Chronique:Canon Fodder - Brute Force 2
BY GRIMBROTHER ONE - 12/2/2016
It should come as no surprise that our latest instalment of your favorite fiction-flavored feature focuses on a few recent and upcoming tidbits that lore-mongers will no doubt find intriguing. Ready? Let’s begin.
Last night’s epic Halo Wars 2 trailer shed new light on the backstory of Atriox, the calculated and menacing Jiralhanae leader of the Banished. While the trailer certainly speaks volumes on its own, keen-eyed viewers will undoubtedly fixate on a myriad of delectable details, such as a seasoned Sangheili executioner wielding a crackling bloodblade similar to ones often seen employed by lethal Elite commandos and assassins.
One of our favorite aspects of the Halo universe is the amount of scattered details that serve as connective tissues across narrative eras and various types of media. Folks have gotten their hands on Halo: Tales from Slipspace noticed a familiar looking squad of Elite commandos featured in Jon Goff’s story “Hunting Party.” With that in mind, let’s talk about the Silent Shadow…
The Silent Shadow are a unique Sangheili special forces division made up of several different individual squads. In Halo: Tales from Slipspace, readers encounter one such squad led by Resa 'Azavayl, a 1st Blade officer in the Silent Shadow. In “Hunting Party,” Resa’s team is on an exhaustive mission to wipe out Jiralhanae forces across multiple systems, a campaign that has completely monopolized the existence of Resa’s squad since the aftermath of the events in Halo 3.
As time moves on, the nature of the mission begins to wear on Resa’s subordinates, his team continually more suffocated by a weariness to continue a mission that no longer makes sense considering the changing state of their world. Resa however, remains both blinded by, and driven by, old loyalties and festering delusions of vengeance.
This isn’t the first time Halo fans have encountered the Silent Shadow however. In a previous story – Halo: Evolution’s “Headhunters,” also penned by Goff – Spartan-III Headhunters faced off against one of the Silent Shadow’s squads on a Covenant-controlled moon during the height of humanity’s war with the alien alliance. The Silent Shadow is nearly always recognizable through their use of a unique and advanced combat harness that often incorporated experimental technology and weaponry. It isn’t known if Resa’s squad is the last remnant of the Silent Shadow, or if vestiges of the deadly division remain scattered across charted space.
Speaking of Halo: Tales from Slipspace, we partnered with our friends at Dark Horse Comics to catch up with a few of the talented and creative minds behind some of the stories in the graphic novel anthology in order to gain an inside perspective on some of their influences and approaches for spinning their respective tales.
Q: What was the process like for creating an anthology series with such a large and diverse group of creators? How did you come to work on your specific story or with your creative team?
John Jackson Miller (“Undefeated”): I learned about this project a good while ago. I had a conference call with Dark Horse and the 343 editorial team, and was given access to a lot of research materials. 343 was very helpful in both cases when it came to suggesting possible roads I could take my stories down — and then in helping me to massage those manuscripts to make them fit the Halo world better.
Jonathan Goff (“Hunting Party”): With 343 and Dark Horse working the production end, this was very much just me working on a 10-page story; no different than working on a single issue. I had no contact with the other creators, but 343/Dark Horse had a firm grasp on the stories and voices and made sure what I was crafting would fit within the whole while being its own experience for the readers. That stated, when I saw the list of creators I was honored to be among them.
The origin of "Hunting Party" was first that it was one of a handful of ideas I pitched, second that I thought it would be fun to tell a bit of a companion piece to "Headhunters" from Halo: Evolutions focused on a team of Elites who are of the same ilk as the spec ops assassins in "Headhunters."
343 then came back to me and said: "Hey, we like this one idea in particular but... what if the Elites are after this new character we've got coming in 'Halo Wars 2?" From there what started as a straightforward "badasses doing badass things" story evolved into the tale that is in the book and the introduction of Atriox. It was a great collaboration and perfect melding of the original idea with a smaller moment within the larger universe that I would never have known to approach.
