Why the Dark Angels Really Changed from Black to Green

Continuing my series on the Dark Angels from Warhammer 40,000 (one, two), I wanted to write about the interesting ways that Games Workshop has changed the story to fit the artwork over the years.

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In early, Rogue Trader-era art, the Dark Angels wore black with red accents.

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According to this great thread on the topic, the cover of White Dwarf 117 featured a painting of Dark Angels Space Marines that seems to show them wearing green. Bolter and Chainsword member Brother dean:

It is a correct depiction of how shiny black armor will reflect a yellow sky. The story that I’ve always heard is that a ’Eavy Metal painters saw the painting and made them black green.

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Here’s the cover itself:

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So the army had been painted black until this art came out which showed them with a green cast. The studio painters saw it and from then on started painting the Dark Angels in green. Was this an actual mistake—the ’Eavy Metal team thinking the shiny black armor was supposed to be black—or just a change because they liked the green scheme? Either way, within the year the Dark Angels got new outfits.

At the same time the Deathwing expansion of Space Hulk came out featuring Dark Angels Terminators wearing bone white armor. This resulted in two eventual changes to the lore. First, the idea was introduced that black color scheme was what the original legion wore. There’s one mention of it that I can find in the 2nd edition codex, which refers to the Angels of Absolution having “retained the traditional black armour of the original Dark Angels Legion.” Later stories would say that after the Heresy and the destruction of Caliban, the chapter repainted their armor in honor of the green forests of their homeworld.

Meanwhile, a similar story was written to explain why the Terminators now wear bone white armor instead of black, which was that a squad of Deathwing Terminators returned to their homeworld to look for new recruits but found it “in the grip of a Genestealer infestation.” They repainted their armor to the color of bone, which represented death in their culture, and the Deathwing ever since has used that color in honor of their victory. (That story also featured American Indian imagery—the world was called Plains World, the characters had names like Cloud Runner and Two Heads Talking, and Dark Angels and Deathwing models started featuring feathers as decorations. Over time GW would walk back this icongraphy and wrote a story explaining that the Dark Angels recruited from many worlds, including Plains World, and that the Battle Brothers take new names upon joining the chapter, so Cloud Runner and Two Heads Talking became “Ezekiel” and “Lucian.” This allowed them to play up the Dark Angels as grumpy knights while still retaining the Indian-inspired story elements.)

Similar changes have been made elsewhere. Over time GW changed the how Space Marines’ boltguns look slightly. It now sells a line of Horus Heresy-era miniatures wearing archaic armor which are designed to look like the older armor and gun designs, making the retro looks old in the senses both of the miniature range and the storyline. On a much larger scale, the game’s rules got a major overhaul in 8th edition, but the Horus Heresy game, set 10,000 years before the setting of the regular game, retains many parts of the previous rules system. In essence, and entire ruleset was retconned. It’s similar to how DC Comics would alter its storyline or move entire characters to an alternate Earth to explain differences between old issues and newer plots. GW could have just made these changes without explanation, but it’s much more fun to write them into the story.

(One last example I really like: A recent storyline involved the creation of a whole bunch of new “Primaris” Space Marines. A large number of these were not assigned to any particular chapter but instead served as reserve forces for a large campaign. On their shoulder they wore a grey chevron symbol, from which they got the nick name “Greyshields.” This grey is intended to be the same color as unpainted plastic models. They’re Space Marines who are fresh out of the box.)

Hobby-wise, It might be interesting to try painting a Heresy-era or Fallen force with shiny black armor. I have a Cypher model waiting for paint. I may try a base coat of Leadbelcher and then using a thinned-down Black Templar over it, maybe with some ’Ardcoat to finish it.