GP Book Review: Halo Graphic Novel

Halo Graphic Novel

-reviewed for GamePolitics by Matt Paprocki

Transcending the world of video games, Halo is a cultural phenomenon.

While the days of seeing video game characters plastered on boxes of kiddie cereal are becoming less common, their more grown-up progress into other mediums is becoming commonplace, like movies and books. Thankfully, the Halo Graphic Novel exists in a realm free from director Uwe Boll’s influence.Entrusted to the hands of comic masters Marvel, this beloved Xbox franchise is in the best of hands.

While a slender volulme, the Halo Graphic Novel is jammed with four separate stories. Multiple authors and artists contribute their work to craft this gorgeous book, including the likes Simon Bisley, Brett Lewis, and Moebius. According to his bio, Lewis doesn’t even own a TV, but was so gripped by the paperbook novelizations of the Halo universe that he ended up contributing some of the graphic novel’s most vivid writing.

Unlike the original Halo game, which rocked the gaming universe when the Xbox launched in 2001, the Halo Graphic Novel does not get off to an especially good start. Its first chapter is both the loudest and the least embraceable in the book. Instead of focusing on Master Chief, the game’s lead protagonist, the opening elects to view events from the side of the Covenant as the alien race begins a desperate struggle against yet another enemy. While appropriately dark and hard edged, the art style is muddled. Giant frames feature countless tentacles, guns, bullets, claws, and blood. It’s almost impossible to follow at points.

Easily the winner in the art direction category is an episode called Breaking Quarantine,  which follows the exploits of Sergeant Johnson in a fight against the breeding Flood. Tsutomu Nihei provides a gripping chapter based on a story concept from game developer Bungie. There’s no dialogue to be found anywhere and thus no chance for it to obscure the stunning watercolors used to create the images.

Still, it is Brett Lewis’ writing style that creates an entirely different side of Halo. Second Sunrise Over Mombasa is, well, marvelous. With a simple, spare design, the story features only a few frames of action, concentrating exclusively on people not found in the game, the residents of the planets under assault. It’s a bleak piece of story telling, hopeless, and yet gripping and evocative of our own time. For instance, images of civilians staring at the sky with the line “Everyone will remember where they were” will surely be familiar to American readers whose thoughts drift back to the horror of September 11th.

As a bonus, the hardbound book finishes off with extra pieces of artwork provided by some of Bungie’s design team and other comic book artists. It’s a pleasing and diverse array of styles designed to keep the visuals interesting as the reader turns the final pages. This additional touch helps makes that – ouch – $25 list price a bit less painful.

Absolutely gorgeous inside and out (be sure to look under the dust jacket), Halo has been ported beautifully to the graphic novel format. A tribute to both the game design team and folks who created this book, consider the Halo Graphic Novel a must-have for devotees of one gaming’s greatest franchises.

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