Dave Crosland (“Knight Takes Bishop”): I was approached by Dark Horse about the anthology. Once I read Tyler Jeffers' action-packed script for "Knight Takes Bishop," I was eager to tackle the story. Also, when Len O'Grady hopped onboard as my colorist, I knew we could make something visually stunning that was a lot of fun to read. Len is a chromatic master, and I think his colors and visual effects are what ultimately make the pages sing with so much energy.
Tyler Jeffers (“Knight Takes Bishop”): Looking back, it certainly seemed daunting early on. We had what seemed like a rather large amount of blank pages that needed to be filled. Thankfully, we have a great partner with Dark Horse. We worked closely with them on the majority of the creative team selection as well as refining the story ideas we wanted to tell with this release. In regards to the people who were asked to contribute, we all agreed that we wanted to look at artists and writers who could provide what we felt would be something new to the Halo franchise. Dark Horse then reached out to the creative teams; we paired up artists and writers as best we could and then proceeded into full production on the book. It was so exciting to see everything start coming in. The first scripts, early penciled pages and every step afterwards seems to have flown by, but all of us were really enjoying what we saw. Funny how quickly those pages filled up! I found myself asking Dark Horse if we could get more pages on at least two occasions.
Q: How would you compare your creative process for this book with the creative process of your previous work?
John Jackson Miller: I’ve written video game comics for Dark Horse before. On my other project, I was collaborating with the lead designer of the game because we were drawing on elements that were baked into upcoming releases — and as a result, when things about those unreleased games changed, we sometimes needed to adjust course to reflect that.
With both Halo: Tales from Slipspace and the Halo: Fractures anthology — the playing field was a little less changeable because it wasn’t intertwined with a game that was a work in progress. “Undefeated,” in Tales from Slipspace, is an immediate sequel to Halo 5: Guardians', so I only needed to know about conditions in the milieu immediately afterward. My Fractures story, “Defender of the Storm,” was a tale of the Forerunners, set in the distant past — and likewise, there wasn’t as much of a danger that I would collide with other developing story elements. That was helpful. Writing in a shared universe is sometimes like aiming for a moving target, especially where games are concerned — but with Halo, it wasn’t a problem.
'Jonathan Goff: I used the exact same process I've used on each of my projects - brainstorm, outlet, review, script, review, rough thumbnails, eagerly/gleefully await art, receive art, geek out, letter placement and tweaks to script in order to better utilize the visual storytelling in the art, eagerly/gleefully await letters, receive letters, geek out at the fact the pieces have become a whole, read for final edit, make letter notes, wait for final book, and hope people enjoy it!
Dave Crosland: I'm a wet media artist, through and through. I am all about ink, paint, pencils, paper - tangible mediums. But some projects call for the digital approach, mostly for the sake of speed and efficiency. I worked on a fully digital project earlier this year and felt it made sense to keep the same digital process for Tales from Slipspace. My work on Tales from Slipspace allowed me to really apply my personal style via a digital medium.
Tyler Jeffers: Surprisingly, this wasn’t much different from other projects I have been involved in. I have written or produced other creative endeavors for projects with 343 Industries, as well as my previous employer, the McFarlane Companies. However, working on Halo with 343 Industries has certainly had me more focused on video game content. This project definitely reminded me how much I missed working in comics. Jumping back in and writing an action-packed 10-page story was a great way to go back to that.
And when I found out Dave Crosland was going to be drawing my story, I couldn’t stop grinning. I have been a fan of his for quite some time. He and Len O’Grady really did an amazing job with the art. Everything I like about the story is stuff that they added. The dynamic sequences, the artistic details as well as the color choices all moved the mood and pacing of the story to a great end result.
Q: Are you a fan of Halo? Were you concerned about contributing to such an established and beloved universe and franchise?
John Jackson Miller: I got the Halo edition Xbox for the family last Christmas, and it’s been fun getting to watch the video game story unfold. (I tend to be a spectator as I’m not adept at shooter games — but fortunately, my kids have skills!) So I’ve been able to see what all the excitement is about.
