Review – Halo: Escalation #3 (Dark Horse)

22703Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Writer: Chris Schlerf
Artist: Sergio Ariño
Release Date: 26th February 2014

Halo is something of a mixed bag when it comes to its multimedia projects – wildly varying in quality from just plain pitiful (the fairly rudimentary ‘novelisation’ of the first game), to actual pretty damn good (Brian Bendis’ graphic novel Halo: Uprising, anything Halo-related that Neil Blomkamp directed).

Escalation is part of 343’s new deal with Dark Horse – rather than Mavel, who’ve produced all Halo comics prior to this one – and honestly, the step down in quality is rather palatable. I was, however, able to narrow down its problems to three sources;

First – it follows on directly from Halo 4. And not the relatively poor (when compared to its predecessors) main story, either, but the piss-weak ‘story’ of the Spartan Ops game mode, which was just a sequence of excuses to string some firefights together, with flat characters, and ‘there’s a war, dammit’ levels of motivation. Drawing characters from this story arc was, simply put, a bad plan.

Next, the writer – though this may simply feel like an extension of the above point. Quite why Dark Horse through it appropriate to hire Scherlf – the man who wrote Halo 4, and who has been ditched by the developers – will likely remain a mystery. Halo 4’s writing was consistently the subject of much criticism – lacking anima, unable to explain itself, simplifying complex characters, and just generally being overly shout-y – but Dark Horse thought to themselves ‘know who we need to give our comic some zest? That guy’. And guess what? Precisely the same criticisms apply to this book. It’s just not interesting, from a narrative point-of-view.

Then there’s the artist. Sergio Ariño panels are competent, but nothing more than that – action sequences feel static, entirely lacking in dynamism, yet feeling cluttered, and are thus difficult to follow. This is particularly in a flight sequence towards the end, where the lack of distinction between the Covenant vessel’s that the Spartans are flying, coupled with a ‘tragic’ sacrifice that it portrays, means it’s not actually immediately clear who the hell just died, and any impact that the scene might’ve had is lost completely. I suppose the cover’s pretty badass. But that hardly helps Ariño’s case, given it was done by the mighty Anthony Palumbo.

It’s just all a little uninspired, and given the energy and depth of the source material, it certainly feels like we’re being sold short here. Three issues in, and it just doesn’t feel like it’s going anywhere interesting – a promise which, whilst suspiciously quiet in issue #1, was still there. I can’t even confidently recommend this to current Halo fans – let alone newcomers. Avoid.

Review: 2/5.

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The writer of this piece was: Ross Sweeney

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