My favourite TV show of all time is Firefly.
It didn't start out that way of course. I actually discovered Firefly in reverse, getting into it at the end and working back. You see, it all started when, one fateful night, I went down to the local Video Ezy. And when I say I went there, I mean one of my parents took me because while nominally old enough to walk around to the local shops I was raised in a household Police State by parents a little too paranoid about my wellbeing for my own good. And I certainly didn't have the purchasing power to rent media anyway, let alone snacks to have with them. But I digress.
So I went to the local Video Ezy and came back home with a couple of these newfangled DVD things to watch. I no longer remember what titles they were. But what I do remember, is the trailer on one of them that preceded the film. A trailer for some film that promised a slick wild ride of spaceships and anti-gravity vehicle chases and gunfights and mystery. Needless to say I immediately wanted to know where I could find this brilliant thing, but I missed the name of the picture being advertised - I was only 11 or 12 at the time.
Like Warhammer 40,000 before it, I very nearly forgot about the whole thing until about a year or so later, when I returned to the local Video Ezy and happened upon a DVD whose covers and screenshots next to the blurb seemed to match that fun cool science fiction trailer I had seen before. Intrigued, I immediately put it on the top of the list of titles to get out on this trip.
The DVD was called Serenity.
|And on the Third Year did Firefly arise from death. Truly it is The Messiah of Television shows.|
My first outing with Serenity didn't go quite according to plan. It was during my birthday party that year, and while promising my friends were completely thrown off by its nested opening sequences. I actually was too, but I was prepared to press on. However I was distinctly in the minority, so we settled on a different DVD to watch instead. The next day however, free from the burden of democracy, I gave Serenity another watch. Once again I was somewhat baffled by the opening, but I was also just entering adolescence so I was strangely intrigued by the funny feelings I was getting from watching Summer Glau on screen (they shared a lot of similarities with the funny feelings I got from Lts. Zofia and Eva whenever I played through Red Alert 2 at that time), and that was enough to get me through to where the film proper began.
Which I am very glad of, because it was GLORIOUS.
It quickly rocketed to my number 1 favourite movie slot, and remained there until I discovered that there was in fact an entire TV series of these characters in this setting before it.I managed to borrow a copy of this show, called Firefly, from one of my parents' friends, and was hooked from the start. Now is, however, not the time to delve too deeply into the unforgettable characters and their fantastic dialogue and electric chemistry, or the moments that made me feel things in my very core, or even the profound impact it had on me as my life took a screaming nose dive into hell from which it still hasn't quite recovered, but suffice to say that Firefly helped me through some very hard times. Indeed, it was one of the biggest pillars keeping me going until I discovered symphonic metal and figured out how to make friends again.
So earlier this year when I happened to be going through some similarly dark stuff at the same time as I was - by an astonishing coincidence - house-sitting for those same people who had kindly lent their DVD set of the show, I decided to take the opportunity to give the whole series a watch-through once more, which I hadn't been able to do in a while because many of the discs in my own box set have since lost their minds. Once again, it helped me through and reminded me that there is still beauty in the world (and in the case of a couple of episodes, that there is ugliness in the world beyond myself). Naturally one of the first things I did upon returning home was then load up my DVD of Serenity - which still works - and complete the story.
Only, that was where the problems began. That was when the colour began to fade.
Now don't get me wrong here. I can still recognise that Serenity is a brilliant film and great in its own right, and in all honesty is probably about the best conclusion to the show that we could have realistically got. But... it's just not quite the same as Firefly. Watching it again right next to the series, I couldn't help but feel like... something was missing.
Sure, it was bigger than Firefly, glossier, with slicker production values, and the movie-scale budget meant it could pack in a few giant flashy centrepieces that would not have been possible with a 2000s TV budget. Sure, it has all of the same ingredients as Firefly. And yet... something felt off about it. It's darker than the TV show, both literally in its visual aesthetics as well as in its overall atmosphere. The characters were always a little dysfunctional in the show, but here they fight more often than give friendly hugs and pats on the back, and they actually fight more than the bickering they did in the show, and I just did not feel like these were the same spaceship crew that would laugh endlessly together about all kinds of silly stuff. They did that all the time on the show - often about something that got brought up off-screen - but I don't remember them doing it once in the movie. Hell, I'm not sure I even remember them laughing much at all in the movie. Even the soundtrack is darker and deeper, more theatrical and less space western for the most part. And, most of all, the movie just seems to be missing that same overall innocence, feeling of love and sense of good honest FUN that the show had (the exceptions of course being the first caper at the start of the film and almost every scene with Mr Universe in it. I suspect it's no coincidence that those parts also tend to stick in the public conscious most).
Again, I understand that a lot of that isn't really the movie's fault. A lot of it is almost certainly just the inevitable collateral damage that comes from squeezing one or two 22 hour TV seasons' worth of content, including character and storyline development, into just one 2.5 hour feature film. There was always going to be stuff that was lost in that translation. Like I say, I'm aware that the movie is probably the best conclusion anyone could have realistically expected. But that doesn't change the difference in look and feel between the movie and the show, which only grows starker when you watch them back to back.
And that, then, is where this finally relates to the Tau in Warhammer 40,000. Because it was in thinking on this and reaching these conclusions that I finally at long last understood my issues with Codex: Tau Empire.
|In the Grim Darkness of the Far Future, there is only BROWN!|
Codex: Tau Empire was originally released in April 2006, about five years after the original Tau release and two years into 4th edition in what turned out to be the mid-point of the editions period of GW support. It was in most respects a pretty conservative book, especially by later GW standards - most of the army rules were left unchanged from Codex: Tau, with the few things that were changed being largely small but significant. It was accompanied by a somewhat more ambitious lineup of model releases that were centred around importing two Forgeworld vehicle kits - specifically the Skyray SAM TELAR and Piranha patrol speeder - into mainstream 40k plastic form.
