Anyone who knows me also knows that I am a big comic book reader. Ok, maybe I don’t buy quite as many titles as I used to (I am married now) but I do have my regular weekly stash (I’m currently enjoying 52, Civil War and the new Grant Morrison Batman) and while I somewhat hate to admit it I read every issue of Wizard magazine (someone really should try to challenge them in the marketplace but that’s just me). The world of comics does have some similarities with video games, however. One of them is that licensed properties usually don’t translate into good comics. This is especially true for video game adaptations. Remember those Everquest and Diablo comics? Ouch.
So when word got out that there was going to be a graphic novel based on Bungie’s Halo shooter series, I was both interested and worried. Interested in that someone was taking on such a huge property and worried in that it was going to be just another Street Fighter comic dealie. However, my interest grew when it was revealed that it was Bungie who actually got the ball rolling first, recruiting the writers and artists and getting quite a bit of the work done before shopping it around to comic publishers. In the end it was the biggest comics company of all, Marvel, that won out and last week the finished product, a $24.95 128 page hardcover graphic novel, shipped to stores.
The final result is, well…..er….interesting. It’s not a bad comic book at all; it’s certainly better than 99 percent of all video game-to-comics transfers. But there was an awful lot of hype about this product and overall it doesn’t quite make the lofty goals that the Bungie team wanted for it.
The longest story in the graphic novel is a 48 page piece titled “The Last Voyage of the Infinite Succor” and is actually a parallel story to the event Halo 2 single player level Quarantine Zone. We see Master Chief in the first two pages and then it switches to the Covenant point of view with the Spec Ops Commander leading a team to retake a Covenant supply ship from what they think at first to be a human attack. In fact it’s a Flood invasion they have to fight off. This story was clearly written to give artist Simon Bisley (best known for his work on DC’s Lobo character) a chance to go nuts with his exaggerated style, especially with the Flood aliens which literally come in all shapes and sizes. Needless to say, things get messy very quick. Writer Lee Hammock does a pretty good job with the script and he certainly has the Halo language down pat but his writing is overwhelmed by the horrible lettering which is about the dullest we have ever seen in a comic book. At one point the Spec Ops Commander is throwing a colleague around but the lettering conveys no emotion at all and robs the scene of some strength. While this isn’t the most innovative story ever written, Bisley’s artwork is excellent.
The other three stories in the Halo graphic novel are much smaller in length and vary in terms of quality. The 14-page “Armor Testing” is the weakest of the four stories as we see what appears to be Master Chief take part in a training exercise. The story is, quite frankly, inconsequential and the “twist” at the end from writer Jay Faerber is something that most people could see coming a mile away. The art from Ed Lee and Andrew Robinson is way too cartoony in tone and just doesn’t seem to fit what we expect a Halo story to look like.
The third story is the 12-page “Breaking Quarantine” by Japanese artist Tsutomu Nihei . This completely wordless tale is supposed to finally give Halo players the answer to the question, “How did Sergeant Johnson escape from the Flood?” The answer is not surprising; he shoots and blows up a lot of Flood monsters. Nihei’s art style is perfectly suited to creating a Halo story with some dynamic storytelling and impressive manga-style illustration (naturally) but it’s a shame that the story he was asked to draw was not something more substantial. It’s easily the quickest story to “read” in the collection.
Things finally turn for the better in the 16 page final story, “Second Sunrise Over New Mombasa.” Writer Brett Lewis starts his tale just before the Covenant invasion of the city in Halo 2 where a man who works to keep the video news of the Covenant war clean and neat finds himself at the center of the alien’s attack. This story has heart as we witness the city’s civilians getting slaughter’s by the Covenant and one man’s quest to both get out of the city and redeem a little of his self-esteem. The art is provided by near-legendary French comic book artist Jean “Moebius” Giroud and his highly detailed illustrations match the Halo visual style. More importantly, he can handle emotional and quiet scenes as well as the high powered action sequences.
The rest of the graphic novel is a gallery of one and two page pin-ups of Halo themed artwork from both famed comic book artists like Geof Darrow, Kent Williams and George Pratt and member’s of Bungie’s Halo art team (as well as a couple of non-artists). Bungie even has a two page parody of Marvel’s old time Stan Lee’s Bullpen Bulletins (this time using a word we can’t repeat here) that gives a little more info on the comic book and even some letters from fans.
The production of the Halo graphic novel itself cannot be faulted. The overall art design is slick and the jacket cover with a Master Chief rendition by Phil Hale is impressive. It’s too bad that the stories collected here turned out to be a bit of a mixed bag. The Halo universe as established by Bungie is a vast one and clearly could be fleshed out but for the most part the stories here didn’t do that job. It’s also doesn’t help matters that the lead character in the Halo games, Master Chief, barely appears in story form. With the announcement that Marvel will publish an ongoing Halo monthly comic we hope that Master Chief will make more than a cameo appearance.