Sunday, August 2, 2009

Halo Graphic Novel Review (Part 4)

The following was written for Halopedia:

Well, Halopedians, here I am with the fourth article in my series reviewing the Halo Graphic Novel. If you’ve missed the previous articles, you can find them here, here, and here. Today, I will be reviewing the fourth story: Second Sunrise Over New Mombasa, by Brett Lewis and Jean “Moebius” Giraud.

Second Sunrise is a very unique Halo story. The artist takes extreme liberties with the art style, in both coloration and physical form. The colors are all very bright and predominantly made up of orange and blue. Colors are also not static and may change from panel to panel, which are themselves jaggedly segmented. I believe the protagonist’s race is supposed to be black, but he is mostly drawn in a blue-grey color.

More than color, the entities within this world are transformed from physical accuracy to more of a surreal representation. An example is of a guy who chats to the protagonist on a train. He is boiled down to the basic concept of “annoying white guy” and looks oddly cartoonish, as though he wandered off the set of Family Guy. Great creative liberties are also taken with the Covenant, who appear more like classic science-fiction caricatures than accurate depictions of Halo aliens.

The Scarab looks more like an orange tripod from The War of the Worlds with insectoid features. A Covenant ship looks like a Klingon Bird of Prey from Star Trek. Sangheili wear bulky and spiky armor with colors of blue, orange, and green. A Sangheili seen without his helmet has pale pink skin. The weapons they carry are pretty much made-up, except for a bright pink energy sword. The other species aren’t seen at all.

Strangest of all, though, is a man standing in a balcony, watching the invading Covenant’s orbital insertion. He’s a fat man in a suit, looking up in confusion, with a question mark over his head. His head looks like that of a rabbit. There is no explanation offered for this strange guy.

I read this graphic novel shortly after reading Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge. It’s a science-fiction novel that involves this troublemaking hacker who uses an avatar of an anthropomorphic rabbit. So, when I see the rabbit guy in Second Sunrise, I can’t help but think of that character.

Besides the art style, which can be a bit disconcerting, Second Sunrise is an intriguing story that reveals a lot about the civilian culture of Mombasa. Until Second Sunrise, the only look at the civilians that we had was the audio drama of I Love Bees, and it’s hard to say what elements of that are canon. This story brings us knowledge of civilian ideology, fashion, and class differences.

The plot involves a civilian photographer (who seems more like a Photoshopper) who moved to Mombasa for business. While he tells people his employers are a car company, he secretly works for ONI Section Two. ONI provides him with battlefield scenes, which he alters to make friendly enough for use as propaganda to make the civilians think that the UNSC is winning the war.

He lives in New Mombasa, the rich skyscraper-filled side of the city, but works in the ghetto of Old Mombasa. He takes the train across every day, and is exposed to his propaganda playing over TV screens. The civilian commuters have a variety of opinions regarding the Covenant war based on this misinformation: that the war is going smoothly, that the UNSC could annihilate them but are too concerned with their rights to do so, even that the UNSC are the aggressors and want to conquer Covenant planets.

One day in Old Mombasa, he stops to examine the wares of a local street vendor. The street vendor is depicted as extremely craggy and impoverished. His clothes are dirty and he’s got plumber’s crack. Clearly he is of the lower class.

The photographer is attracted to a print image, an obsolete medium by 2552, which depicts tribal Africans. He shares some words with the salesman, when the whole street is distracted by streaking meteors – Covenant orbital insertion. Then the rabbit guy shows up… Whatever.

The Covenant invade Mombasa. They start blowing stuff up, including the train the photographer was on. He wakes up in a hospital; his first thought that no one’s censoring the media coverage. In his hand, he still clutches the print image. It is crinkled and missing a few pieces. He drops it and follows out a Marine officer calling for anyone able to walk.

Meanwhile, the civilians attempt to defend their city. A bunch of them raid a gun store and try to fight off the Covenant. The Covenant arrive in much greater force, however, and they don’t stand a chance.

The photographer and a bunch of Marines capture speech of a green Sangheili (I know, just go with it) on the photographer’s laptop. A translation program reveals the alien speech to say, “We need to clear this area before we can secure access to the Ark.”

They know that this bit of intel is vital, but the Covenant are blocking communications. So, they send the photographer to get the laptop out of the city. He runs to the docks, which are a madhouse of scared people trying to evacuate. Unwilling to take the place of a little girl on the last boat, he gives the laptop to her with the hope that she could deliver it to ONI outside the city. He returns to the ONI headquarters in Old Mombasa and watches his recordings while waiting for death. Meanwhile, a Sangheili boot treads on the print image.

For only fourteen pages, Second Sunrise is a very engaging story filled with intriguing detail. The art is strange, but the illustrations do reveal some interesting detail. We learn that the trains contain TV screens that report news and propaganda. We see the civilians with a wide variety of hair and clothing styles, some familiar and others extrapolations on trends. Given the weirdness of the art, the exact state of canon in regard to these fashion styles is unclear, but the detail is interesting all the same.

The part of the story about the Ark was a tantalizing hint. This was way before Halo 3, and all we knew about the Ark was what was revealed in Halo 2. The Arbiter asked Spark where the Ark was and instead of hearing his answer, we cut to Earth. Tricky Bungie seemed to be implying that the Ark was on Earth, and the bit in Second Sunrise seemed to confirm this and also say that it was near Mombasa. This affected interpretation of the Halo 3 announcement trailer, which depicted the activation of the portal to the Ark. Because of Bungie’s sneaky misdirection it appeared that the portal was actually the Ark itself (Cortana’s “This is the way the world ends” didn’t help).

So, final thoughts on Second Sunrise Over New Mombasa: Strange art style; intriguing storyline; interesting visuals; nice going with the thematic effect of seeing the print image in different conditions; would be more entertaining in a more realistic art style like that of Nihei’s; cool of the photographer to sacrifice his own life to keep the kid alive. Stay tuned for the next article in this series, in which I review individual pieces of gallery art.

No comments: