Daemonifuge: The Screaming Cage
Daemonifuge: The Screaming Cage Capsule Review by Frank Sronce on 28/11/02
Style: 5 (Excellent!)
Substance: 4 (Meaty)
An Adepta Sororita seeks out her lost past in the Warhammer 40K universe
Product: Daemonifuge: The Screaming Cage
Author: Kev Walker & Jim Campbell
Category: Graphic Novel
Company/Publisher: Games Workshop
Line: Black Library
Page count: 72
Year published: 2002
SKU: 6010 0199 019
Comp copy?: yes
Capsule Review by Frank Sronce on 28/11/02
Genre tags: Science Fiction Horror Far Future Space Gothic
The Screaming CageDaemonifuge is a hard-bound collection of the first three issues of the Warhammer 40,000 comic book of the same name. The main character is Ephrael Stern, a Battle Sister (the female equivalent of a Space Marine) and member of the Adepta Sororitas, the militant arm of the Ecclesiarchy. If you're not familiar with the cosmology of Warhammer 40K, here's a very brief summary (I may get a few details wrong, as I don't play 40K much myself).
The universe is threatened by the godlike extradimensional entities known as the Gods of Chaos. These beings seek to corrupt and enslave all forms of life and are very good at it. In order to protect humanity from them, the all-but-immortal being known as the Emperor has organized legions of fanatical, genetically-enhanced soldiers equipped with powered armor and powerful weapons. The church of the Ecclesiarchy was prohibited from fielding men of war, but they got around that restriction by forming military convents and only training women as soldiers.
There are other races at war with the forces of Chaos as well, such as the elf-like Eldar and the green-skinned Orks. They often skirmish with humanity, leading to lots of huge battles and a very popular miniatures wargame.
Daemonifuge, however, is primary concerned with the adventures of the aforementioned Ephrael, who was the only survivor of an expedition to a distant planet where an entire order of Battle Sisters once vanished. She returned to the Adepta Sororitas nearly comatose and babbling nonsense. Four years later, she finally gets her chance to be evaluated and reinstated.
Her evaluator is the fanatical and rather unstable Inquisitor, Silas Hand, who suspects Ephrael of being tainted by Chaos in some hidden fashion. Hand is an interesting character, eternally suspicious and vigilant and with very good reason. The forces of Chaos apparently want Ephrael dead, although even she has no idea why.
Their quest for answers will take them back to the desolate ruins of planet Parnis, where they will confront the evil wrought by one of the most powerful minions of the Chaos God Slaanesh.
All in all, Daemonifuge is much more to my taste than The Legend of Hellbrandt Grimm. It's narrated by its uncertain amnesiac heroine, who knows that something strange happened on Parnis but can't remember what. A strange power is shielding her from all psychic probes, whether by the psyker Silas Hand or the demons of Chaos, and she doesn't honestly know if that force is on the side of good or evil. But all is revealed before the final conflict, and the book's climax has one of the huge, pitched close-combat battles that Warhammer loves so dearly.
There's also a secondary story in the background, the tale of an Eldar, a former Harlequin warrior, trying to redeem himself for past failures. The two stories never intersect directly, but the ending makes it clear that their paths are destined to cross eventually. There will definitely be a sequel, as the Games Workshop website is already listing Daemonifuge II among their forthcoming products.
Daemonifuge is very nicely illustrated, although entirely in grayscale. One unfortunate side effect of this is that it's sometimes hard to tell one Battle Sister from another, as they almost all wear their hair the same way. There are also a few scenes which are kind of awkwardly illustrated, forcing you to examine it for a bit in order to tell exactly what is happening. But overall the art is very nice with a mix of what appears to be hand-drawn and computer-generated images. I'd love a full-color version, if they ever make one. I especially like the way that Kev Walker depicts the demons, making them slimy shapeshifters with a very fluidly organic form.
The version I received is an oversized hardcover, very well made but kind of surprisingly thin inside, since it's only collecting three issues (about 72 pages) together. The $19.95 price tag might be a bit much for softcover, but this is a hardcover edition, and very stylish.
There are more details (and pics of the covers) at http://www.games-workshop.com/blacklibrary/daemonifuge/. The cover of the edition that I have is the very last one shown, with the cover divided into 5 separate panels.
Overall, I did like Daemonifuge. Even with my very peripheral knowledge of Warhammer 40,000, I had no trouble following the plot. The narration makes most of the events clear, with only a few spots where I missed something subtle the first time. The characters are tough, but hardly invulnerable and they make mistakes along the way which cost them dearly. There's an overarching plot which the author has obviously only just begun in "The Screaming Cage", but it works just fine as a standalone story.
It's an action-mystery, with no real romance or humorous bits, although I did love Ephrael's line when she's shown babbling madly in a cell and mutters "...the Skins of the Fathers shall be handed down unto the Seventh Generation...." The book is full of the stylish "High-Tech Medieval" equipment that's kind of the mark of the Warhammer universe.
I give it a 5 for style and a 4 for substance. When the sequel comes out, I'll probably pick it up, which is pretty high praise coming from me.
Incidentally, the credits state that this hardbound edition has some additional material. They may be talking about the specs for the starship "Hammer of Thor" in the back. I'm not sure exactly what material was "new" since I haven't seen the original version.