“Atriox, a valuable asset to the Covenant army, is slowly growing more aggressive and powerful among the Brute ranks – becoming a danger to the Covenant itself. Seeing this, the Executioner must end Atriox before Atriox ends him!”
Another month passes, another issue of Rise of Atriox drops. I could get used to this!
In the second issue of this ongoing serial (it feels really nice to have five months of constant Halo releases to look forward to), we’re revisiting a scene shown in Halo Wars 2.
Where the first issue illustrated the pointless and visceral violence that Atriox and his thirty nine brothers were thrown into by the Covenant that forged him into the person he is, the second follows up on another part of Isabel’s narration from Halo Wars 2 – Atriox’s rise to power from the moment he defied the Covenant, igniting the spark of revolution.The issue picks up where the last one ended, beginning on Algolis – a human colony world that may be familiar to people who watched Halo: Legends – Prototype and Midnight in the Heart of Midlothian (be it the motion comic adaptation or the original text from Frank O’Connor as part of the Halo: Evolutions anthology).
Atriox is seen returning to a Covenant base, covered in blood from the previous battle, of which he was the sole survivor, while a portion of Isabel’s narration from Halo Wars 2 accompanies the scene.
“His name is Atriox. During the war, the Covenant used his clans as expendable muscle. Told them dying in battle would ‘speed their holy journey’.
Forty at a time, they carelessly sent them in. Forty to break the front lines. Forty to die for beliefs not their own… and none ever returned.
Until he did.”
As Atriox enters the base, he is greeted by his Jiralhanae brothers who are amazed to see that he’s returned from yet another suicide mission. One of them boldly proclaims “Atriox cannot fall”.
Meanwhile, the scene is being observed through a holographic display. A Sangheili, known only as ‘The Executioner’, expresses discomfort about Atriox’s continued survival. He was not supposed to live this long, and an unprecedented development such as this is something that could become a threat to the Covenant.
The Jiralhanae could begin to question their role, which would prove incredibly damaging to the Covenant if they were to rise up against their masters.These fears are expressed to a Prophet, who notes that they are in a delicate situation but simply surviving battle isn’t in itself an act of heresy. He states that the Jiralhanae must not “remember what they were before the Covenant,” and that their positions depend on what they have made of them.
Pausing for a moment, the Prophet isn’t explicitly identified by the text, but it has been pointed out by several people that he is wearing Truth’s crown.
By the same token, there has been some disappointment that we don’t learn anything about the Executioner – his name, his rank, and so on.
But that’s actually something of major importance to the storytelling in this issue. There is a point to leaving them both ‘blank’, as vague titles and proper nouns that convey nothing more than their privileged position in the Covenant.
In my review of the previous issue, I noted that the battle was not grounded at any point in the war – it was like a moment out of time. A similar effect is accomplished here with the Executioner and the Prophet, as neither of them are being presented as people, unlike, say, the way Halo 2 presents them. These ‘leaders’ are being presented to us the way Atriox sees them, as irreverent and detached titles for figures wielding absolute power – talking about the lives of Atriox and his brothers as idle playthings, rather than… y’know, lives.
The effect of this is that one can draw on some degree of sympathy for Atriox, and it’s certainly something that makes you root for him to succeed. We already know from Halo Wars 2 that he does, so this adds a sense of catharsis to his victory.
We don’t need to know who the Prophet is. We don’t need to know anything about the Executioner. It’s superfluous detail that distracts from understanding their function, as the Executioner in particular is a stepping stone for Atriox’s character arc.
There’s also a subtle kind of irony in how the character who serves as the lens through which we experience this story isn’t characterised, but Atriox – the life he’s playing with – is.
Like with the first issue, I look at this as indicative of Rise of Atriox recognising and playing with the limitations of its format – as a series of short stories told in a twenty page long comic. It tells us what we need to know and shows us the added detail, like the crown being what identifies the Prophet as Truth. You don’t need to know that in order to ‘get’ the story, it could well be any Prophet, but it’s a rewarding detail to pick up on as a fan.Back to the comic, the Executioner declares that he will eliminate Atriox before he becomes a problem, but the Prophet denies him.
“One does not discard a tool at the first sign it may not work as intended. Proven prowess on the battlefield and influence over his kind. He could be a very valuable asset to the Covenant, if he is willing to play his part.”
Another thing I noted in my review for the previous issue was the parallels made between Atriox and Thel ‘Vadam, how Atriox is a sort of ‘dark mirror’ of Thel’s own character arc.
Both of them were ‘good soldiers’ for the Covenant, tools used by the Prophets; they were both sent on suicide missions with the intention of having them killed, and both unexpectedly returned to break free of the Covenant and reclaim their respective identities – or, if you prefer, build new ones.
This second issue of Rise of Atriox builds on that parallel here, as the Prophet (whose identity is further consolidated as Truth as a result) intends to use him for his own ends.