The best feature of the book by far is the expanded armoury section. Andy Hoare and the rest of the writing team on this project took the opportunity in this codex to expand the wargear armoury lineup of Codex Tau - which in fairness is... spartan to say the least - especially the Battlesuit Wargear section, which affords Tau characters with a similar level of options to what armies like Witchhunters have already been enjoying. Indeed, between the new wargear options and the Battlesuit equipment system already in place, Tau characters in Crisis Suits can start to rival even 3.5 Chaos Space Marine characters in their complexity and wealth of options. And with a very generous points budget of 100 for every character, and the most expensive item being 30 points, it is possible to load down a single Crisis Suit with every single item in the entire Battlesuit Wargear list - provided, of course, you did not take Shield Drones to escort them. They'd push you just over the limit, so you'd have to give up something for them.
You couldn't do it for every Tau character in a Crisis suit though, because almost all of these new Wargear items were tagged with a new rule for this codex - Special Issue. The Special Issue items here mark the start of the tradition of new Tau books introducing brand new cutting edge prototype technology that you could equip certain units - usually characters in Battlesuits - with, and means that any item listed as Special Issue is restricted to one for the whole army. This effectively leaves you with the choice of either piling all the Special Issue stuff onto one single Super Prototype suit, or distributing it around the various Battlesuit characters in the army like a boring person.
Most of these new Special Issue items were largely fun extras, like the Ejection System or the Failsafe Detonator, while a couple - namely the 2+ Armour Save Irridium Armour and the wound-canceling Stimulant Injector - were very potent and quickly became very popular amongst Tau players. But the crowning jewels of the Special Issue addons weren't Wargear items - they were the two new Battlesuit Support System options included in this book, the Command and Control Node and the Positional Relay.
Of all the things in this book, the Command and Control Node and the Positional Relay are the two things I miss most about it these days, and the two things I would most strongly consider salvaging from it. Right off the bat they have two very powerful abilities - letting nearby units use the character's leadership for Target Priority tests and getting a single Reserve unit onto the table on a 2+ dice roll regardless of what turn it is, respectively. But more than that, when put on a Shas'El or Shas'O commander they really emphasise their role as leaders and highlight their ability to, well, command things, making them actual command units instead of just fighters with really hardcore stats. Not only that, but they also highlight two different levels of military command - the Command and Control Node, with its effects on on-table local fire control, emphasises command and leadership at the Tactical level, while the Positional Relay with its control over key Reserve deployment reflects command and leadership at the Operational level. It's beautiful.
The final Special Issue items of note are two new Battlesuit weapon options, the Cyclic Ion Blaster and the Airbursting Fragmentation Projector, both of which got modeled as metal components that are exceptionally cool looking even now. The Airbursting Fragmentation Projector in particular is the best addition from this codex next to the aforementioned support systems, and is an auto-include on my commander in every game not played using Codex: Tau (a rare thing, and getting rarer as time goes on), being essentially a self-guiding cluster bomb launcher that functions as a short-range Mortar on crack.
In addition to all this, the codex features a new kind of alien auxiliary unit in the form of the Vespid, a new heavy weapons unit in the Sniper Drone team, some expanded options for Stealthsuit teams, a smattering of minor rules alterations here and there, and two new named Special Characters. The first of these is Aun'Va, billed as the head Ethereal that all the other Ethereals in the Tau Empire answer to. In later books his character was taken to some pretty absurd places in the name of pandering to rabid anti-Tau fans (we'll be back for them), but here he's presented how he should have always been as the sagely non-combat Leader type that's a staple of so many RTS escort missions, and while the initial seeds of the later takes are plainly there, its a refreshing image from before the GW writers went Full Putin with him. The second is Commander Shadowsun, conceived as a foil for Farsight, and is essentially a Tau version of Sarah Kerrigan from Starcraft - even right down to the red topknot, thanks to the 'Evy Metal team - something only reinforced by some honestly pretty badass illustration artwork of her out on a covert mission in the middle of a moonlit wilderness. Shadowsun also debuts the XV-22 Battlesuit so beloved of later Tau players, even though I still think it's one of the uglier battlesuit designs; it's the helmet that kills it for me, something that I was very grateful to the Relic team for fixing in the Tau campaign of Dark Crusade.
Also, speaking of artwork, Codex: Tau Empire features some more artwork by the legendary Karl Kopinski, in whose breathtaking illustrations Warhammer 40k came of age, and who has easily done the best job of capturing the Warhammer 40,000 universe in visual form (fight me 2nd Edition grognards). Currently featured on the gallery section of Karl Kopinski's website is this spicy little collection of little page doodads.
|Image sourced from KarlKopinski.com. All credit for artwork goes to Karl Kopinski. Seriously, check out all his artwork, he's really good!|
Right away it's pretty easy to spot the influence of the Lord Of The Rings Strategy Battle Game page doodads creeping into the visual style, particularly in the shading techniques. But what I find really interesting about this collection is that not all of these made it to the final codex. Not counting the baby doodle (which judging by the very different visual tone was never seriously intended for codex publication), only half of the doodad pieces featured here were featured in the final published book. The ones that GW elected not to use are interesting, because I actually like some of them a little more than some of the final choices. Particular standouts to me include the cityscape at night and the hunk of meat with a knife plunged in it, which would have been a nice bone to throw for the Kroot aspect of the book (pun intended).
|Real subtle there, GW|
|Nothing says "Space Opera adventure!" quite like a desert battle beneath an aggressively blue sky|
|In the Grim Darkness of the far future, there is only BROWN!|