So with fans having played their way through Halo 2 and chomping at the bit for the next one, Bungie and Microsoft had to find a way to satiate fans until the next console generation and they couldn’t rely on Rooster Teeth to doing it on their own. So like with every other franchise that gets sufficiently popular the world of comics came a calling, and they also have that novel series that churns out entries at a reliable rate, all of which means it’s time once again for the Halo book club! Let’s get started!!
The Halo Graphic Novel – 2006
Published by Marvel Comics
The story of this graphic novel is kind of an interesting one as Microsoft bigwig Eric Trautmann was the one to come up with the idea of expanding the Halo brand into comics, but Bungie jumped in and started stirring the pot pretty much immediately. Sure, you don’t want to IGNORE the company that’s making you successful video games, but when Trautmann brought on industry mainstays John Ney Rieber and Adi Granov to work on a comic, Bungie was not impressed and their art director Lorraine McLees even went so far as to call their pitch “a lump of coal”. Instead, Bungie insisted on getting their OWN team of comic book veterans to work on it and Trautmann relented as long as Bungie was willing to finance it all on their own before submitting it to publishers. Just to get an idea of where their heads were at, two of the names they wanted to get were sixty year industry veteran Joe Kubert, and of all people Alan freaking Moore. Can you imagine a bunch of Bungie execs going to cranky ol’ Alan Moore and ask him to write a comic about their silly space marine nonsense; ESPECIALLY one that’s THIS un-ironically jingoistic? Obviously they didn’t EITHER of them but they managed to snag a few names like Jean “Moebius” Giraud and the book was released in 2006 as a collection of vignettes exploring the Halo universe. Did Bungie’s insistence for creative control and top tier comic book talent lead to a fascinating book that expands our understanding of the franchise? Let’s take find out!!
Last Voyage of the Infinite Succor
Lee Hammock and Simon Bisley
The Covenant are SO much more interesting than the humans as they’re written to be flawed bad guys instead of one dimensional macho bad asses, so the beefiest story in the entire graphic novel is devoted to a Flood outbreak that occurred on one of their ships during the event of the first game. Sadly the Flood does to storylines what they do to everything else, and pretty much ruins it from the inside out because I found this to be rather lackluster and kind of ugly honestly. I like the colors, but the character designs are wonky as heck and the flood is EXTRA disgusting in ways that never came across in the games. It unfortunately reminds me of that westernized Song of Saya comic and while the writing doesn’t revolt me as much I find that it’s not enough to overcome the deeply unpleasant artwork. It’ just another zombie story no matter how many Klingon-lite warrior dudes you through into it, and it frankly plays out more like a level in a video game than anything else; a REALLY gross and tediously structured one on top of that.
With the first Halo game in our rearview mirror, we return to the novels with the first one (The Flood) being a novelization of the game. Okay, by “rearview mirror” I meant “firmly still in the middle of”, but a book is a great chance to expand upon the universe and fill in the cracks of the game’s narrative which certainly has a few spots that could be improved with some character development. Not only that, but we’ll be looking at First Strike which will be the bridge between Combat Evolved and Halo 2; a game I still haven’t played yet am and very much looking forward to experiencing for the first time! Speaking of time, let’s not waste anymore and get started on these books!!
Halo: The Flood (Novel) – 2003
Written by William C Dietz
What makes this book unique in the series is that it’s based on one of the games as opposed to all the other books which are stories taking place in-between them. Because of this, half of the novel is just straight up adapting the campaign which means we go through each of the levels and get to have all of the familiar set pieces described to us; something that would have been fine if these sequences were written with any particular flair, but much like the last book the writing is too utilitarian to add much flavor to the proceedings and it feels like I’m reading the novelization of someone’s Let’s Play. Having just played the game right before picking up the book, it makes all these scenes feel redundant, and I’m not sure who would be buying these books other than those who have already played the campaign. This is most prominent in the Flood containment facility (mission 343 Guilty Spark) where Keyes and his men were overrun by The Flood and where Master Chief encounters them for the first time. That would have been a PERFECT point in the book to keep things quiet and not indulge in action scenes to build the mood, but because there were Covenant troops there in the campaign they HAVE to be there in the novel as well. I understand needing to have some enemies milling about for you to fight in the game, but in the book it undercuts the severity of the Flood and it would have been way more haunting if there were NO Covenant there to kill. Heck, even better you could have a few Covenant there scared out of their minds and not even fighting back to further cement the horror that we’re about to run into; just liked the crazed marine in the game itself. On that note, I will say that the adaptation DOES work in regards to adding story to the already established story bits. Master Chief is mostly silent throughout the game, so adding dialogue to certain scenes like when he meets the terrified marine or during the Library chapter where he’s trying to talk to 343 Guilty Spark (The Monitor) are definitely moments where they added something to the material, but for the most part his story contains rather rote action set pieces.
Our long journey to explore the Halo series begins well before the first game even came out as Bungie was building its universe and teasing their fans long before they even knew what the game was going to be! The seemingly haphazard nature of the production of Halo: Combat Evolved which went through name changes and story changes all the way down to switching the genre at something approaching the last minute can certainly be reflected in these two early works which are interesting time capsules of that period of the development, but beyond their places as being the earlies entries on the timeline, do they hold up as genuinely interesting pieces of media in their own right? Let’s find out!!
The Cortana Letters – 1999
Having read these letters, I’m starting to remember why I didn’t bother diving deep into this stuff back when I was playing it! As far as I can tell, the Cortana letters are the first things Halo related that was released to the public; in this case being eight cryptic e-mails sent from someone at Bungie claiming to be Cortana that were sent to a Marathon fan page; Marathon, in case you were wondering, being a game series that Bungie had worked on in the nineties that may or may not connect to Halo in some tangential way. I guess I’ll learn more about any implicit or explicit connections the further I get into the lore of this, but needless to say that these letters are not the ideal way to START your Halo journey if you wish to experience the series from the beginning. They are intentionally vague and full of cryptic language, and their status as canonical is dubious at best; especially since Halo was still in the conceptual stages in 1999 and was MASSIVELY overhauled when Bungie was acquired by Microsoft in 2000.