Halo: Tales from Slipspace Review

The latest Halo comic book anthology asks - but doesn't answer - the big questions.

The latest Halo comic anthology saves its best for last, giving a couple of insightful looks into the current Halo story while sometimes tiptoeing too carefully around it. The collection could have made more of a solid connection between the stories and games, helping to unite an expanded universe that sometimes feels disjointed, but instead it is a mixture of engaging stories with more tedious ones, a mish-mash of quality that also extends to the art.

Right off the bat, people looking for a connection to the games will find that the most relevant story is the very last one, Frank O’Connor’s “Dominion Splinter.” The first meeting between Cortana and the Warden Eternal is illustrated with abstract, painterly splashes that are also a disguise for Cortana’s true purpose – infiltrating the Domain and cutting past the Warden’s stentorian warnings. The story doesn’t change anything about Cortana’s dramatic face-heel turn in Halo 5, but it does illuminate a bit of what she was thinking during it. It’s a dramatic story of a character who can “undam the cataracts of power” actually doing that. The story positions her in an interesting spot between biological and machine intelligence, calling on her experience with both rampancy and the Gravemind as expressions of the extreme ends of sentient behavior.

The art in “Dominion Splinter” also supports the story in interesting ways through Cortana’s facial expressions. Her slack tiredness and confusion in the first part of the story match her appearance in Halo 4, and the slight shift to more narrowed eyes and a firmer expression toward the end of the comic are notable in how they express her joy at her newfound power. Her blank eyes keep even the joyous moments creepy, though, reminding the audience that even as she’s coming unbound from her chains, she’s also embarking on a journey to put those chains around everyone else.

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Blue Team is also featured in one of the stories. “On The Brink” puts them in a runaway Mammoth vehicle, and while it’s a simple story, it has some quality use of color and a fun, cartoonish style that tends toward extreme facial expressions. A big splash page of an explosion all done in brown, swirling and grainy with construction-site dirt, establishes first a human victory in the war, but then the more immediate danger from the runaway vehicle, with the nose of the Mammoth hanging heavily over the next page. It’s a pleasant if inconsequential story about teamwork, with an ending that feels a bit tacked on.

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One area in which the book does tie into the games well is its look at what happened between Halo Wars and the upcoming sequel. “Hunting Party” shows a team of Elites on what they think is a holy mission to eliminate the Brute chieftain Atriox. This story introduces Atriox, who will also appear in Halo Wars 2, and uses some interesting formatting, comparing a devout Elite’s perception of the situation with the reality of the fractured Covenant.

“Fireteam Majestic Poker Night” is an attempt to connect to the games as well, or at least part of them. The team from Spartan Ops had charisma but not a lot of personality in the game, and the same is true here, with interchangeable characters holding an amusing poker game. Unfortunately, though, this is one of the stories in which the art doesn’t quite hold up – characters’ faces are inconsistent and lacking in detail, and hurt a decent story about Thorne’s grief.

Other stories seem underserved in the art department as well. The opening story, “Something Has Happened,” tells a decent, complex action story about a Flood attack on board the Halo Wars ship Spirit of Fire. The art lacks detail, especially when it comes to the human characters, but the machinery is appropriately suspicious, the benign coffeemaker contrasted with some deadly-looking robotic claws. Serina, the ship’s AI, isn’t really the enemy, though, even if her absent-minded reluctance to help the human crew puts them in harm’s way.

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The AI’s perspective makes for some emotional story-telling, but also muddles the action scenes even further. Serina’s perspective allows her to flash back and forth between rooms very fast, but because of that it’s a bit difficult to track who’s speaking. Stylized speech bubbles almost do the trick, but it gets confusing when the different styles for Serina speaking in the same room as a character, Serina speaking through a radio, Serina thinking to herself, and Serina executing the ship’s functions all pop up in quick succession in addition to two humans talking on the radio.

It’s not a bad story, though, especially for someone who doesn’t have a previous attachment to Spirit of Fire. I definitely felt more connected to the characters by the end.

One of the better stories in the collection is a hard-working tale of characters who aren’t connected to the games at all. I tend to like stories where the villain is not actually present but ruins everything just by existing, and “Undefeated,” the story of a cargo ship stranded after Cortana’s AI rebellion, checks that box nicely. (We interviewed author John Jackson Miller here.)

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“Undefeated” asks a lot of questions, some of which reflect on Cortana’s role in Halo 5 as well. What good is hope if it’s built on a lie? Is tearing down an entire society worth it for the hope of a new one? “Undefeated” is the story of people trapped between a rock and a hard place who have to choose how to die. This grim look at hope also contains some fun dialogue and a diverse cast of characters. It would have been nice for it to be a bit more connected to the wider Halo universe. While l’d recommend it as a standalone story, there also isn’t much of a hook here for people who want to know more about what happened to established characters.

In general, I found Tales from Slipspace to be more enjoyable than the other recent Halo fiction anthology, Fractures, thanks to some standout stories and enjoyable dialogue. It sets up Halo Wars 2 well and provides an illuminating, beautifully illustrated look at Cortana, even if the stories don’t feel essential companions to what ever is in store for the future of Halo.

Rating:

3.5 out of 5