Things take a personal turn today, as I bring to you the webcomic Servants of the Imperium. The comic, I believe, is heavily reminiscent in humor and art to the epic The Order of the Stick, but distinguishes itself by being set in the Warhammer 40K universe created by Games Workshop. I will confess right here, to not originally having little love of the 40K universe. I had always found it a depressing, heinously violent, and overly testosterone-driven setting with overpriced miniatures and an antisocial, unpleasant fandom. Not very open-minded of me, I realize, but nothing about the single minded Space Marines of the miniature game really caught my interest. Then I fell in love with a man who was not only obsessed with tabletop gaming of all kinds but had many boxes of lovingly assembled Space Marines, volumes of the “Black Library,” played the RPGs with his friends, and thanked/blamed-it-on the Pestilence God Nurgle when he got sick. Since this man also tried knitting, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, and Jane Austen for me I made an effort to see the good side of life in the 41st Millenium. This story really helped me get there.
I will stress I wasn’t a complete novice in 40K terminology when I started reading the comic, but I feel a novice with familiarity of science fiction can enjoy and embrace the setting. It starts out with a few one-shot gags in black-and-white but quickly becomes a longer story in full color. The art style is in simple but expressive stick figures. The story follows Lord Severus Hunt, an Inquisitor devoted to hunting down the heretics against the God-Emperor in the Imperium of Mankind 39 millenia into the future. His (mis)adventures protecting the galaxy from the forces of evil are accompanied by a growing roster of acolytes, including the trigger happy, oddly chipper bounty hunter Krin, the socially backward and deadly assassin Brianna, and a sarcastic Psyker with a penchant for exploding heads named Lyle. As the plot develops, it is not only darkly humorous, but takes a few nods from the grand adventure stories such as Treasure Island. There’s action, treasure, treachery, intrigue, monsters, romance, and lots of comedy! The comic really showed me what is human about the grim and dark setting that is the 40K universe.
The author, Rob Leigh, pulls a lot from his experience as a GM from the 40K series of Roleplaying books from Fantasy Flight, especially the Dark Heresy series. There was a longer hiatus earlier this year while he was a bit burned out by his surprising success, but I am happy to say that the comic is once again in full swing. He also reviews 40K roleplaying books in the website’s blog section, but does not seem to have any other projects online.
Stumbling on this comic really showed me coolness and charm of the 40K universe; the hard scrabble for survival, the strangeness and similarities of the culture, and the glimmers of humanity in the vast, cold horrors of space. I was able to go from here to the Roleplaying books, then to fluff of the actual miniatures game. I can finally wrap my head around the motivations of the Space Marines, and even recently latched onto a chapter to call my own, the Blood Ravens. Maybe my sweetheart will even talk me into painting some miniatures….
This is a comedy set in the grimmest setting western literature has ever created. I don’t know how he pulls it off.