Since the 2008 Iron Man movie propelled the comic book company into the mainstream they have grown exponentially, in big part thanks to the performance of Robert Downey Jr. Can Superman carry Warhammer from table top game for nerds to Hollywood heaven?
Iron Man is my nephew’s favourite character. He loves the red-suited billionaire, flies him around his house, uses him to fight his dog. Yet, he’s never read a comic in his life.
In 2021 Marvel, after being acquired by Disney for $4 billion was reported by Forbes to be worth $50 billion.
Geek hobbies, previously confined to the comic book or local game store are big business.
And now other nerd stalwart properties want a piece of that mainstream pie.
Warhammer has its own streaming service, but more eye-catching is a new Amazon Prime series in the works starring everyone’s favourite geek, Henry Cavill.
Christopher John Eggett, editor of Tabletop Gaming, the UK’s largest magazine focused on non-video games, thinks the concept of what a hobby means is evolving:
“Marvel is the thing which everyone who wants to project a geek or nerd culture IP [intellectual property] into the mainstream wants to emulate.
We’re not talking about hobby anymore, we are talking about property. An all-encompassing property.”
Just over a decade ago while the Avengers were assembling to take cinema by storm, Games Workshop, the creators of Warhammer, were languishing.
However, it would not remain that way for long. Christopher recounts that time:
“The people who were involved with the original games returned.
“Suddenly, it made so much money that they gave all of their employees £2,000 bonus, just for fun.
“They have been really successful by doing what they do really well for years.”
Now, the company is looking to expand, with Superman himself on board to produce and star in a brand-new show based on Games Workshop’s most recognisable figures: Space Marines.
Christopher John Eggett thinks the former Witcher star could be Warhammer’s answer to Downey Jr:
“Henry Cavill is a great poster child for Warhammer going down that same route. Famously slightly boring, buff guy who paints Space Marines.
“He plays the straightest characters in the universe.”
The fact that Cavill is “boring” is not a negative. He is relatable, a recognisable face who has attracted mass audiences in the past.
These qualities make Cavill an ideal candidate to bring Warhammer Grimdark to the screen.
Ciara Evenblood, a Warhammer content creator agrees:
“Henry Cavill being into Warhammer seems to be the one thing that can unify all fans in generating excitement. I think it will do big things for the hobby.”
Since the company’s inception, Games Workshop has proven extremely adaptable. After a phone call from Gary Gygax, Iain Livinstone and Steve Jackson, who had been games reviewers before, obtained the licence to produce D&D in Europe under the Games Workshop brand before producing their own game.
The current owners of Warhammer have continued to innovate.
Jonathan Harwood, deputy editor of Gizmodo, a tech and culture magazine, has seen many of the changes after getting into the hobby as a young teen:
“WHFB [Warhammer Fantasy Battle] has gone through huge changes over the years. It was rebooted and reworked in 2015 into Age of Sigmar. It’s the game I spend most time with now in a way I never did trying Fantasy Battle.”
In the modern era accessibility has been the driver of change.
How successful these changes have been remains up for debate. As Jonathan continued:
“I think Warhammer is more accessible than it ever has been, but it’s still not an accessible hobby.
“From starter magazines to different tiers of core box sets, in-store initiatives, and free digital core rules, encouraging newcomers into a scene that has long had a reputation for impenetrability is much easier now than when I was a kid.
“But it’s still going to cost someone hundreds of pounds to buy into a faction.”
This was echoed by Warhammer content creator Ciara Elvenblood:
“Warhammer is an expensive hobby, but I don’t think it’s any more expensive than other hobbies that require equipment.”
The Irish miniature painter game itself:
“Long battles and large armies are out – quick games you can play on your coffee table seem to be what they’re working towards.”
Jonathan shared another problem which may hold Warhammer back:
“[The problem] for 40K is probably the fascism.
“Indoctrinated walking tanks that purge The Other in the name of a religious fascist state figurehead … are the heroes you put on T-Shirts and make into Funko Pops.”
This issue has dogged Marvel previously with successful characters such as The Punisher used to represent unsavoury political beliefs.
It is difficult to imagine Space Marine phrases such as: “Suffer not the Xenos to live” appearing on my nephew’s alarm clock.
Christopher John Eggett thinks that breaking into the mass market is a real possibility for Warhammer:
“It’s a product people can engage with quite successfully.
“You like the Space Marines one and I like the alien one, you can see that kind of office talk going on.
“They could become a collectible item. Funko collectors would then collect the Henry Cavill Space Marine Captain in three different outfits to get people in.
“Henry Cavill might be the hook. The top-level stuff, I think people will engage with quite happily. . When it comes to Marvel … there is a flexibility in people’s imaginations.
“When it comes to 40K there’s scope for them to get it wrong.”
However, Warhammer may have an advantage that Marvel lacked, as Christopher Eggett says:
People are in search of authentic experiences which Games Workshop can deliver if you walk into one of their stores.
Maybe not, but it seems like Warhammer has the stories and now the star power to take the Marvel Step.