I’ll admit, I was a little skeptical when I heard there was an original Halo series coming out from Marvel with writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Alex Maleev onboard. Not that Bendis and Maleev are a bad team—far from it—they breathed life back into Daredevil on an extremely popular run, but I just didn’t associate them with the Halo property, and aliens and spaceships are a far cry from the gritty urban crime drama of Daredevil. But I suppose it was that skepticism and curiosity that led me to check out Halo Uprising, a four-issue limited series now collected in a handsome hardcover and out this week.
Set between the storylines of videogames Halo 2 and Halo 3, Uprising tells the story of two people trying to survive the Covenant invasion of Earth. While it wouldn’t be Halo without the Master Chief, and he is present, it’s not really his story, and his part in it seems a token one, meant to appeal to traditional Halo fans.
And that’s part of the problem.
I have nothing against exploring the lives of other people in the Halo universe and seeing how events affect people on the ground, but I have to say that as a Halo fan, I was looking forward to some kick-ass Master Chief action. That’s included here, but it seems ancillary and there just to tie it in to the games. What we’re left with is a story about two survivors interspersed with pages of the Master Chief shooting aliens.
To be fair, the timeframe of Uprising doesn’t allow for much freedom, at least where the Master Chief is concerned. I can understand the decision to focus on Earth if only to tell an original story. It’s just that it comes off as a bit generic. If you strip away the familiar images—the vehicles, the weapons, the aliens—it could be any story. Any science fictional universe. There’s nothing about it aside from the trappings that screams “Halo.”
As for that story, on Earth, with the survivors, it mostly works. Ruwan, a concierge who dislikes his life, is in New Cleveland when the Covenant (the evil Halo alien force) comes looking for a mysterious key. He meets up with a female musician and together they attempt to stay alive and escape the chaos and destruction all around them. Of course it turns out that Ruwan has a bigger part to play in the overall story, a part that’s a surprise even to him.
I was a little worried at first because I didn't care much for the characters. Not that there was anything wrong with them, just that nothing drew me to them. But that changed by the end of the series. Bendis does a good job of making the characters work in the end, and I was grateful for that. His trademark dialogue, with false stops and starts and interruptions doesn’t work as well here, though. I felt, in a way, that everyone was on speed or twitchy with some of their outbursts. That might not seem out of character to people facing an alien invasion, but something about it seemed off. He does, however, sketch out characters with their own personalities and voices and that’s important. Because this is a story about how one person finds meaning and learns to appreciate a life he’s let slip away from him.
Maleev’s art is as gorgeous as ever. And his strength of rendering faces and expressions really helps create the characters and make them real. Unfortunately, he’s a strange fit for the Halo world. His gritty, dark, textured environments seem at odds with the bright-colored world I remember from the Halo games. The Earth sequences work fine, but I was disappointed by his Covenant aliens. Those scenes in particular felt muddy and in many of them I had a hard time making out what exactly was going on. It doesn’t help that I find his work a little static, so any sense of action or movement felt blunted. I do wonder if some of this was because I was reading a digital copy in advance of the actual release. I hope that the hardcover boasts better color and crisper art.
Halo Uprising is generally a slow build, but I was satisfied by the time I reached the end. If you’re looking for a Master Chief story, this might not hit the right spot for you. This is not his story. If you, however, want to see Bendis and Maleev do what they do well and tell a human story that just happens to take place in the Halo universe, give this one a shot.