When you’re writing in a franchise for the first time, you always want to enter the realm gradually, learning the ropes of writing for that world as you go. It’s the same thing with Halo. I specifically was looking for character-focused stories that I could write that wouldn’t be overly complicated with other continuity elements; the more I could narrow the focus or footprint of what I was doing, the better the odds were that I could capture the spirit of Halo while avoiding bumping into other stories that were out there. I certainly have written stories in shared universes before that are wide in scope and draw from all corners of a franchise but it’s really important for a writer to work up to something like that.
Jonathan Goff: I am, and have been, a fan since the launch of Halo: Combat Evolved - great game, great franchise. In addition to being a fan I've had the pleasure of working with the team at 343 Industries for some time - first during my stint at McFarlane Toys then as a member of the 343 team for a few years. That working relationship, combined with the fact I've been lucky enough to write for the franchise on a previous occasion with the Halo: Evolutions prose anthology, placed me on pretty solid ground coming into this project. Being able to call back to my Evolutions story, "Headhunters," by introducing a new team of Elite assassins also added seem fun and deeper personal connection.
The most challenging part was making sure I gave Atriox a voice that fit 343's needs. As a new character coming in Halo Wars 2, my story "Hunting Party" is one of his first introductions in the Halo universe, so ensuring he gives enough of himself away to be interesting but not so much as to make him wholly known was a fun exercise. I worked a lot with 343's Kevin Grace who's had a big hand in Halo Wars 2 to make sure Atriox was true to their intentions for him. And having had a working relationship with 343 and knowing the universe the way I do they were great at giving me room to tell the story and play with the characters. I hope readers have as much fun reading it as I had writing it. Though to be fair, regardless of the words, Simon Roy's art is fantastic!
Dave Crosland: I appreciate its wild ingenuity, immense world-building and supreme standing in the realm of first-person shooters. I wasn't concerned about contributing to the franchise as much as I was nervous that my style wouldn't gel with the meticulous detail and design of Halo's creatures, vehicles, and cybernetic warriors. Luckily, between my drawings and Len's colors, I think we came out on top.
Tyler Jeffers: I consider myself a semi-hardcore fan. I played every Halo game since Halo: Combat Evolved and try my best to read every novel released since Halo: The Fall of Reach. But I know (and work with) plenty of guys and gals that know an incredible amount of granular detail about Halo and its universe. I still have to pinch myself on occasion while working for 343, as it is an interesting challenge when working on something you have been a fan of for so long. Creating something that is adding to the rich Halo franchise certainly looms over you a bit as you start writing something like a comic script. Especially when you consider how dedicated the fan-base is with Halo. The fans are tireless and incredibly dedicated to the universe. We are very fortunate to have such a passionate group of people who love Halo. I hope my little fast-paced, action-packed story gives them something to enjoy. I certainly enjoyed creating it.
Q: What is your favorite thing about Halo (such as characters, weapons, technology or vehicles)?
John Jackson Miller: I’ve always been big on functional futuristic battle armor; it’s definitely been fun thinking about the hardware in Halo. I also really liked the idea of the ancilla, the onboard AI in the Forerunner armor, which I got to deal with in the Fractures story.
Jonathan Goff: My favorite thing about Halo is the sense of wonder it can evoke. The characters, worlds and tech all speak to amazing possibilities while being based on realistic military action. From the second I first stepped out of the life pod in Halo: CE and set my eyes upon that ring I was hooked.
Dave Crosland: My favorite thing about Halo is the overall world they've built. I only know the game through stills, cutscenes and the few play-through videos I've watched. But they all convey a sense of weight and history. The world of Halo feels lived in, used and bloody. And that really jives with one thing I enjoy about good science fiction - a world that's total fantasy, but somehow feels tangible.
