The Halo franchise is owned by Xbox Game Studios
Both books were published by Marvel Comics
Apologizes for this piece being as late as it is. I’ve been working on other projects like my new wrestling podcast as well as seeing more movies now that studios are willing to put them out in theaters, so the retrospective fell a bit to the wayside. I’ll try to get it back on track though and we’ve certainly got some interesting things to look forward to now that the original trilogy is over and the series has to find new ways to keep fans invested. To that end, we’ll be looking at two books that were released within months of each other and have some very interesting parallels as both are essentially the same Halo story we’ve seen before; a colony is attacked by The Covenant because there’s some sort of Forerunner artifact or weapon on it that they want, and now the UNSC has to send either a bunch of Spartans or a bunch of ODST to sort it out. What’s perhaps just as interesting is that, at least as far as I can tell, there was no drama or overlong delays in the production of these books, so in a way they are the first of these to come out firing on all cylinders; created as intended with the utmost professionalism, unlike some OTHER books I can mention *COUGH* Halo: Uprising *COUGH*! Which one does it better, and what can we learn from how each tackle this kind of story differently? Let’s find out!
Halo: Helljumper (Comic Book) – 2009
Written by Peter David with art and lettering by Eric Nguyen and Nate Piekos
Our first book follows a group of ODST soldiers as they investigate a colony where everyone has mysteriously disappeared! Said mystery lasts for maybe five pages into the second issue before it’s revealed that The Covenant are up to something and are crawling all over the place, and so it’s up to Dutch and Romeo to find out what’s going on, put an end to The Covenant’s plan, and explore the depth of their bromance in an effort save the galaxy! For a lot of people who were casual fans like myself, I’m sure their first exposure to the concept of ODST was in the game that Bungie put out not long after this comic book was released and I always thought they were more of a stealth unit who cleaned up and reported on things after the fighting already happened. It didn’t take long though for that notion to be dissuaded as even in the very first Halo novel they are portrayed as brash over the top machismo-tastic soldier bros (and bro-ettes) who are basically Spartans without the Super Soldier Serum and with the Walmart brand version of Mjolnir armor. The most obvious comparison are the Colonial Marines in the movie Aliens and the book starts off as brash and obnoxious as they were in that film with the crucial difference being that they are the protagonists here and not someone more relatable like Ripley. When we’re only a few pages in and dudes are getting into fights over nothing, well I don’t consider that much of a good sign.
Simply put, the book doesn’t make a great first impression. The characters are rather stock, the mission is not all that interesting, and I still can’t quite wrap my head around the specific details of The Covenant’s plan, nor why everything just started blowing up at the end of the second issue. It also has the predilection for gore that I’ve never been a fan of in these comics and the rather nasty behavior on display from our supposed leads drained a lot of my enthusiasm. I don’t care what excuses you can come up with, there’s almost no circumstance where it’s okay to shoot a prisoner in the back; Covenant or not. Romeo is also just kinda whiney about Spartans and it’s just not fun to read his inner monologues about how much better he is than the Master Chief.
Despite all that though, it does eventually come together towards the end. As much as Romeo and Dutch are paint by numbers, they at least have a solid rapport and a conflict that needs to be get resolved by the end of the series which drives the narrative a heck of a lot more than whatever the specifics of this mission are. They also get a bit goofy with it towards the end with Romeo and Dutch propping up Covenant corpses to launch a surprise attack and they eventually take over a Covenant drop ship for some alien blasting action!
By the time they crash the ship, they find the human colonists who have been forced to dig for some artifact that Romeo and Dutch battle their way to. They find basically SPACE GOOGLE in that it’s an artificial intelligence with knowledge of basically everything in the universe, and so they destroy it so that it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. Pretty standard at this point for a Halo story, but I did appreciate the characters and the story did find its footing in the second half. It’s certainly much better than Halo Uprising, but there’s still room for improvement.
