Saturday, July 11, 2009

Halo Graphic Novel Review (Part 1)

This article was written for Halopedia:

The Halo Graphic Novel came out on July 19th, 2006. I got it a couple weeks or so later, and have read it numerous times over the years since then. The HGN offered us a look into subjects not previously explored in such detail, including aspects of the Covenant, Flood, UNSC, and human civilians. It gave us an unmasked female Spartan, a name for “Half-Jaw”, and proof of Johnson’s coolness with both a powerful fight scene and evidence that he’s a Spartan-I. I will now offer to ye Halopedians a thorough analysis and review of the Halo Graphic Novel. As the book is made up of several stories, I will make this a series of articles instead of one giant article.

The first story is The Last Voyage of the Infinite Succor by Lee Hammond (story) and Simon Bisley (art). Now this is the highlight of the book. Most promotional material included art from this story, and for good reason. It is the longest story in the book, spanning 48 pages while the others are more like 14 pages or so. Moreover, it is intimidating science-fiction horror that offers a sympathetic view of the Sangheili and insight into the workings of the Flood.

The world of the Covenant had been revealed to us in Halo 2, with likable Sangheili characters. We got to know our Sangheili protagonist, a Supreme Commander shamed and reborn into the Arbiter, as well as his loyal Special Ops Commander with only half his mandibles. These characters return for Last Voyage, which stars Special Ops Commander Rtas ‘Vadumee, whom Halo fans had previously only known by the moniker “Half-Jaw”. Instead of the Arbiter we know and love, we meet a dark Supreme Commander adorned in flowing purple robes. While the Supreme Commander has yet to make his journey as the Arbiter, respect between him and ‘Vadumee can clearly be seen even at this most hierarchal stage of their relationship.

Last Voyage gives us a fascinating look into the Covenant. So much of their culture is revealed in this story. Newer fans, understand that this was a long time before Halo: Contact Harvest’s in-depth Covenant storylines. With Last Voyage, we saw the Sangheili honorably mock-fighting with dual-wielded swords, learned that Covenant dropships had names like Brilliant Gift, met a new Prophet, and saw the interior of a ship with the purpose of maintaining a hunting preserve. Pretty mesmerizing stuff for us Halo geeks.

More than the Covenant, Last Voyage shows us the Flood in an interesting new way. After assaulting the Infinite Succor, Covenant hunting preserve, the Flood infect their version of wild game. The prey creatures are pretty tough monstrous aliens without the Flood, and with the Flood you’ve got some really freaky opponents.

Apparently, it was important to Bungie that the fans see the Flood as something more than “space zombies”. They accomplish this by introducing a talking Proto-Gravemind. It addresses ‘Vadumee and asks him what chance he has of defeating the Flood when even the Forerunners could not.

The story of Last Voyage is interesting. The Sangheili as always have the appeal of the romanticized knights or samurai. ‘Vadumee has a strong sense of honor and has a respectful relationship with his Sub-Commander, who he personally trains in sword-fighting. He cares deeply about his men, even the often abused Unggoy, and takes measures to ensure their safety. He even goes as far as to attack a Prophet to protect them.

The Prophet, a Legate known as the Minister of Etiology, would seem to be another corrupt politician character. Like the Prophet of Truth, this guy is sneaky and is implied to know more than he lets on. Whatever he does know is lost when the Flood eat him, though. It provides a nicely creepy image for the Proto-Gravemind to speak through the Legate’s face amongst a messy heap of bodies.

‘Vadumee emerges a tragic hero. He survives the Flood and sends the ship into a star, but he ultimately loses his men. He has a climatic fight scene when his Sub-Commander is transformed into a Combat Form and fights him with the sword-fighting skills ‘Vadumee himself taught him. Sub-Commander Kusovai slices off two of ‘Vadumee’s mandibles, thus explaining his iconic injury, before ‘Vadumee kills him. He defeats the Flood, but escapes alone.

But while the story is good, I do have some issues with the graphics. The artist took some liberties with the Covenant technology, and the result is certain items that while are not implausible are not seen elsewhere in the Halo series. Examples include Unggoy methane tanks drawn in a barrel style, lumpy guns that take after the assault rifle, and a black grenade of some sort. Interestingly, the Sangheili arm shield from the original E3 trailer for the first game made a reappearance. While not canon, it at least gives the shield some basis in the Halo mythology.

Aside from the content, some of the artwork is just too busy. The fight scenes with the infected aliens have a lot of colorful detail that makes it hard to follow the action. I’ve had to read this story several times to get what happens. The first time through I missed where ‘Vadumee lost his mandibles and had to go back.

So, final thoughts on Last Voyage: Interesting insights into the Covenant and the Flood; engaging storyline; weird (possibly non-canon) technology; art is at times poorly rendered and confusing. Stay tuned for my thoughts on the next story, Armor Testing, same Halo time, same Halo wiki.

"Though you leave this world, you will come on the Great Journey when the time comes. Die with honor."

—Rtas ‘Vadumee, before killing the Flood that was his Sub-Commander

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