The Prophet instructs the Executioner to speak with him and see if his loyalties remain with the Covenant, which the Executioner does. The scene that follows is the first scene in this comic series where Atriox speaks, which is pretty amazing because we’ve already learned so much about him in these issues through his actions and the lens through which these peripheral characters see him.
Executioner: “Atriox. You continue to serve the Covenant well in the war against the humans.”
Atriox: “It’s the duty I was assigned.”
Executioner: “Duty is essential for all the species of the Covenant. The role that the Jiralhanae play in defending the Great Journey is sacred.”
Atriox: “Defending? All I have seen is dying. And we have become too skilled at dying.”
Atriox: “Our strategies have been based on your belief of our enemy’s capabilities. But the humans are stronger than you realise.”
Executioner: “The righteous will always find their path to victory.”
Atriox: “And yet, I’ve seen many of my brothers fall in battle. Maybe loyalty isn’t the path to righteousness we were told it was.”
It’s interesting that Atriox comments on humanity being “stronger than you realise”, given that what we’ve seen thus far (and what we will see in a following scene) is Atriox and his brothers effectively steamrolling them.
We can see something of a parallel between the position humanity is in during the Human-Covenant war and the position Atriox and the Jiralhanae are in regarding their ‘role’ in the Covenant – on the backfoot, outgunned and outmanned, yet never giving up.
Atriox and humanity, despite being on two opposing sides, share the same goal in their fight: survival. Neither of them is in a position where they expect to ‘win’ anything (indeed, Halsey says to Kurt in Ghosts of Onyx that humanity can only expect to survive the war, not win it), yet, in their own unexpected ways, that’s exactly what they end up doing.
I really hope that, as time goes on and we get more fiction with the Banished, we see humans among their ranks and not just former-Covenant client races…
The Executioner reports back to the Prophet, who declares they cannot allow his heresy to spread because he questions the orders and “righteousness” of the Prophets. He is wary, however, that outright killing Atriox could make him a martyr. As such, the Executioner must attend to his task carefully, by employing a bit of theatre.In the following scene, we’re en route to Atriox’s next suicide mission. His brothers, who I insist on referring to as ‘Atriox and his Merry Men’, are in high spirits because of his presence among them. He’s already becoming a figure of legend to them for his continued survival.
Standing opposite Atriox, however, is a Jiralhanae who is decidedly not as merry as the others. Atriox ponders whether he’s grumpy because he’s got the worst hair of the group (he doesn’t really, but we don’t get Atriox’s thoughts in this scene so that’s what I’m going with).
Back in the first issue, the battle was bookended by Sergeant Kress’ musings on why the Covenant are wasting their men, sending them wave after wave despite the fact that they’ve already won…
“They keep sending them after us… wave after wave…. wasting them… like they’re just emptying a magazine.
They’ve already won. They tore right through us. But they don’t want to leave anyone alive down here… not our troops… not theirs.
They could glass us from space, but that’s not good enough.
It’s like… they want blood.”
In this issue, the battle is punctuated by a sort of ‘warrior’s oath’, similar to the one Rtas spoke amongst his men in Halo 2 when they were on their way to hunt down Sesa ‘Refumee on Threshold’s Gas Mine.
“All who walk the blessed path will find salvation, even in death. Out of the darkness, these blades will light our way. Glory and honour guide our ascension.
On the blood of our fathers, on the blood of our sons. The true devotee honours our name with actions, not words.
Victory is secured not from the throne, but from the frontlines. With this sacrament of blood, we journey into the divine beyond.”
This dialogue paints a very frightening image of the Covenant’s zealotry, of just how all-encompassing the Covenant is as an aspect of the lives of its devotees. The Prophets have made it everything to its followers, and have glorified the wanton slaughter of humanity as a holy sacrament that, as Isabel says, “would ‘speed their holy journey'”.In this single panel, we again see the visceral horror of what these battles looked like – with a Marine’s face practically gone from a swing of a gravity hammer.
(As a side-note, a neat little detail in the bottom-left image is an Eye – a Covenant spy drone introduced in Halo: Broken Circle. This is the first visual depiction we’ve seen of it.)
Where the first issue was all about a battle told from a human’s perspective, this one is only one panel long and presents it from Atriox’s. The effect of this, piling all of that blood and viscera and chaos into just one image, conveys how this is practically mundane to Atriox at this point.
He allows a human to flee, telling him to run, and slowly walks after him (unaware that he is himself being pursued by the Grumpy Brute from earlier).
As the Marine sprints for his life, Atriox narrates his hatred for the Covenant.
“My brothers fall in the war against your kind. And for what? To steal planets we can never possess? For glory that will be forgotten by the next battle? For lies?”
The Marine stumbles, falls, and is promptly dispatched by Atriox.
