxic gunk all over both himself and his nurgling sidekick. Luckily they’d both enjoy it but that’s hardly the point. In the end he should pick one thing and stick with it, rather than trying to do both at once, and this lack of co-ordination suggests a level of incompetence in the character portrayed. The nurgling itself is described as an optional component (although any convertor would tell you that every component is optional) but including an element in a kit and then telling people not to use it if they don’t like it seems a little redundant. Indeed, speaking personally I’d rather have a model that was concentrating on loading the grenade with gunk, assisted by his diminutive sidekick, rather than trying to multitask.
The cross-eyed appearance of the helmet doesn’t help and, cool and quirky though it is, it doesn’t fit with the model and adds another layer of oddness at a stage where less would very definitely have been more.
Ultimately, the Blightspawn is just a bit too odd for me as is, although that could be fixed with some careful cutting to remove the head and replace it with something more restrained. Not that I don’t love his odd, horse-faced gasmask, I do. I just feel that it overeggs an already complex model, turning its gleefully grubby eccentricity into out and out zaniness. Perhaps it would look better on a terminator?
The Biologus Putrifier, on the other hand does weirdness with far more aplomb. Whilst the Blightspawn is muddled by its many quirky components the Putrifier is a model of greater maturity and co-ordination. The model may have lots of odd or impractical elements (if one is going into battle whilst carrying a large number of fragile glass vials perhaps attaching them to frail wooden wings on your back where they’re hard to reach may not be for the best) but because everything is kept to a single theme it works. Indeed, in spite of some stiff competition, this may actually be my favourite of the new Death Guard character models.
Whilst the other characters develops the Death Guard’s use of biological weapons the Tallyman stands in for the Dark Apostles of other Chaos factions and explores their relationship with their patron god. Combining Nurgle (and the Death Guard)’s love of order with a Chaos factions’ need for a priest class, the Tallyman counts and records every aspect of battle in an attempt to divine their noxious god’s will. It’s a very structured, some might even say scientific, approach to religion. Rather than just taking things on faith the Death Guard seek to further their understanding and force order onto the esoteric. After all a paranoid like Mortarion would never just accept an interpretation of Nurgle’s will unquestioningly, especially not if it is whispered to him by some treacherous warp entity. He’d want to get as much inside knowledge as he could so as to plan his campaigns appropriately.
Furthermore the inclusion of the Tallymen helps to emphasise that the Death Guard remain a structured, co-ordinated Legion, not just a bunch of rampaging fanatics. Furthermore whilst the Plague Surgeon represents the outcome of leaving a morbidly obsessed Apothecary in the Warp for ten thousand years the Tallymen are something new, a result of the Death Guard’s evolution in Nurgle’s service rather than a holdover from their days fighting for the Emperor.
Scrying The Warp
So what’s next? With Mortarion and Magnus on the loose, plus their do-gooder brother holding the Imperium together, it seems like a fairly safe bet that over the next few years we’ll see Khorne and Slaanesh receiving the same treatment as Tzeentch and Nurgle with full army releases for the World Eaters and Emperor’s Children, and their respective primarchs to boot. It also seems like a sensible line of reasoning to assume that Imperial customers won’t be left out – no-one at the head of GW will be thinking “do we really need to open another goldmine? Surely we have enough money by now?” Imagine though if GW was brave enough to really pursue the possibilities, and plunge into the potential that the background offers. Could we ever live in a world where the likes of Lorgar or Perturabo bestride the tabletop, directing the fanatical priesthoods or massed heavy artillery of their (very different) legions?
As for the loyalists three chapters in particular have received a lot of attention in the past and it seems sensible to assume they will in the future; the Space Wolves, Dark Angels and Blood Angels. From GW’s point of view Leman Russ must look like a licence to print money (although the fact that they already sell a model called the Leman Russ is bound to be a source of confusion…). Indeed an older, wilder, wolfier Russ loping back out of the Eye of Terror after ten thousand years would contrast nicely with the clean shaven young Russ Forge World produced for the Heresy era. The Lion too just needs to wake up from his Rip Van Winkle style nap beneath the Rock and reignite his partnership with Guilliman from the Imperium Secundus days. Sanguinius of course is still rather dead but have no doubt, a money-man in Nottingham is thinking right now about how much cash could be made and some poor designer is trying to work out how it could be done without bringing all the nerd-rage in the world down on their heads. I may not particularly like having any loyalist primarchs back in action but now the jar has been opened it’s unlikely to be stoppered again soon although GW must be aware that something as extreme as Sanguinius would be a risky move and likely to alienate more fans than it attracts.
In the nearer future, if I was asked to guess, I’d put my money on seeing a Nurgle release for Age of Sigmar coming soon, mirroring that we saw for Tzeentch earlier in the year. The Blightwar boxset introduced the next phase in the story of the Mortal Realms as Nurgle takes over from Khorne as the main protagonist.
Already we’ve seen the arrival of this hideous model, a miniature so ugly that it’s crying out to be #Made Great Again (although given that I’m fairly short on funds at the moment I think I’ll restrain myself – buying an ugly model specifically because I think it’s ugly sounds counterintuitive even to me).
A further release seems likely, with sensible money being on a new Great Unclean One joining the pantheon of bigger, better Greater Daemons. Those who read my review of the Death Guard half of the Dark Imperium boxset may also recall that I predicted we’d see pestigors as part of this release (and so know not to trust me when it comes to predictions) but I still wonder if they might be forthcoming for AoS.
Anyway, having made my predictions (and prepared myself for the shame of their wild inaccuracy) I’ll wrap this post up before I write myself into a corner. Consider a pun about gutsy moves to have been made and if you have thoughts of your own the floor (or at least the comments box) is yours.
As ever if the pictures aren’t mine then I’ve pinched them off GW without asking. Don’t get on your high horse with me GW – you could have made the Thousand Sons bigger!