At first glance there appear to be four of these dark gods, but it's not quite as simple as that. We'll come back to this in a moment.
From one game to the other, there are a few subtle differences in their back stories, but all the main characteristics are pretty much identical. The similarities are so overwhelmingly strong that the Chaos Gods' presence in both games could be the main reason for all the speculation on the relationship between the WFB realm and the WH40K universe (see here for a quick round-up and here for my thoughts on the subject).
Of course, all the speculation makes it hard to prove that they're the exact same horrible bad guys. It's hard to find definitive answers. Very little light has been shone into these darkest of dark corners.
However, over the years, Games Workshop have released a few key milestones.
One such key milestone happened in the late eighties and early nineties. Back in those swirling mists of time we were given Slaves to Darkness (1988) and The Lost and the Damned (1990), collectively known as the Realm of Chaos books.
|I say 'given', but actually these were really expensive|
These books fleshed out pre-existing Chaos lore and added much of the additional material we are familiar with today. They contained the first list of the four Chaos Gods: the two unpronounceable ones, Slaanesh and Tzeentch; the meat-eater that sounds like a vegetarian, Khorne; and the bringer of sick days, Nurgle.
Malal was invented by a team lifted directly from 2000AD: John Wagner (co-creator of Judge Dredd), Alan Grant (Wagner's writing partner on Dredd for most of the eighties), the late, great Brett Ewins (who coincidentally lived around the corner from the first ever Games Workshop store near Ravenscourt Park in West London) and Jim McCarthy (Ewins' long-time art partner and brother to Brendan McCarthy of Mad Max Fury Road fame). Their dark god made his first appearance as a somewhat ambiguous antagonist in one of the earliest Games Workshop comic strips, The Quest of Kaleb Daark.
After the struggles that 2000AD creators had with IPC and the copyright to their characters, this all-star creative team was reluctant to give Games Workshop the intellectual property to Malal. So the comic was never completed and Games Workshop pretty much canned their planned expansion of Malal's presence in the game.
Any further references to him were in a new guise, that of Malice.
If you fancy some further reading there are a couple of more detailed posts about Malal, including mention of his second most infamous follower, Skrag the Slaughterer, the ogre renegade, over at Realm of Chaos 80s here and here.
As far as I'm aware Malal only appeared in the WFB setting, but if the gods are indeed the same from WFB to WH40K then he could equally pop up in the 41st millennium at any point. Or the 31st for that matter.
But not just Malal. If there are four major gods at the top, and countless numbers of greater daemons positioned on the third tier, then it follows that there would be a whole host of minor gods sitting in between them. Minor gods that are yet to be named, designed or explored. Minor gods that are fair game for anyone wanting to do their own thing. Minor gods that could well end up as the patron deities of your own collection of Chaos followers.
I'll be picking up on this theme in a later post.
*Or Warhammer Age of Sigmar (AoS) if you prefer. But I'm old skool at heart, I referred to Snickers as Marathons for years. And besides, I'm not sure Slaanesh still exists in the reboot, so that would pretty much kill half this article. What's that you say? No bad thing?
**Or perhaps you think that title belongs to the Tyranids. Or maybe the C’tan. Or the Orks, or whatever the all-powerful army of the moment may happen to be. For the sake of this article let's just agree it’s the Chaos Powers. Or agree to disagree. Or you could write me a compelling argument in the comments section.