Indie Comics Spotlight: Halo Escalation, Native Drums and Guardians
by Jonathan Pilley (@omnicomic)
Halo: Escalation #1
“Please tell me the calvary’s on its way.”
Escalation rarely bodes well, unless you’re on an escalator and your destination happens to be on a higher level. When it’s a player in intergalactic peace summits, then you know that things are really about get the opposite of peaceful. In fact, things are going to get downright violent. That’s the situation in Halo: Escalation #1 from Dark Horse Comics. The issue is written by Chris Schlerf, illustrated by Sergio Ariño, inked by Juan Castro, colored by Michael Atiyeh and lettered by Michael Heisler.
After Palmer’s failed assassination attempt on Dr. Halsey, she’s escaped with Jul ‘Mdama, the Sangheili now leading the Didact’s Promethean troops after the events of Halo 4. From a military perspective, that’s a whole lot of error, which is why the Board of Admirals regarding the mission, prior to being assigned a new one, is interrogating Palmer and Lasky. The new mission? Broker a peace with the Arbiter and the Jiralhanae brutes for the safety of their home world.
Schlerf is the lead writer of Halo 4 and it shows. His story weaves in the events of the game very well and even mixing in the Arbiter from Halo 2 and Halo 3. The story starts off fairly methodically, with a good portion of it devoted to debriefing Palmer’s failed mission with Dr. Halsey, but then things really pick up from there and start moving. Once the peace talks “break down,” the issue becomes synonymous with what a Halo stage feels like. It becomes exceedingly frenetic in a heartbeat and ends with a relatively impossible situation for Palmer, the Arbiter and a few other delegates to contend with. The story makes sense and the characters play their roles well, but the reasoning for the combat is a little unclear; presumably, there will be a bit more on the subject in future issues.
Ariño focuses a lot on the foreground characters, paying little attention to things going on in the background. In this sense, the illustrations of background characters is very basic, mainly relaying to the reader that there are characters in the background. Spartans are illustrated very well and the Arbiter captures the look and feel of a Covenant leader. There’s a lot of stacked panels that helps with the pacing of the story, as well as some great shots of the chaos that comes with the mini-invasion. Some of the character anatomy feels a little stilted; for instance, there’s a panel with Palmer running that looks like she was placed in a running position and looks unnatural.
As with most books in the Halo universe, Halo: Escalation #1 is a lot more accessible and interesting to those who have delved into that universe. Still, the book combines a rather adventurous story with solid art that goes from zero to 60 in a heartbeat. It boasts a Spartan that isn’t Master Chief and the Arbiter is one of the more fascinating characters from the series. Schlerf has a lot of leeway to play here and he clearly knows what makes Halo tick, which is encouraging for subsequent issues. The first issue is a pretty bold opening in what’s setting up to be a rather intense, action-packed ride.
Halo: Escalation #1 is in stores now.
Native Drums #1
“Just blame my genetics Controller.”
There’s always a way to make a buck, especially if you’re very talented with weapons and in high demand in a world that relies on mercenaries for hire. A scenario where corporations run the show would be great for profits, yet leaves something to be desired on the human interest side of things. Luckily, in the world of Native Drums #1 from 17machine Studios, there are characters who care. The first issue is written by Chuck Paschall and illustrated by Vince Riley.
Imagine a world where governments have fallen and corporations are in control. Complete control. Disparate and desolate wastelands might be an apt way to picture the world and traveling through them is a woman named Agent. She’s on a mission in the middle of the desert, fighting through a sandstorm while on foot. She’s got direct orders to reach an objective, yet something sidetracks her: a young girl in need of assistance. Agent breaks protocol to save her, which of course throws her right in the crosshairs of the local factions.
A world run by money is a truly terrifying one indeed and Paschall captures the mayhem very well. He doesn’t so much focus on the economics and politics of the; rather, he spends time with a woman who’s trying to do right in the new world she’s a part of. Agent is a brash professional proficient with firearms, but she’s not above deviating from the mission if she feels it’s for a worthy cause. The bulk of the issue is focused on her conversation with who is presumably her handler and the dialogue between the two speaks volumes about who she is and what motivates her.
While the story is very powerful, Riley’s art is equally as impressive. He does a marvelous job showing off the ferocity of the sandstorm, shrouding the landscape and making her mission immeasurably more difficult. Agent herself is illustrated with a great intensity that’s effective at convincing the reader she’s more than capable of handling the mission at hand. Riley also relies on non-traditional layouts towards the end, spreading full-page illustrations across multiple panels. The panels piece together much like a puzzle and are refreshing. The action pages are rife with kinetic energy as well, fully conveying to the reader the intense situations that Agent often finds herself in.
Native Drums #1 is a really great combination of story and art, telling a story about that’s slightly different than the norm. It’s relatively light on pure story, yet it still manages to speak through the action as well as the dialogue. Paschall is starting a rather interesting tale that will put Agent in what’s likely an even tougher situation in the coming issues. Riley’s art is very raw and the coarseness of it fits the story, showing a muddy and painted landscape. Readers looking for a new tale should definitely pick up Native Drums #1.
Native Drums #1 is available via Comixology now.
“In their desperation they called out to their maker for help.”
In trying times, many are very likely to turn to a higher power for help. The belief and prayers help them to weather the storm and get through the rough patches. There are still times though where you need more than just faith; you need a physical manifestation of help. In Guardians #0, that help comes in the form of two superheroes to save the day. The issue is written by Todd Black, illustrated by Chua Eng Lee and colored by Alex Garcia.
Delta City is a metropolis teeming with life and possibility. Unfortunately for its inhabitants, it’s also rife with crime, most of which is so intense it requires the city to seek out help from a rather unlikely source. In essence, they prayed for angels to protect them and were offered Element and Chaos. These two are truly powerful and more than capable of doing their require duty and the duo is putting criminals on notice that they won’t give up easily in their quest to keep Delta City safe.
Black sticks with the tried and true capes and tights, superhero story, only with a slight twist on the origin. Presenting the two superheroes as a literal answer to the prayers of the citizens is rather unconventional when it comes to introducing new heroes, but it works for Guardians #0. Element and Chaos represent two sides of the proverbial coin, yet both are very much invested in protecting Delta City from the run of the mill criminals terrorizing its streets. If the issue suffers from one drawback its that is entirely narration. Considering it’s a prologue, it doesn’t detract too much from the issue, but the reader doesn’t really get much opportunity to make their own interpretations of the characters and events.
Lee’s illustrations are simple enough, offering characters who are rendered very smoothly and standing out in the foreground of the panels. Some of the character anatomy is a little rigid, as if the characters are posing for their panels. He offers up a good mix of panels and layouts, with quite a few full-pagers that really hammer home the intensity that the two heroes plan to bring to their protecting. There’s a limited mix of facial expressions and everyone tends to show off the same look of dismay at their current situation–including the heroes themselves.
Black smartly introduces a slightly bigger challenge than random muggers and there also seems to be a burgeoning schism built into the relationship between Element and Chaos. Nothing happens in the first issue that suggests they’re at odds, but it wouldn’t be surprising if down the road they have a difference of opinion as far as how they should do their jobs. Lee’s art is promising and he does offer a good contrast between Element and Chaos, and the two of them get most of the attention in terms of illustrations. The overall package is interesting and the creative team have set a relatively high bar in terms of keeping things interesting in future issues.
Guardians #0 is available via Comixology now. Check out the book’s Facebook page here.