Warhammer 40k: The Fallen #3 Review: Impenetrable Narrative Mayhem

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The Iron Knights and Dark Angels are tearing each other apart as the Inquisition falls upon the both of them. The result is a bloody mayhem between the three factions that may very well threaten the Imperium.

Warhammer 40k: The Fallen #3 cover by Tazio Bettin and Enrica Erin Angiolini
Warhammer 40k: The Fallen #3 cover by Tazio Bettin and Enrica Erin Angiolini

I have friends who are quite big fans of Warhammer, and other friends are simply into the lore behind the Games Workshop franchise. As such, I thought I would check out this comic.

I hadn't the foggiest idea of what was going on. I saw a myriad of dudes in massive power armor what makes their heads look really tiny shooting and beating the tar out of one another. I didn't know which side was which. Some were in green armor; the rest were in gray. Some of the gray armors were killing each other, too, so the color-coding didn't give me any clues.

What I did already know about Warhammer was that the lore was dense and expansive. This isn't inherently bad; I adore my Marvel and DC Universe comics. However, those were decent at giving you some idea of what's going on and who the characters are. Hell, I just read the third issue of a Mignolaverse miniseries and the 230th issue of Savage Dragon, both served as my introduction to their respective series, and both were pretty easy to pick up.

The introduction page didn't really tell me jack, either. It gave me some characters, one of which I wasn't even sure was in the comic. The other may have been in there; it's hard to recognize some of these characters when they bounce in and out of the massive power armor. What didn't help was the little dialogue being spoken in this massive power armor-palooza was inundated with sci-fi theocratic nonsense that is impenetrable to people who don't know who the frigging Justicar is, whether or not these people are actually a part of the Imperium, or what in the unholy hell a Prognosticator is.

I decided to give this more of a chance, so I did some backup reading into the previous issue to get some context. It verified something else I already knew about Warhammer lore. There's not really a "good guys" side. The Imperium is made up of violent religious zealots. There are orcs, dark elf-type-things, Tyranids, and these really nasty-looking, green, and rotting zombie-like creatures that are so gross they're delightful.

In any case, I was able to identify the factions and, more or less, why they're fighting from that. The Inquisition is obsessed with the idea that the Dark Angels are heretics. The Dark Angels are hiding something. The Iron Knights have an ulterior motive which is furthered by the Dark Angels getting murdered.

Okay, that's something.

That doesn't really excuse the thick-as-a-brick murder-fest that The Fallen #3 is, but it gives me something to work with.

Unfortunately, I'm just not made to care about any of this. They all seem like horrendous religious zealots. I'm not made to identify or put myself in the headspace of any of these people. They're just murdering each other left and right.

I get the impression that one of the purposes of this miniseries is to provide a scenario for Warhammer players to reenact in the game. That's fair enough. I'm not one to judge that. However, this is still a comic, and I critique those. This one doesn't really measure up well as sequential storytelling. In fact, it's quite bad.

For an action-heavy issue like this to work, you need some kind of catharsis or reason for engagement in the conflict. There is nothing to hook me or draw me in about any of the sides. I get the impression that the Dark Angels are the closest thing to a protagonist faction here, but they just seem boring and dubious all the same.

The art, by Tazio Bettin, is quite good. He plays well with the gore and the mayhem. The characters are fairly visually distinctive, even if I'm still not entirely sure who is who. My main complaint isn't really Bettin's vault. In short, I hate the visual design of the Space Marines. The ridiculously bulky power armor, the tiny heads, and the general sense of over-designing turns me off badly. However, I can't pin that on Bettin, so he gets high marks for his work here.

Enrica Erin Angiolini and Viviana Spinelli provide some decent color work. It could use a lot more brightening to give some live to this high sci-fi/fantasy warzone. However, I can understand wanting to keep the tone somewhat dimmer for the narrative. It just would have gone a long way to help this comic have some life.

Even with #2 giving me some context, The Fallen #3 is a dense and unengaging mess of people in massive power armor murdering each other in droves. It's not an enjoyable story, and I cannot recommend this. I imagine hardcore fans of the Warhammer franchise may get something out of it, but they deserve better storytelling than this. Give it a pass.

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About Joshua Davison

Josh is a longtime super hero comic fan and an aspiring comic book and fiction writer himself. He also trades in videogames, Star Wars, and Magic: The Gathering, and he is also a budding film buff. He's always been a huge nerd, and he hopes to contribute something of worth to the wider geek culture conversation. He is also happy to announce that he is the new Reviews Editor for Bleeding Cool. Follow on Twitter @joshdavisonbolt.