I wrote the original guide for Halo. Looking back on it, seven years later, makes me frown. For the time it was good stuff. Fully labeled maps, excellent weapon vs. enemy tables, and some decent tactics. But ah…if I knew then what I know now.
That’s as may be, but we’re talking games and comics. And wouldn’t you know it, the Halo GN coincidentally passed through my hands recently. I had heard of this video game cross-over, four story collection before but hadn’t sought it out.
Why? I asked myself. Cross-over material is historically bad. Rushed to launch with the primary media, pieced together by fast-but-not-good hacks, and pushed upon us like so many Batman & Robin plastic Taco Bell promotional drink cups (which, I found out on Saturday, last a mere 11 years before shattering in your hand when you squeeze them…).
Reading the introduction I found my first glimmer of hope. It was revealed that Bungie felt the same way I did. They didn’t rush out a comic to match the game’s release date. Instead they bucked the advice of every marketing professional and decided that instead of “timely” they’d settle for “quality.” Considering the faithful devotion of Halo fanatics this wasn’t really a big, nail-biting risk to take. And while the intro does spend a bit of time patting themselves on the back for this decision it’s exactly what I want my cross-over material makers to do, so good on you, let me add my hand to the latissimus whacking.
Crap, I just blew the surprise.
The comics, though I just gave it away, were good. Surprisingly good. Four distinct stories created by different author/artist teams that include some luminary figures (nah, don’t worry, you don’t need to know who they are, just take my word for it: Luminary). And the key to their goodness is simple. They had very little or nothing to do with the main characters or storylines of the Halo games.
The main media for Halo is video games. That is where the grand stories are told and the big revelations are made. Which is as it should be. Created in the pixel palaces and unfolded on the small screens of millions of fans, Master Chief’s epic tale should have its brightest moments upon the discs where he was born. To do otherwise is to rob players of the connection they feel when controlling the movements of the hero.
Instead, the comics are depth charges. With an entire universe, vast cultures, myriad races, and millenia of history to explore in the ficticious bounds of the Halo mythos there are more stories then we as a race can tell. From the very beginning Bungie knew that Halo would be a vast reality. With too many layers to squeeze into the narrow beam of video game cutscenes. Too many layers to expose each of them completely.
But with the right equipment (like, say, a short comic story) small holes could be drilled deep, allowing us to peer into the depths and realize that below the surface there lay an entire universe of possibility. The graphic novel does just that. We see minor, often unnamed characters who live out dramas just beyond the edges of the story we saw in the three games. As though their experiences were played out a few feet to the left of the TV screens that featured Master Chief blasting his way into legend.