Torunn Grønbekk Hunts Heretics With Warhammer 40K’s Sisters of Battle

The world of Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40,000 is a war-torn, sci-fi-hellscape where humanity’s crumbling and tyrannical interstellar empire is beset on all sides by hostile alien armies, demons and the supernaturally corrupted forces of the Chaos Gods. However, The Imperium of Man is not without its defenders or heroes. In Warhammer 40,000: Marneus Calgar, the first comic in Marvel’s 40K line, readers met some of the Imperium’s power armor-clad, post-human super soldiers — the Adeptus Astartes or Spaces Marines.

In August, writer Torunn Grønbekk and artist Edgar Salazar introduce another of humanity’s elite armies in Marvel’s next 40K comic, Warhammer 40,000: Sisters of Battle. The titular stars are the armored, heavily armed and pious warrior nuns known as the Adepta Sororitas. The sisters will embark on an action-packed mission designed to entertain new readers and longtime fans of Games Workshop’s “Grim Dark” hobby universe. CBR spoke with Grønbekk about her love of Warhammer 40K, the role a powerful and infamous 40K institution plays in the story and the horrible things that await on a distant Imperial mining world.

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Also included within this interview are sneak peek pages from Warhammer 40K: Sisters of Battle, drawn by artist Edgar Salazar and colored by artist Arif Prianto.

CBR: In the press release for Sisters of Battle you mentioned painting miniatures. So I’m guessing you’re a long-time fan of Warhammer 40,000. What was it about the game and its world that originally drew you into the hobby? And what aspects do you find most compelling about 40K now?

Torunn Grønbekk: I guess it’s odd to talk about “joy” in the grim darkness of the far future, but there is a playfulness in the 40K universe that I find wholly delightful. The wealth of imagination that has gone into the world-building, the miniatures, and the art is like nothing else and I find it utterly irresistible.

I was introduced to Warhammer back in the Fantasy days but didn’t get properly into 40K until a few years ago when a friend of mine asked me to help him paint a few models from his army. I love painting minis, and part of it is reading up on the lore to better understand both the character I’m painting and the universe they inhabit. Reading 40K lore, it quickly became apparent that this was very much my thing. It didn’t take long until I’d started collecting 40K models for myself. Years later, I now have an embarrassing amount of different 40K minis and at least one full army — You guessed it; Sisters of Battle.

Marvel is rolling out these 40K comics, with the core concepts of Warhammer 40K for new and old fans alike with stories that say, “These are who these characters are and this is why they’re cool.” How did you approach doing that type of story for the Adepta Sororitas/Sisters of Battle? Which aspects of the organization do you find most fascinating? Or most important to focus on?

I knew going into this book that — for many readers — it would serve as an introduction to The Adepta Sororitas and their Orders Militant, and I wanted the story itself to be compelling and a good read, even if you’re not intimately familiar with the Sisters or even 40K. I also wanted to make sure that we feature many of the things that make The Sisters unique. People perk up when they hear “nuns with flamethrowers” (and rightly so), but the Battle Sisters are so much more. Hopefully, we’ve managed to showcase their fanatical, passionate devotion and their kickass armory along with their quirkier aspects (including, but not limited to: the constant singing of hymnals, the Church-shaped landers, and (my personal favorite) the creepy and glorious Cherubim).

We wanted a “classic” representation of The Sisters, so although I’d love to tell a story about, e.g., The Order of the Argent Shroud (they are so damn cool), it seemed more fitting to go for arguably the most iconic order – The Order of Our Martyred Lady. We’ve also tried to tell a story that says something about the abilities of the Adepta Sororitas, along with their general role and purpose in the larger 40K universe.

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Tackling the Sisters also means writing an organization they have close ties to, the fearsome and powerful Imperial Inquisition. How did you approach them? What kind of role do they play in your story?

I was going to say, “I love the Inquisition,” but that doesn’t sound great. How about — The Inquisition is thoroughly fascinating, and they make for an interesting pairing with The Sisters of Battle. Though their goals usually overlap (kill the heretics! etc.), their approach differs. I’m not going to go into what extent the Inquisition plays a role in our story, though, other than to say that they are indeed involved.

Your protagonist, Canoness Veridyan, has her own model for the 40K tabletop game, correct? What made you want to focus on Veridyan? And what can you tell us about the women who fight alongside her?

Yes, there is a fantastic Canoness Veridyan model based on the now-classic John Blanche cover art for the SoB 2nd Edition Codex. We even get to use the illustration for one of our variant covers, which I’m very excited about! When I was planning out the story, I knew I needed a Canoness to lead the mission, and we knew we wanted to use a squad from The Order of Our Martyred Lady, so Veridyan was a natural choice.

Once I had her, the story’s tone fell into place, and so did the rest of the team of sisters. All Battle Sisters are highly competent, fearless, and dedicated, and our goal was to create a squad of interesting personalities who would still ring true to the nature of The Sisters. It is harder than it sounds because there are many character traits the Battle Sisters do not come in – like “timid” or “untrustworthy,” but I think we’ve managed to create a great cast of characters, nonetheless. It includes a Sister Dialogus and a Novitiate, who both have very specific roles on the mission.

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The Sisters of Battle’s primary purview is the hunting of heretics which suggests cults and the forces of Chaos might play a part in your story. What can you tell us about the antagonists that you have lined up to test your characters’ mettle?

Antagonists in 40K are pretty compelling, especially because anyone who strays from the (extremely narrow) path of righteousness is technically a traitor. I think it’s easy to see how someone could end up falling for the temptations of Chaos under such an absolutist stance. In many ways, it made writing the baddies in this book both challenging, relatable, and very fun. I don’t want to say too much about them, though, except that I hope my enthusiasm for these lost souls comes through in the story.

The action of your story unfolds on the planet Siscia. What kind of place is Siscia? Is it an Imperial world?

Yes, it is, albeit a minor one. It’s a mining world built in the ruins of an ancient civilization. The planet itself is virtually barren, but beneath the surface, a complex, subterranean network of industrial infrastructure, factories, mines, and refineries makes up a city, where the indigent population work to produce the planet’s main export: Promethium (the combustible fuel much of Imperium runs on). It is in these depths our story unfolds.

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What was it like watching Edgar Salazar and the rest of your team bring Siscia, your cast, and all the action to life?

It is a daily joy. Edgar is doing a fantastic job with the action, the characters, the world-building, and keeping track of those all-important 40K details. Combined with the gorgeous colors by Arif Prianto and the MIND-BLOWING covers by Dave Wilkins, it feels like something quite special. Games Workshop has been extremely helpful throughout the process, and I hope the result will appeal to both new and seasoned fans of 40K.

The initial press release and art for Sisters of Battle evoked the feel of the film Predator to me, in that it looks like an action-packed tale where things are not initially what they seem and the setting hides horrific secrets. Is that what you were aiming for?

Well, I’ll say this: The Sisters of Battle worship through fire, fury, and dead heretics. And there’s a lot of worship going on in this one, that’s for sure. But though action-packed, there are certainly many moments that border on horror, and there are plenty of surprises along the way.

It has been a bucket list item for me to work on this book, and I hope that the delight I’ve felt while writing (arguably, quite horrible things!) comes through when you read it. The first issue is out on August 18th, and if you’re into the Sisters of Battle, 40K, or just enjoy reading about ass-kicking women, be sure to pick it up!

Marvel’s Warhammer 40,000: Sisters of Battle #1 hits comic stands on Aug. 18.

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