Tyler Jeffers: I really like Spartan-IIIs. I have always thought the origin and intent of the Spartan-III program was an interesting contrast to the Spartan-IIs like the Master Chief. If I had to choose another, it would be a vehicle called the Booster Frame, that was introduced in the animated release from 2010, Halo: Legends. I am sure it is a byproduct of some early childhood affection for the X-Wing that is responsible, but the design of the Booster Frame is just so slick. No cockpit, no frills, just a Spartan sitting on a flying gun with missiles attached to it.
Q: The video games deal with more well-known characters of the franchise. What challenges did you face trying to build stories with lesser-know characters?
Jonathan Goff: There is a bit more freedom with the lesser-known characters, which allows for more risk. They fill in the corners of this vast fictional reality and while the main characters need to serve set roles within the "laws of narrative" in order to provide an audience with narrative touch points and emotional attachments, the tertiary characters and those further removed from the story's core can be taken in more unexpected directions. Lesser-known characters are also great fodder for creative experimentation within the rules of the established fictional universe. So, I guess the answer would be that the hardest part is knowing those rules and where and how they can be bent or broken yet remain true to the franchise and that's something that has to be parsed writer to writer and project to project.
Dave Crosland: "Knight Takes Bishop" is a straight up action short, rather than a character study. For me, it was all about creating exciting visuals while staying true to the established look and feel of Halo.
Tyler Jeffers: A big challenge was that it is such a fast-paced story. But the most challenging aspect was that I kind of wanted to make the main character somebody we didn’t know about. My intent was to have readers go along for the ride with a new character. It also worked in my favor in regards to the timeline. Because it takes place shortly after the end of Halo 4, replacing Spartan-G059 with a more well-known character may have actually been harder to accommodate. In addition, I wanted my story to be very minimal in regards to dialogue. I felt having a more well-known character running and gunning without saying a single word would be a hard sell for some people. After discussing the idea with a few colleagues at 343, I got the approval to explore a story tied to a Spartan-III. Which, as I mentioned earlier, is a subject I am already interested in.
Q: For John Jackson Miller, what did you find challenging about writing “Undefeated”?
John Jackson Miller: Halo uses a lot of real-life physics but there are some elements that have been fictionalized, and knowing the rules for how the universe works is key when you’re doing a story that delves not just into what happens, but how?
We have in “Undefeated” a starship that’s adrift and out of communication, and in order to survive, the occupants have to improvise solutions; a lot like the Apollo 13 astronauts did. The main challenge for me then was finding out what the technical matters involved were when it came to the Halo universe. I needed to know what systems would still work, which ones could be done without — and I even needed to know the specifics about how certain weapons were manufactured. The 343 team was extremely helpful in working with me to think through the dynamics involved.
Q: Also for John, what made you want to open “Undefeated” with a reference to World War I and Armistice Day?
John Jackson Miller: While the war was officially set to end in the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, because of the imperfect communications of the day, many units didn’t know what posture to take. Should they hunker down and wait it out, or grab whatever territory they could? They didn’t know. As a result, it was one of the bloodiest days of the war. A lack of information turned out to be deadly.
The ship in “Undefeated” is left without any information about what’s going on at all as a result of the events of Halo 5: Guardians. And that lack of information, I knew, would be central to the main conflict of the story. The characters in “Undefeated” all have good intentions, but without any guidance as to the bigger picture, they take a situation that’s already dangerous and make it worse.
Q: For Dave, how did you reconcile your own artistic style with the established art of the franchise? Were there certain aspects of Halo’s art you felt you needed to emulate and others you felt you had the ability to play with?
Dave Crosland: Working digitally allowed me to reconcile my personal style with the established style of Halo. While I can still go nuts with my basic drawing approach, making art on the Cintiq keeps me a little grounded. And I think that made for a nice marriage of our two styles.
I certainly felt the freedom to play around with the finish on the artwork - the roughness of lines, splatter, and special effects. The need to emulate came in the character designs, their weapons, and gear. But even then, there was always room for exaggeration. In the end, I felt like I was allowed to echo the hardcore design of Halo, but still play around and put my visual touch on our story. I likened it to the way each director of the Alien franchise brings their personal aesthetic to that series of films.
