When it comes to mixing role-playing games and comic books, there aren’t many examples outside of Dungeons and Dragons. Granted there might be a smattering of others, though the fantasy genre seems to dominate most adaptations into the comic book format. The biggest reason, I’m sure, is the simple fact that swords and sorcerers dominate in role-playing.
Eisenhorn: Xenos, comes to us thanks to a collaboration between Games Workshop, TPub Comics, and Pixel Hero Games. Their press release describes it like so:
“An original prequel to the recently released video game, based on the novels of the same name from the Black Library®. Written by Ryan O’Sullivan (Turncoat), with art from Anthony Spay (Vikings, Grimm Fairy Tales), Anthony Fowler (Blasted, Hammered), and newcomer Andre Campos, Eisenhorn: Xenos follows the exploits of one of Games Workshop’s most popular and enduring characters.”
Normally I wouldn’t include text from a press release in my article, yet I thought it would be better than simply rewording it, because the truth is I’ve never heard of this character before. I have heard of Games Workshop, but that’s where my knowledge ends. So my review of this comic comes from the point of view of the uninitiated reader.
The Warhammer 40K universe is a mash-up of fantasy and science-fiction. While it has the traditional races and magic that we find in fantasy novels, it also has spaceships, laser guns, and cybernetics. The universe itself is rather distinct, comparable only to the mash-up of cyberpunk and high-fantasy seen in the Shadowrun games. Its setting adds essential flavors to the book, almost more so than its titular protagonist. Being new to this universe, I found myself as interested in the world of Warhammer as I was in following the adventure of Eisenhorn. While this might not mean as much to those already familiar with the story’s premise, the setting is incredibly immersive.
The story itself is very straightforward. It’s most endearing in the fact that it doesn’t hold back; the violence is quick and unforgiving. While reading the comic I couldn’t help but think of the similarities it shares with the hard-boiled detective pulps such as Mickey Spillane’s character, Mike Hammer. Just like the gumshoe detectives from those stories, Eisenhorn has no problem with smashing a perp in the teeth to get what he needs. Unlike Hammer, who only answers to his own code of ethics, Eisenhorn is an Inquisitor. He deals out justice in the name of the emperor, making him a stone-faced fanatic. There are a lot of similarities between him and Judge Dredd is this regard.
Like most first issues, Eisenhorn: Xenos uses some of the comic to setup the characters and the universe, but does it through the monologue of the main character as he slices and blasts bad guys. While entertaining, the book begins to get more interesting once all that throat clearing is out of the way, right around the halfway mark.
I can’t say whether or not this is a faithful interpretation of Eisenhorn, but I’m going to assume that it is, seeing how it’s made it to print with the approval of Games Workshop. That being said, the story is a hard-nosed, fast-paced, sci-fi book that left me as interested in learning about the Warhammer 40K as it did about its grim protagonist.