Sunday, 20 May 2012

Titan (Comicbook Review)

Being one of the major titles in Warhammer 40,000’s short lived Inferno! comics print, Titan is fondly remembered by a lot of fans. It was a run which showed war on a much bigger scale than anything seen before in the universe, had memorable characterisations and several truly awesome moments per storyline. The odd thing is though, for a series so often remembered as being a classic, Titan is a really flawed series.
Probably the biggest reason it was so flawed was that unlike other on-going storylines there seemed to be no initially planned out plot for Titan. True it did have the duo of Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning working on it, but the early books do feel like they only had a baseline idea of what they were working on. The series begins with the Warlord class titan Imperius Dictatio, imagine the holy hybrid of a battle tank, a gundam and a cathedral, failing in battle. Its aged cyborg pilot dies from the stress of piloting the Dictatio mid battle, just as an enemy titan class war machine is bearing down upon them. In an effort to survive the encounter Erwin Hekate, a cadet who was not even being considered ready to take control of a god-machine is forced into directly linking with its machine spirit and takes control.
Doesn’t sound too bad does it? But this introductory issue shows only this and nothing else. Aside from Hekate we’re given little impression of the rest of the crew and the fight against the enemy titan, an ork Gargant, isn’t shown. It’s like the writers were set a series of targets to hit while writing this and given the space for nothing else.
This didn’t really help with following issues which didn’t directly follow on from one another, jumping ahead for weeks at a time and having no plotlines to drive the narrative forwards. Okay, there’s the backdrop of a war against the orks, but it’s never really expanded upon nor do we get that many details about how it started or how it is going. We get the distrust of the crew with Hekate being untested and taking command without earning the rank of princeps, but there’s only a few lines about this and it’s dropped in the final issue of the battle against the orks. So the first storyline is not that great, feeling like a comic which at best you’d read and forget about. It did introduce many elements which would become a major part of the canon surrounding titans, such as their princeps’ withdrawal symptoms of disconnecting from the machine, but not much else.
In all honesty it was only during the second storyline that things began to get interesting – which is the book almost all fans seem to have joined on. Titan II: Vivaporius really felt like a new start for the series once it began, while it didn’t spend time reintroducing events it felt more coherent and planned out. It depicted everything from the Dictatio’s deployment onto the planet to the crew standing in the aftermath of the conflict, and everything followed on from one another. Unlike the first storyline you felt at best the writers were skipping ahead a few days or a week at best in order to get to the meat of the action rather than bypassing almost the entire conflict. Much like you’d see in any comic following a prolonged war, balancing out the need to skip periods of time with keeping a continuous pace and truly building on past events.
Along with this major improvement was the villains the Dictatio’s crew were facing. The first storyline against the orks did not show them to be a real threat, with Hekate single handily curb stomping a large army of the greenskins during the finale without taking any damage. So what did the writers do? Replaced them with the tyranids, the far more dangerous forefathers of Starcraft’s zerg, but managed to use them in a unique way. Rather than relying completely upon their overwhelming power and adaptability Abnett and Lanning chose to utilise an otherwise rarely seen part of their character: the Hive Mind’s ability to manipulate others. First wounding the Dictatio as part of a gambit, destroying one of the two allied imperial titans who came to rescue them knowing Hekate would react in anger, then using that desire for retribution to their advantage. Throughout almost the entire story the aliens have the upper hand, Hekate dancing to their tune and it was an effective method of enhancing their threat. Building upon their capabilities as the story escalated, emphasising upon their power but avoiding it seeming as if they are utterly “I can single handily crush daemon primarchs” invincible. Something which puts them above a few of the more notable space marine codexes of the last few years.
It’s about this time that the characters began to stand out in their own right. Aside from Hekate, the Dictatio’s crew never had time dedicated to properly establishing their personalities. The story was still focused squarely upon the princeps but gives some impression of how they worked together, such as the ever professionally antagonistic relationship between Moderati Voss and Engineer Dorn. A few moments even allow them to step into the limelight such as an Alien style cat and mouse hunt between Dorn and a tyranid drone, allowing them to seem less like simple extensions of the Dictatio.
Things would continue to improve in the final two books Cold Steel and Omnissiah, which while starting afresh from Vivaporius sometime after that campaign did display the impact of those events. This was shown in part through a much more battle hardened and experienced Hekate. Who re-introduced himself in one of the series’ best engagements, utterly trouncing an enemy machine that ambushes the Dictatio and wins through innovative tactics. The fight also introduced some of the biggest changes– such as a more realistic art style, the presence of new characters and text boxes being used to show greater descriptions of environments and damage as much as Hekate’s thoughts. It seemed that those involved with the previous book were looking and what did and didn’t work, changing things again to see what worked best for the series’ future.
The most obvious change in the last two books is the aforementioned new artistic look, embracing a much more realistic depiction of characters and machines. This likely had something to do with Andy Lanning giving up inking duties he had held in the last two books and it’s all the stronger for it – probably some of the best art Inferno! ever produced. Rather than relying almost entirely upon inking to show depth and substance, the style in these final two books appears far more solid with more varied shades in its environments. This made the characters look much more human and was a real bonus to this book especially considering its villains were the allies of Chaos - mutated semi-human abominations and reality warping daemonic juggernauts. All of which contrast very well with the human protagonists, the more realistic elements heightening how unnatural their outwards appearances are.
The big problem in trying to review the final two books is they’re very closely connected and one cannot be described without spoiling some of the events to the other. What is worth saying is that they books were the high point of the series, when it started to have storylines directly lead on from one another to create an actual saga. Unfortunately they also ended up being the series’ swansong as not long after Omnissiah was completed Inferno! was cancelled.
There was time for one final one shot story but it added little to the actual series and didn’t follow on from Omnissiah’s ending, simply confirming that they escaped their predicament at its end. It also felt like it had fallen back on the problems of its early stories, disconnected from everything else and only focusing squarely upon Hekate rather than the crew as a whole. As such Titan ended as weakly as it began, but as a whole it was a well written comic. Once it found its footing the comics seriously picked up and had some strong moments. While it wasn’t as detailed or was as well refined as you’d find in major Marvel or DC releases it had good action, fairly strong writing and well-rounded characters.
As a series which did not have the usual comicbook conventions of spandex clad superpowered heroes and as a story which did not feature Warhammer’s iconic space marines, it’s not bad. You’ll find much better work produced by Abnett and Lanning but Titan is deserving of the praise it has been given.
While Titan has been out of print for years, collections of the whole series are available on Amazon, but prices tend to range from £38 to over £100. Furthermore Black Library has announced it will be re-releasing the God-Machine omnibus during August of this year, so if you're interested it's reccomended you wait until it becomes avalible again through them.
Titan and all related characters and media are owned by Black Library and Games Workshop.

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