By Aaron Dembski-Bowden, Tazio Bettin, Kevin Enhart & Rob Steen
In the Warhammer 40k universe, the Deathwatch are a unique organization of Space Marines, compiled not just from one Chapter but from multiple, allowing for that added mix of cultures and traditions that come from the setting. It is their duty to watch out for alien threats and protect the Imperium of Man at all costs.
The creative team of Aaron Dembski-Bowden, Tazio Bettin and Kevin Enhart deliver a strong first issue that kicks off this four-part series. It feels like a calm before the storm, a way to showcase the prowess of a Space Marine in battle on a smaller scale before things escalate. It’s something that will be required reading for a Warhammer 40k fan, and even those who aren’t regular readers will be able to enjoy this without much background reading. A handy dramatis personae at the start of the book introduces us to our main characters, heralding from the Imperial Fists, Flesh Tearers, Celestial Lions, Space Wolves and Ultramarines Chapters respectively. In this stage, there isn’t much variety in terms of personality but then Warhammer has never been the most character-focused setting, preferring instead to go guns blazing and adopt a more action oriented approach.
That being said, the book isn’t as exciting as it could have been and feels rather dull at times, especially when compared to the sheer potential that the Warhammer 40k universe has to offer. Then again, it is a first issue and its main focus is on set up. Things should get more exciting as the issues progress, as the stakes get higher and we see more of the Space Marines unleashed. The characters that we do meet share some characteristics of their Chapters that they are drawn from. For example, Tiberius the Ultramarine stands out. As the youngest of the team with a point to prove, it’ll be interesting to see how he fits in with the roster of the more experienced Marines going forward.
The pencils by Tazio Bettin and colours by Kevin Enhart feel perfectly at home in the Warhammer universe. The atmosphere created here matches the grimdark tone and feel of the universe as the series sets out to tell its own corner of the galaxy at large. The Space Marines are distinctive enough to be able to tell them apart and the action is well-drawn and engaging. Bettin’s pencils always make the Marines feel intimidating and their presence is felt regardless of what panel they’re in, whether they’re standing still or in combat. Enhart’s colours help give this book a pulpy sci-fi feel to it. Meanwhile, Rob Steen’s letters really help in the combat scenes, adding a kinetic energy to them that helps them leap out of the page at the reader.
Warhammer 40,000: Deathwatch #1 can be cautiously recommended. Fans of the setting will undoubtedly get more out of this book, and even though it’s not up there with Dembski-Bowden’s best work, it’s hard to compare when you look at the sheer quality of fiction that he’s written in the past.