Before Caliban, Lion El’Johnson, Luthor, and the Great Betrayal there was an unnamed world of tribal plainsmen. This is the humble beginnings of the Dark Angels and their first company: the Deathwing.
Of all of the Space Marine Chapters the Dark Angels have possibly gone through more retcon, and more redesign than any other chapter. They have been with us since the beginnings of the 40K universe. If you have a copy of Rogue Trader you’ll find their name within those pages. White Dwarf ran Chapter Approved articles outlining the Ravenwing, Deathwing, and the now largely unknown and defunct, Ironwing.
The beginnings of the Dark Angels, as we know them now, are a product of the Warhammer 40,000 2nd edition. Although the tales were produced in White Dwarf, the background wasn’t codified until Codex: Angels of Death. In that codex, and every other one that has followed, we received a brief mention of the origin of the bone white armor, but very few details of the events have been released.
The details of the exploits of the brave band of warriors, who single handedly destroyed a Genestealer Cult, are found in the books that accompanied the 1st edition Space Hulk expansion – “Deathwing.” This is, for a Dark Angel player, one of those rare finds that give the player insights about the development of their army, and in many ways still influences the army.
The most subtle of all is the feather decorations. I’ve always wondered why Blood Angels used wings while the Dark Angels stuck with the single or multiple feather motifs. The answer comes straight out of this expansion. The original home world of the Dark Angels was this world of tribal plainsmen who followed a lifestyle close to that seen in Native American tribes. The feathers become more significant because even on the upgrade sprue they are not common on everything, and so make the feathers seem like a way Dark Angel commanders allow troops to count coup, or personal victories. To me one could say that the feathers are somewhere between a Purity Seal and the Crux Terminatus.
Although I’ve enjoyed the newer novels and the fluff that accompanies the current codices, the game has lost a lot by these short stories fading into the background and not being widely available. If you ever get chance try and find one of the ancient gamers in your town. Chances are good they’ll have a copy of “Deathwing” and they might let you read it. It is well worth the time.