Games Workshop released the official word for the upcoming Dark Angels codex and miniatures in the form of a brief teaser YouTube trailer. Reason enough to take a closer look at the Dark Angels’ classic background, rich with references, inside-jokes and easter eggs.
Games Workshop’s Dark Angels Release Teaser
Up first, the new YouTube teaser from Games Workshop. Bare bones, as expected.
I admit, I am not an ‘old-time’ Dark Angels player in the way that I am – or was, back in the Warhammer 40.000 heydays – a Chaos Space Marine player. Nevertheless, the new Dark Angels miniatures have a nice, unabashedly 40K-over-the-top-gothic vibe to them that I like.
Moreover, in addition to cool new miniatures, Dark Angels feature some of the most iconic ‘old-school’ backgrounds in all of Warhammer 40K, chock-full with odd references, inside jokes and little easter eggs.
I do not think I am aware of nearly all of them. Nevertheless, here are four of the most famous references that inspired background for the Dark Angels Space Marines. Enjoy!
#1 – Lionel Johnson, the Poet and ‘The Dark Angel’
Both the Dark Angels Space Marine Chapter and their Primach, Lion El’Jonson, were inspired by 19th century English poet, essayist and critic Lionel Pigot Johnson (15 March 1867 – 4 October 1902). Lionel Johnson’s best known poem is ‘The Dark Angel‘.
Lionel Johnson was a contemporary and friend of Oscar Wilde. Anyone with Wikipedia can read that he struggled with alcoholism and repressed homosexuality most of his life.
His poem ‘The Dark Angel’ is arguably about dealing with his conflicted sexuality. But it is – as a reference and inspiration for 40K’s Dark Angels – more clever than a simple gay joke.
The Dark Angel was written late in Johnson’s life, after he repudiated his friend Oscar Wilde and converted to Catholicism. It thus features plenty of religious imagery. It also portrays the torments of Johnson’s inner conflict, his war with his own nature, so to speak.
That clearly is a theme Warhammer 40.000 picks up again with the Dark Angels.
#2 – Caliban, Shakespeare’s Villain
Lionel Johnson is not the only English poet lending inspiration for the Dark Angels Space Marines. The famously inhospitable home-world of the Dark Angels is Caliban, named after Shakespeare’s disfigured villain from The Tempest.
The Shakespeare-Johnson mix-up might not be all the haphazard as it seems.
Caliban is not only a Shakespeare villain, he also appears in the preface of Oscar Wilde’s most famous book – the Picture of Dorian Gray – where Wilde uses Caliban’s rage as picture to describe the (as he saw it) conflicting, contradicting nature of his age.
The nineteenth century dislike of realism is the rage of Caliban seeing his own face in a glass. The nineteenth century dislike of romanticism is the rage of Caliban not seeing his own face in a glass.
– Oscar Wilde, preface to ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’
And Wilde, as noted above, played an important role in Lionel Johnson’s life. It seems to me as if one of the early 40K authors was really unloading some of his English Literature classes into the Dark Angels background.
#3 – Luther, the Man who Split ‘the Rock’
Poets are one side. The catholic church and the schism of the reformation are the other.
First, there is Luther. Likely named after Martin Luther, he is (in 40K lore) the Caliban-born man who found the infant Primarch and, later, gave the Dark Angels their name when he saw the Emperor’s First Legion descend from the skies.
And the angels of darkness descended upon pinions of fire and light…the great and terrible dark angels.
– Luther (the 40K one)
Of course, he also became the man (or Space Marine) who would battle his Primarch as he returned to his home-world after the Heresy: The event that saw a fair share of Dark Angels cast into the galaxy as ‘The Fallen’ and split the Dark Angels’ home-planet apart, leaving the largest chunk to become ‘The Rock‘.
Of course, this is where analogies go biblical, with ‘The Rock’ most likely being an allusion to Jesus’ words “upon this rock I will build my church“. The latter is often seen in Catholicism as a founding principle for the Catholic Church (with the name ‘Peter’ meaning ‘Rock’ or ‘Stone’). Said church was later ‘split’ by Luther (our 16th century one).
Lots of great parallels to play around with.
#4 – Belial, the Fallen Angel
But my favourite has to be Belial – the Captain of the Dark Angels Deathwing, who specialize in hunting The Fallen. His name is literally inspired by a fallen Angel.
But for corruption thou hast made Belial, an angel of hostility. All his dominions are in darkness, and his purpose is to bring about wickedness and guilt. All the spirits that are associated with him are but angels of destruction.
– from the Dead Sea Scrolls
That is a pretty neat, ironic twist on things. I am just not sure if they simply picked a name that somehow went along fine with the likes of Ezekiel, or if that was intentional?
So why is the Captain of the Deathwing named after a Fallen Angel (of the biblical kind)? #40k
Oh, and another fun fact. According to Wikipedia, the literal translation of ‘Belial’ would mean “worthless”.
The term Belial is a Hebrew adjective meaning “worthless” from two common words beli- (“without-”) and ya’al (“value”) bit.ly/6GaxCs
That is some name for the ‘First Captain’ of the ‘First Legion’!
I hope his rules in the new Codex will not live up to that name!
Do you know of other references or easter eggs in the Warhammer 40K Dark Angel lore?
Let me know in the comments below!