Q: Now we notice that the panels in “Knight Takes Bishop” go from straight and clearly structured to rough and misshapen. What made you draw the art this way? Was it because of Tyler’s script or were you playing with your style?
Dave Crosland: The panel borders were totally inspired by Tyler's script. At the beginning, we're seeing the clinical aspects of the Spartan's world -- debriefing holograms, mission objectives, her commute & insertion into the field. Even in the two-page infiltration spread, we're viewing the action from a distance. So I used cold, unemotional panels to frame those scenes. But the minute our Spartan comes crashing through that skylight and starts raining down on those Covenant goons, I wanted the panels to reflect the violence and chaos of combat. We're diving into that close-quarters brutality with the Spartan. And the rough panels are meant to ground us in the mission with her. We can feel the heat of the near misses, smell the stink on those Elite soldiers as she slaughters them with their own energy swords.
Q: Jon, the first page of “Hunting Party” has a freeform styled introduction. Did this type of introduction present any specific challenges?
Jonathan Goff: The intro is written and presented in a very specific manner. Whether or not it registers to the end reader, the intent of the presentation is to provide a rhythm and bounce to the reading experience. The intro is taken from a journal entry, so the reality of the words as they would exist "in-universe" is that they would be formatted more traditionally, but I was looking to provide a glimpse into the character's actual emotion as he was writing the words. The breaks and indentions reflect the flow of his mindset and add an additional subtle layer of life by providing breathing room and emphasis.
Q: What was it like go work with Simon Roy? Do you feel like your styles matched up?
Jonathan Goff: The way technology has evolved the creative process over the last decade means Simon and I worked together without ever directly working together. I did loose thumbnails for the script, but that was just meant as an ad for whoever the artist was on the story as we were working in a bit of a shortened timeframe. Once I found out Simon would be illustrating the piece I was ecstatic.
I think our styles matched perfectly and I hope he feels the same, or, at the very least, had fun with it. One of his strengths is the life he brings to characters and worlds through his line work and camera placement. A great example is the second-page splash of the Silent Shadow assassin squad. The rough layouts I'd done had this page being more typical/over-posed, or at least that was the idea in my head. But what Simon was able to do was put the characters in all their badass glory into a shot that feels of a moment and true as opposed to staged. That kind of understanding of storytelling and the confidence to place characters in a moment instead of taking the easy "cool pose for cool pose sake" route, speaks to me and inspires me as a storyteller.
Thanks so much for joining us today, guys!
So before we close, we also wanted to highlight that our friends at Dark Ink recently released two new gorgeous lithographs, one of which is featured in the back gallery of Halo: Tales from Slipspace, and we figured would be of particular interest to lore fans. “Monn I’zar” is an epic piece done by Josh Koa, and you can grab one for yourself here! (On a personal race-loving note, check out “Ghost Pilots” by Steve Thomas as well!)
And with that, I’m out. Until next time… Live well, play Halo, and stay tuned…
<<LATE BREAKING UPDATE//1017PT>>
This just in, we've got the descriptive text for Halo: Envoy by Tobias Buckell (coming in 2017) hot off the presses, and didnt want you to have to wait for it. Enjoy!
- It has been six years since the end of the Covenant War...and yet on the planet Carrow, a world on the edge of the Joint Occupation Zone, a decisive new battle suddenly erupts. Human colonists and the alien Sangheili have already been living a tension-filled co-existence in this place, with Unified Earth Government envoy Melody Azikiwe attempting to broker a lasting peace between their two species. But as civil war now engulfs the Sangheili settlers, Melody must act on an additional covert assignment courtesy of the Office of Naval Intelligence: find a way to free the SPARTAN-IIs known as Gray Team, held in stasis since the end of the war by a cunning Elite fleetmaster consumed with vengeance. And none can anticipate the ongoing violence leading to the discovery of an even greater, unstoppable threat, hidden for eons below the surface of the planet….
Okay, actually done now.