The Genestealer Cult is the Best Villain of the Grimdark. Let’s talk about why.
The Genestealer Cult is my favorite “Villain” in Warhammer 40,000. They are the best not because of their rules and their background lore matches their play style (sneaky, hit and run, lightly armored but also frightening if given an opening), but because the GSC is also so blatantly obvious to the outside viewer!
Let me back-up a bit. First off, let me talk about the word “Villain.” It’s definition, courtesy of Google, is ” a character whose evil actions or motives are important to the plot.” The villain in a story is sometimes more important than the hero. They provide the conflict and can often me much more interesting than the hero character. We can also break this down further because under the umbrella term of “villain” there are lots of archetypes that fit.
Some villains are there to be an ultimate evil – I can’t help but think of Chaos in that role. Some villains are there to be a challenge or test to the true heroes, like a force of nature that must be overcome – I think Orks fit that bill.
But some villains are the “mustache-twirling” type. Their plans are so obvious to the audience you can’t help but laugh at them. Are they comic relief? In a way, but what makes them a true villain is that if their plans succeeds, lots of people die in truly horrific ways.
This concept of an obvious “comic-relief-yet-serious-threat” is a concept that we see repeated all over pop-culture. Comic books, cartoons, movies…these dastardly baddies were always competent enough to mess with the hero, but would never actually succeed. Because if they did the results would be disastrous. Can you imagine how the cartoon would have played out if Snidely Whiplash’s plan to murder Nell Fenwick had ever succeeded?
But they never did. And they aren’t supposed to because in most pop-culture the good guys win and the bad guys go to jail or worse. It really wasn’t that long ago that “Grim and Realistic” started to become a thing. (Maybe around the time the Nolan Batman Films? Or when Daniel Craig took over Bond?) And because of that shift in pop culture we live in a different world now. The Dr. Evil’s of the movies occasionally succeed and really make our heroes bleed.
For me, these type of old school cartoon-ish “Villains” are what the Genestealer Cults represent. The Cult’s goals are so obvious it’s hard not to imagine that they fail at planetary domination all the time. “Hey, we noticed Bob and his many, many cousins all have 3 arms. What gives?”
Seriously, how can an Imperial Planet actually fall for this. Don’t they see the Tyranid-train coming from a mile away? Sometimes…yes. Everyone has a good laugh as a Deathwatch Kill Team shows up and murderizes an entire colony.
On the flip side, what happens when the GCS does succeed? What ultimately happens? The Tyranid Swarm shows up and devours the entire planet. Everyone dies – including the cult! To the outside viewer, you can’t help but laugh at how utterly ridiculous the GSC must feel once they catch on. “But wait, we’re on your side!” Yes. And you taste of bio-mass…which happens to taste like chicken.
Maybe it’s just me and I have a twisted sense of humor but when I read the lore in the Genestealer Cults codexes I laughed. “Do they not know what’s coming?” No, they don’t! That is EXACTLY what makes them a serious threat and laughable at the same time. That’s why calling them a “Cult” is appropriate. I’m sure it just starts out as backroom meetings promising punch and pie, but eventually folks drink the kool-aid and it all goes south from there.
Did someone say, “Punch and Pie?”
For me, The Genestealer Cults are the Snidely Whiplash of the Warhammer 40,000 universe. Their plans are so blatantly obvious, easily foiled, and down right ridiculous that there is no way they should ever work. But they DO work and then the plan backfires in their collective face and everyone becomes bio-mass. I think that’s great* in a very dark-humor way and it’s something the Grimdark needs a tad more of. Besides, I think we could all use a little more “Mustache Twirling” followed by “Maniacal Laughter” in our Grimdark.
Are the Genestealer Cults your favorite villains in the Grim-Dark, too?