Sunday, July 12, 2009

Halo Graphic Novel Review (Part 2)

This article was written for Halopedia:

Hello, Halopedians. I return with my second article reviewing the Halo Graphic Novel. You can check out my first article in the series, reviewing The Last Voyage of the Infinite Succor, here. For today, I will review the second story in the HGN: Armor Testing by Jay Faerber, Ed Lee, and Andrew Robinson.

With its simplistic graphics and story, Armor Testing is a nice break from Last Voyage. Whereas Last Voyage was dark and filled with (at times distracting) detail, Armor Testing is a clean and friendly story about a Spartan testing the new MJOLNIR Mark VI suit against some ODSTs in mock-combat. Compared to Last Voyage’s 48 pages, Armor Testing is pretty short at only 12 pages. The simplistic storyline makes for a nice integration with the shorter length of the other stories.

Armor Testing gives us a look at some cool UNSC technology not previously seen. Spartan-062 drops down to Earth from low orbit with a pack that deploys a parafoil, allowing her to glide over the landscape. Once on the ground, she and the ODSTs fight with mock-weapons that shoot paint. We also get our first glimpse of the Humbler Stun Device, previously only described in the novels, apparently colored purple to imitate a Covenant energy sword.

It’s also interesting to see Korean UNSC characters. While Bungie has generally tried to go for the melting pot look, the cast still came out rather white with only a few ethnically diverse characters appearing as the generic Marines. It’s nice to see Asian characters that are actual characters. Although it kind of kills the melting pot concept in that they are all Korean, and are Asian only because of the region. UNSC: United but separate?

But the most interesting thing about the story is the new Spartan character, Maria-062. Not only is she the first canon female Spartan to be depicted visually (after the basically non-canon Nicole-458), she is the first Spartan to be seen unmasked. They built up to the reveal, her head in shadow, seen from the side, out of frame… and then blam! Female Spartan!

Maria is unique in that she is the only Spartan thus far to have retired. I assume it had to have been sometime after Cortana and Solipsil’s conversation in 2550 in which Cortana denies a Spartan-II ever taking advantage of their legal recourse because of their brainwashing. Something must have happened to make her desire to start a family override her brainwashed sense of duty to the UNSC. In her conversation with the Korean senior officer, she comes across as the most free Spartan with a good perspective on the world that puts her at the same level as the soldiers.

From the “girl power” perspective, Maria is pretty decent. Unlike Cortana, whose physical form was played up for sex appeal, Maria looks generally natural. I say “generally” because she is a Spartan and in a heightened physical condition, but she is free from the sexual objectification often placed on female characters in these sorts of media aimed at the male audience. The downside is that she is less of an action hero than John-117 or Linda-058, and is eventually overcome by the ODSTs in the exercise. Her denial of re-enlisting for purposes of starting a family could be viewed as less than progressive, but I personally see it as a victory. She got out.

As for the graphics of Armor Testing, I’m not so impressed. The artists use a blend of standard artwork and computer rendering that just doesn’t look very pretty. The Ghost looks like it was ripped straight from Halo 2, and seems out of place in the two-dimensional environment. Aside from the computer renders, the artwork is decent. As a step up from Last Voyage, I can tell what the heck’s going on during the fight scenes.

So, final thoughts on Armor Testing: Easy to understand storyline; interesting new tech; clean graphics, free of the distraction that plagued Last Voyage; some annoying renders; cool female Spartan, whose face we actually see; friendly comradery between UNSC soldiers. Stay tuned for the next article in this series, which will review Breaking Quarantine.

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