At this point, the other Jiralhanae, the Grumpy Brute (shall we just call him ‘Brutus’?), catches up, and reprimands Atriox for his heresy in what is illustrated to look almost like a Western-style stand-off.
And gravity hammers.
Atriox attempts to talk sense into Brutus, but it’s clear that the Prophet and the Executioner have manipulated him in the way they couldn’t manipulate Atriox. I really like that. Again, it’s that minimalism in the writing that gives it greater depth. We don’t need to know who this Jiralhanae is or anything about him, what matters is that he’s a mirror of Atriox – he represents what the Prophet wanted Atriox to be. Loyal, devout, and complicit with the position his kind have been relegated to. One of them has to kill the other.
Brutus manages to get a swing in Atriox’s side, but an enraged Atriox smashes Brutus’ head with his own gravity hammer and laments his betrayal.The next four pages are a direct adaptation of the scene in Halo Wars 2 where Atriox faces the Executioner.
Initially, I was unsure of how I felt about this because I am somebody who is very much against adaptations which don’t do justice to the source material (the countless and unnecessary retellings of The Fall of Reach being a particular frustration of mine with this series), but, thankfully, this isn’t the case with Rise of Atriox.
In Halo Wars 2, this scene is short and presented as a stylised retelling – Isabel’s narration is the only dialogue here, and she applies her own emotional colouring to the context.
In Rise of Atriox, this scene is told from Atriox’s point of view, and so we see a completely different side to it.
That is how a solid adaptation is done. It adds to our understanding of the scene and Atriox’s character by changing the way we see it, but not changing anything about the scene itself. Josan Gonzalez, the artist for this issue, adapts the imagery from the game to fit a series of comic panels perfectly, which further sells the value of adapting this particular scene as a major beat in Atriox’s story.
The major addition to this is the dialogue between Atriox and the Executioner.
Executioner: “We observed the battle to study the strength of our enemy. Instead, we found a heretic. Your blasphemy corrupts the Covenant.”
Atriox: “He was a slave. A puppet sent to kill me. I relieved him of the burden of that shame.”
Executioner: “More lies. There is only one punishment for one who has strayed so far from his path.”
Atriox: “No. Watch, brothers. Let me remind you of our true path.”
I love this scene, in the game and now in the comic too. Atriox stopping the Executioner’s sword with his hand, the inner grooves of the blade cutting into him, garnering no reaction whatsoever from Atriox… it’s a hell of an image, one which is rather definitive for his character.
As we know, this inspires his fellow Jiralhanae to rise up themselves. The Sangheili present are killed in seconds, we even catch a glimpse of Decimus in a shot that’s recreated from the game (setting up his presence as a major character in the next issue).
Their masters slain, their chains finally broken, these Jiralhanae stand with Atriox in a definitive moment in the Halo universe.
The Banished have been founded.
The issue ends as Atriox stands amidst his brothers and the corpses of the Sangheili they’ve just killed, still holding the Executioner’s sword, smugly declaring “How the righteous fall”.Rise of Atriox has hit the ground running with two excellent introductory issues, the first being a thematic prologue and the second delving deeper into Atriox’s perspective at the end of his days with the Covenant.
I loved this issue just as much as the first one, and I can’t wait to see how the series continues to tell these stories. Thus far, it’s pulled some great little tricks with perspective and the setting to highlight different aspects of Atriox’s character, rather than just having Atriox tell us everything in a conventional sort of flashback style to mirror the likes of Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn. The narrative framing makes these issues much more interesting to read for me and it makes the words that Atriox does speak mean a lot more, while giving his origin story a unique storytelling style.
Jody Houser penned this issue and she did a phenomenal job, showing an acute awareness of how ‘less is more’ enables one to play with the limitations of the comic format. Where there is an absence of detail, there is a point to it.
It’s also good to see that Halo‘s pantheon of female writers is continuing to grow (it’s still an area that the series has a long way to go with, but it’s definitely been improving) and that Houser has played a definitive part in telling Atriox’s origin story. She’s part of that character’s history and the titan he is in the setting, which is great!
The art and colouring was strong again too, with strong detail and a vibrant mix of oranges (for the battle scene), a mixture of blue/grey/purple for the ‘talking’ scenes between the Executioner and the Prophet, and a really good recreation of the Executioner’s death scene from Halo Wars 2. The rewarding subtle details (things like the crown giving away the Prophet’s identity to astute readers) really elevated this issue as well. Props to Josan Gonzalez, Jeremy Colwell, and Aleksi Briclot!
Next issue (coming October 18th), Atriox and Decimus look to expand the Banished’s tech and fleet as their numbers grow. Decimus seeks out Kig-Yar scientist Sig Raan, with her loyalties being in-question regarding whether she will help the Banished or not. We’ll also see the reappearance of the Yanme’e.
You can purchase Rise of Atriox #2 on Dark Horse’s site here (there’s a free preview too if you’re not entirely convinced).