The Halo Initiation hardcover by Brian Reed and Marco Castiello falls into an interesting place for me. I love sci-fi comics. Currently, Black Science and East of West leave me salivating for more every month, so I can appreciate the chance to add a new and interesting sci-fi book to the stack.
This book represents a little bit of a challenge for me. I'm aware of some of the fiction having played the first three games, but I'm not so familiar that Easter eggs would stand out to me. It's been long time since I played a Halo game and even longer since I've read a Halo comic. I read Marvel's 2006 graphic novel, but found myself underwhelmed. So when my dear editor handed me Halo Initiation to review, I challenged myself to look at the book with a critical eye, without trying to get bogged down in the long storied history of the franchise and see how it checked out as a sci-fi story.
Halo Initiation revolves around the start of a re-commissioned super solider program for the Earth military. We have our standard meeting of shadowy figures, the introduction of our tough as nails heroine, and her montage from ordinary to extraordinary. The book doesn't waste the readers' time as the series is only three issues long. We're almost immediately thrown into battle in the first issue. The second issue does a nice job of setting up our bad guys, and the third issue gives us resolution. Initiation is very content to move from beat to beat, but the series short length leaves us with some glaring questions for an uninitiated reader. Our antagonist's allegiances and benefactor aren't revealed till the end of the book. When I say the end, that's obvious, but the reveal is actually on the last page, and it's a character we were never introduced to. It left me with a big question mark about why I should care this all happened. We're also introduced to other super soldiers that seem like they'd be important, but they don't seem to have much personality or depth other than to put on armor you've seen in the video game.
Now that being said, I did some homework and read the book again so I could talk about some particulars involving the lore. I'm not going to go into direct spoilers, just a lore informed overview.
Reed sets up by dropping some original Halo on us, referencing Master Chief and Doctor Catherine Halsey (the originator of the Spartan program) by name. A shadowy cabal of official looking military men start us off with some cursory information about the Halo universe lore and their Spartan Ops program. We're then introduced to hard as nails USNC O.D.S.T. Sarah Palmer (Orbital Drop Shock Trooper). Think Storm Troopers that fall from the sky and can shoot straight. We get a pretty good fight scene, and Sarah proves her metal in battle. She's offered a chance to join the Spartan program by Warrant Officer Jun-A266, from the Halo Reach series. Sarah accepts, and we have a series of montages. The story gives a couple other Easter eggs to the hardcore fans, a remark about jetpacks is made, and the games various multiplayer class armors make an appearance. Sarah and her Spartans proceed to do battle with a character we're lead to believe is super important, and we have our climactic battle complete with witty repartee. Without spoiling much it feels a little like the comic book version of Universal Solider.
The hardcover itself is well constructed and solid. Dark Horse does a nice job with its hardcover collection, the library editions of Hellboy and Fear Agent being two standouts. However, being only three issues, it does feel a little thin, reminding me a great deal of the Marvel Now hardcovers. The art is pretty consistent throughout the book, but one thing did bug me a bit. Sarah is depicted as being very Asian on the cover, but seems to waiver in race between White, Hispanic, and Asian during the story. Any one of the three would've been fine, it just threw me off a bit while reading. There's nothing outright wrong with Halo Initiation, but the hardcover purports to be, "The exciting lead in-to Halo: SPARTAN ASSAULT!" After researching the game, I'm content to say Halo Initiation is a solid buy for Halo fans, but those just browsing for a sci-fi book will want to move on to something else.
Halo Spartan Assault is available on Xbox One and Microsoft Surface platforms.
Jared Cornelius is some guy from New Jersey's coast who thinks he's a critic. If you'd like to tell him he's a hack you can Halo Reach him, (get it.) on Twitter @John_Laryngitis