I’ve been traveling for the last week, and between playing Puzzle Quest, reviewing games which I’m NDA-ed up to the journo gills about, drinking heavily, and and getting crushing existential dread with Alec when walking across a bridge in Vancouver, I picked up some comics. And one of them is relevant to the blog, so I’ll write something about it. Yes.
It features this bloke. And since there’s two incarnations of it out, it’s a bloody PC Game.
It’s Halo: Uprising, it’s by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev and it has a review hidden around here, somewhere. See if you can find it.
This Halo four-issue mini series comes on the back of the runaway success of Marvel’s previous Halo Graphic Novel, which sold a figure that can only be described as ultra-shitloads. It featured art by people like the (incredible) Moebius and the (incredible and incredibly intimidating) Simon Bisley, and looked like a pretty nice object. Doing more isn’t a bad idea. Bendis and Maleev, while not exactly in Moebius’ league, are hardly minor creators. After a career in indie-crime comics (start with Jinx), he moved onto Marvel and rapidly became Marvel’s Golden Boy. While I haven’t liked much he’s done in the last few years, there’s some fine books in his resume. Not least being his long run on Daredevil, which he did with Alex Maleev, who managed the seemingly impossible task of making a bloke in a bright red devil costume be a credible lead in a moody noir drama.
Halo: Uprising just doesn’t work.
Here’s a point to get out of the way to begin with. Videogame comics don’t have to be shit. Even the most unpromising material can be turned into something genuinely worthwhile, and there’s a long history in the medium of ridiculous toy licenses becoming something that moves people and gets them nostalgic years after the fact. This blog’s very own Alec Meer actually learned to read because he wanted to know what those things in the world bubbles in Simon Furman’s Transformer comics actually meant. Grant Morrison wrote Zoids as a proto-Invisibles universe-as-game-board thing. There’s no reason why a pop sci-fi universe for teens – Halo is, essentially, Iain M. Banks culture novels with the offensive edges smoothed off – shouldn’t have great comics.
Still, Halo: Uprising doesn’t work.
The plot’s simple. Earth, invaded. The Chief, kicking ass. An artifact, sought. Two survivors try and escape city, exchanging banter. The Covenant trying to work out what a land of Cleves is. The directness isn’t necessarily a problem – it certainly reflects much of Halo’s approach. That it dwells on Civilians is a little novel – it’s something we don’t really see in the games, having a military-level view on the situation. Wanna know what the covenant looks like when invading Cleveland? Hey, we’ve got the book for you. Maleev’s moodiness reached for something a little more widescreen, and while he doesn’t ever get the sense of scale he was shooting for, does create something that you can take seriously when you read. His is a style that’s totally comic-book, while not pressing anyone’s knee-jerk yuck!-comics! buttons.
The problems more lie with Bendis. The Chief is kept tersely monosyllabic, saying less than five words in the entirity. In fact, he’s terse even compared to his guns, which manage five Brrrrrkkt!s on the second page alone. While not exactly Guybrush Threepwood, Master Chief isn’t that bad. Unless the mere sight of the big green guy is enough to make you fall for him, there’s nothing to make you side with him. The two civilian characters equally fail to attract you. The back matter suggests they’re to be lovers. Frankly, there’s more chemistry evident between me and Otis, the Rock Paper Shotgun House-Crab. Critics of Bendis will note his distinctive hyperverbal approach – everyone else bar MC talks masses – continues its move from cheerily abrasive realism to just a smokescreen for a lack of anything really to say.
While not strictly speaking something which stops it being entertaining, it never actually feels much like Halo, at least in any way other than its surfaces. Sure, it looks like Halo a lot, but its dynamics are off. It’s best shown in the two Master Chief gun battles, where he takes on dozens of enemies without… well, any sense of excitement of tension. He uses the equipment – dual guns, grenades, whatever. But he doesn’t use them in the right way. Halo’s all about the scenery. It’s not enough to lob a grenade – it’s to lob a grenade at something in cover. It’s not enough to dual wield – it’s about grabbing the weapon at the right time. And we’re haven’t even talked about Master Chief’s uses of cover. He’s captured by being hit by an enormous array of weapons simultaneously, having seen a half-dozen enormo-Covenant dudes (that’s what they’re actually called in the proper Halo mythos. No, really) coming, I find myself thinking that MY Master Chief would have hidden behind something big and solid. I’m not teaming with Bendis on Halo Co-op, anyway. Get in cover, dude! What you doing!
In other words, it’s far from Legendary.