Special: Prepare to take the Bungie jump into the Halo mythos.
Byron Tsang wears the Video Game Librarian hat today as he takes a look at the further adventures of the Master Chief in graphic novel land.
Love it or hate it, the Halo series has made quite a splash in the gaming world. Over the years the fanbase has swelled and calls for fleshing out the Halo universe have been made. Bungie responded with four novels, viral marketing, an upcoming film, and more. Now we have the Halo Graphic Novel, the fully colored spearhead into comic medium. Four separate stories with an assortment of styles, is this merely a milked-out product or an honest expansion of the saga?
?The Last Voyage of the Infinite Succor? is written by Lee Hammock with art by Simon Bisley. The first in the anthology, it's also the only one that has a brief appearance by the Master Chief, as well as the Supreme Commander of the Fleet of Particular Justice, later known as the Arbiter. This is because it's a tale from the Covenant end with the Elite Spec Ops Commander from Halo 2 as the protagonist. Set during the events the first Halo, the supply ship the Infinite Succor is boarded by a foreign entity and a distress signal is sent out, leading the Covenant to send the Commander and his team to investigate. There are suspicions that the cause is a certain super-soldier they've dubbed ?the Demon', giving their mission much more gravity, but upon landing, they find the enemy to be something completely different.
Interesting to start off the book with a Covenant story, but then again, by Halo 2 not all of the Covenant are regarded as enemies anymore. This story goes further on to develop on their mannerisms as well as the ways of the Flood. It'll be absorbing to those wishing to know more about the aliens they've been fighting for two games but in the end, it feels simply like a backdrop for chaotic action. Is it a bad thing? No, as we do get to see how the Commander gains the moniker ?Half-Jaw' and his disdain for the Flood. Drawn by Simon Bisley of Lobo fame, ?Infinite Succor? is a glorious illustration of violence. Even with so much happening in each frame, it avoids the trap of getting too hectic despite the fact that telling the Elites apart can be hard when things get messy, as the lone visual distinction of the Commander is that he carries two energy swords. True, his armor's white, but sometimes you won't be able to tell. Needless to say, ?Infinite Succor? is fast-paced with the Spec Ops team battling through the ship, running from one location to the next. It's all good fun and an excellent beginning to the book.
?Armor Testing? is a three-man job with writing by Jay Faerber and art by Ed Lee and Andrew Robinson, brings us back to Earth with the field testing of the MJOLNIR Mark VI Assault Armor, the very armor the Master Chief ends up wearing for Halo 2. And is there a better way of testing a battle suit other than having it dive through the atmosphere and taking out squads of soldiers?
Since the stakes are much lower in this story, it doesn't provide the thrills ?Infinite Succor? may have, but it does give a better idea of the workings of the armor. Art-wise, ?Armor Testing? is unmistakably unique. It's a mixture of computer-generated backgrounds and more naturally-drawn humans. This combination of Andrew Robinson and Ed Lee's art styles is clearly different and that may turn off people. Thanks to these issues, ?Armor Testing? seems to be the weakest of the four on terms of captivation but it's a short tale so most shouldn't mind.
?Breaking Quarantine? by Tsutomu Nihei raises pulses back up with Sergeant Avery J. Johnson's story of survival from the Flood. How he managed to escape from an installation filled with the infected is laid out and the answer is very simple: he blew them away and ran.
That's pretty much all there is to it. Without a single bubble of dialogue, it's just twelve pages of frenzied action. Creator of Blame!, Tsutomu Nihei captures the visceral combat perfectly. Like his usual work, it's exceedingly moody, detailed, and no words can do it justice. Even among the great art collected, ?Breaking Quarantine? is a standout and it's a shame it's so brief. Nihei was the single reason for my acquiring of this book, as I am a Nihei-junkie. If you want dizzyingly surreal and stylized art, he's the man to turn to.
?Second Sunrise Over New Mombasa? brings together writer Brett Lewis and renowned artist Jean ?Moebius? Giraud to show how the populated industrial city of New Mombasa falls to the Covenant might, setting up the battleground for the Master Chief in Halo 2. Told from the perspective of a bitter photographer-turned-propagandist, we learn of the seriousness of humanity's situation: the battle against the Covenant isn't to our favor and the alien push towards Earth can't be blunted. This point is further driven home with the Covenant landings on New Mombasa and the ensuing carnage.
The final story happens to be the most somber, since there's no nobility of Elites or the badass Sgt. Johnson to give us amusement. No, instead Brett Lewis gives us a losing war that must be transformed into a winning one for the masses, as the government would prefer to avoid widespread panic. However, once the Covenant attacks New Mombasa, it's nothing but bloodshed. All this is brought to life by the legendary Moebius, known worldwide for works like Blueberry. Personally, his artwork has always been somewhat hit-and-miss for me. Some things click while others don't. ?Second Sunrise? works for the most part, as it is the most colorful and vivid of the stories, although it falls prey to the problem of confusing panel layout. It's not terrible but they end up jumping everywhere, forcing you follow the panels a lot more closely lest you get lost. Still, it is likely the most self-contained and poignant of the four, as you witness few heroics and a bleak premonition for the fate of mankind.
All of the stories are accompanied by an introduction and closed with words from the writers and artists involved for each. It's a good addition and helps to divide each story up. As if four individual comics weren't enough, Bungie found it necessary to include a massive gallery of even more artists, up to 22 of them detailing elements of the Halo universe. Some are from Marvel, some are from Bungie's own artist vault, and some are from everywhere else. If you were feeling down due to the Master Chief's exclusion from the comics, he's back and reborn via a variety of styles. Oh, for all the boys: Scott Fischer gives you a more realistic and shapely Cortana. Sorry ladies; the Master Chief's helmet stays on, but Isaac Hannaford's Brute looks hungry for lovin'. My own favorites include, but aren't limited to: Justin Sweet's Tartarus, Tsutomu Nihei's Flood, Chris Barrett's Elite, and Craig Mullins' Master Chief.
Fans have no fear because this isn't some cash-in on the Halo name; it's a fantastic elaboration of Halo with enough diversity in the artists to satisfy everyone. Everyone else might still find something to enjoy, as the stories do have stand-alone capability. Bungie has been known for producing amazingly detailed back-stories for their games, packed to the brim with their own mythos. Halo is no exception and this graphic novel only proves their dedication to their craft.
July 26th, 2006
Hardcover, 128 pages
The Video Game Librarian Archive