Today we are going all the way back to the earliest years of Warhammer 40K, to remember those glory days of White Dwarf in the 1980s.
Today Warhammer 40K is over 30 years old, a venerable and sprawling universe with untold hundreds (maybe over a thousand) of publications. It’s a huge enterprise, that one can dive into and lose oneself. From the 40th Millenia to the Horus Heresy, to the dozens of factions, to strange esoteric rabbit holes like the Unification Wars, there is something for everyone.
But today we want to head all the way back to that short era of 1987 through 1989 and look over some of our favorite White Dwarf covers. It will get you all in the spirit of what was going on in those critical three years, and how much the Grimdark grew from its original Rogue Trader seed. You will be amazed to see how early a lot of the things we take for granted in the Grimdark showed up. Let’s get started.
September 1987, cover: Warhammer 40,000 by John Sibbick
The White Dwarf that kicked off the Grimdark. This is it folks, the first White Dwarf to feature 40K alongside the release of Rogue Trader. Of course, it is going to use that iconic piece of artwork still revered to this day. Meet the Crimson Fists, and Mk.VI Corvus Armor.
February 1988, cover: And They Shall Know No Fear by Dave Andrews
Fast forward a few months and the Space Marines are getting their first faction focus. Here we see the Ultramarines already moving into the limelight, alongside such others as the Dark Angels, White Scars and Mentor Legion, who didn’t all fare as well.
March 1989, cover: In the Eye of Terror by Collective Creativity Inc.
By 1990, the Realms of Chaos hardcovers were out, and Chaos was getting its due. The origins of the Chaos Warriors and the Traitor Legions as a primary antagonist of the new game system was forming, and you can see this fellow proudly standing in a field of skulls to prove his evilness. there’s also some H.R. Giger vibes going on.
September 1988, cover: Harlequins by David Gallagher
1988 saw an aside for the Harlequins to appear alongside the Eldar. There weren’t any Aspect Warriors nor fully fleshed out Craftworlders at this time, but the Harlequin list was a lean mean fighting machine – An uber elite low model count army, almost what the Custodes list is in modern 40K. It’s all checkers all the time in this fantastic artpiece.
December 1988, cover: Adeptus Titanicus by John Blanche
John Blanche joins the White Dwarf cover pantheon with the introduction of Adeptus Titanicus. Not even two years old and EPIC scale had arrived and the Grimdark had ever more giant battle with the arrival of titans. The Horus Heresy was further fleshed out in these early products. This particular piece has an homage artwork in the recent version of Adeptus Titanicus. I see you Marine jetbike!
February 1989, cover: Space Marines by Wayne England
Ahh, the unique and beautiful style of Wayne England. Here we see Space Marines blazing away. England would go on to define the entire Terminator and Chaos aesthetic in the years to come.
March 1989, cover: Space Dwarfs by David Gallagher
Squats! In 40K’s second year the little fellows got their army list and an all-new range. Bikers, Living Ancesters, and the guilds all made their appearances. This piece by Dave Gallagher would be one of a large body of work that defined the early Squat, Ork, and Imperial Army ranges.
May 1989, cover: Space Hulk by Gerry Grace
Moving back to high-stress, action, action, action boardgames, GW dove into Space Hulk. This was the system that fully fleshed out not only Terminators, but Genestealers, which grew into Genestealer Cults. The iconic struggle between Marine and Alien in the cold of space came from this era.
June 1989, cover: Genestealers by David Gallagher
Those Genestealers had to come from somewhere. As Space Hulk expanded, the Cults grew with them, in both the board game and Warhammer 40K as well. They had a fully fleshed out background and army list added alongside an all-new range. This characterful piece defined the Cult and is still used by GW to this day. Another Dave Gallagher masterpiece.
September 1989, cover: Space Marine by Jim Burns
“Say hello to my little friend!” I’m sure that Brother Tony Montana is happy to be a member of the Unforgiven. This iconic piece was used as the cover for the relaunch of SPACE MARINE, focusing on the non-titan side of EPIC scale. This was about the time that Mk.VII Marines started to show up, and the Dark Angels changed from black to green armor. It’s an iconic “changing of the guard” piece that holds up decades later.
Which one’s your favorite?