Halo: Blood Line (Comic Book) – 2009
Written by Fred Van Lente with art and lettering by Francis Portela and Nate Piekos
This book has a huge advantage over Helljumper right off the bat by starring actual Spartans instead of ODST. I have my problems with the lore and how these characters are often portrayed, but at least they aren’t obnoxious like the ODST tend to be, and the character work is great across the board; not just with a couple of characters. The team in this book, Black Team (referred to only by numbers; One, Two Three, and Four), is the same team that was in the short story Blunt Instruments in Halo Evolutions which makes sense because they share the same writer, and while I wasn’t all that enthused with that particular story, it does help that these are characters that the author has already written about which lends a bit more polish to the dialogue than we’ve seen so far in the Halo comic books.
The story is just like the other one and every other Halo story where a group crash lands on a planet and has to find a Forerunner artifact before The Covenant do, but they give it a twist here that I absolutely loved and made this one of the more interesting stories in the entire canon. The mysterious Forerunner artifact is not some idle machine ready to be used but is actively taking people for who knows what purpose, and the leader of Black Team (One) is taken along with the brother of the Covenant Ship Master; forcing them to work together and develop a mutual respect for one another! Heck, it’s not even just the Elites this time; it’s a whole crew of these alien dudes who tag along with Black Team to find out what’s going on in this enormous facility and to save their respective teammates!
Unfortunately that’s where the story peaks and it’s all downhill from there. Where Helljumpers got BETTER as it went along as the relationship between Romeo and Dutch was explored, this one decides to go for an M Night Shyamalan twist that completely breaks the tension of the story and leaves the last issue struggling to regain that momentum. Throughout the story we have been getting flashbacks from Four’s point of view where we learn that he has some beef with Three over an incident that involved One. As it turns out, this is all in Four’s imagination and the situation was Four screwing over both Three and One instead of Three screwing over him and One. The entity controlling this facility turns out to be an Oracle (no surprise there) and it’s implied that it’s somehow interfering in Black Teams’ heads up displays and is putting weird and upsetting imagery in Four’s head that causes him to have a breakdown and attacks Three while The Covenant dudes are just kinda confused by all this, and frankly I’m right there with them. I don’t mind stories like this having characters with deep emotional issues and in most contexts I don’t mind them coming to a head in inopportune moments if it serves an engaging story. This however feels cheap and poorly executed as an artificial roadblock to stretch the story out for another issue, and it’s not even the ONLY out of nowhere character turn they throw in at the last minute if you can believe it. The Shipmaster’s brother who they spent the whole series looking for? Well he goes into super zealot mode and straight up murders him before getting killed immediately afterwards along with the rest of The Covenant. Convenient that they’re out of the way, am I right!?
Eventually the members of Black Team get it together and save One just in time for them to blow up the facility and make their valiant escape. I’ll continue to praise this comic to the moon for its strong character work and I’ll even ignore the very silly fact that their numbers are etched on their faceplates (which never STOPS looking ridiculous), but the way the story just devolves into nonsense at the end with fake memories, Covenant betrayals, and everything blowing up to return things to the status quo, it just ends up being a huge disappointment.
If I had to choose which one was better, I’d tell you to read the short story Dirt from Evolutions. It covers a lot of the same ground but has a lot more interesting characters and nuance to it that is certainly in these books but only in bits and pieces. Think of Dirt like the first half of Full Metal Jacket while these are the second half; good in their own right, but not as memorable or interesting. If pressed though, I’d give the edge to Blood Line because despite it’s VERY obviously flawed ending, it has a much better foundation and core narrative than Helljumpers which only manages to scrape by due to how silly it gets towards the ends and how it makes the characters that much more endearing.
No surprises here as the Spartans win once again, though we’ll see if the ODST can rally and make a comeback because the next week we’ll be talking about their big video game, Halo 3: ODST! Join us next time as we see if a side story to the Halo canon can hold up to the high bar that the original trilogy set!