“Atriox looks to Decimus to find others who can help the Banished expand their tech and maintain their fleet as the number of Banished continues to grow. Decimus recalls a Kig-Yar scientist named Sig Raan who resides in a secret Covenant facility on the planet Otraak. Is Sig Raan still loyal to the Covenant or will Decimus be able to convince her to help the Banished?”
We’re three issues into Halo: Rise of Atriox and I can’t help but wonder to myself whether the first two issues could have been a fluke, whether we’re going to be hit with a sudden lapse in quality as we cross the half-way mark of this series.
As it happens, they are absolutely keeping this up and I’m loving it! I’ve passed the point of doubting this series because it’s proven that it’s worth its salt three times over for me.
Issue #1 illustrated the pointless and visceral violence that Atriox and his thirty nine brothers endured and how that fire forged him into the person he is; Issue #2 expanded on a 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 after killing the Executioner…
Now, Issue #3 marks something of a shift in the storytelling – in its tone, its visuals, and its perspective – as we finally get to see Atriox and Decimus on their own adventure in pursuit of their own goals.Issue #3 was written by John Jackson Miller, a relative newcomer to the Halo franchise but by no means untested – he wrote the marvellous short story titled ‘Defender of the Storm’ in Halo: Fractures and ‘Undefeated’ in Tales From Slipspace (commonly regarded as the best story in that otherwise disappointing anthology). Miller will also be writing Issue #5 of Rise of Atriox.
This, I think, is one of Rise of Atriox’s biggest strengths: each issue thus far has been different; different writers exploring different aspects of Atriox’s history and character, which makes for a unique take on an anthology piece because these stories are completely separate… but still connected.
Cullen Bunn and Jody Houser have given us their perspective on Atriox, now it’s over to John Jackson Miller.
We begin with the aftermath of a Banished raid on a Covenant ship, led by Atriox and Decimus. As they prepare to jump into slipspace, the vessel experiences explosive decompression due to multiple breaches in the hull – including a small one on the bridge, which Atriox solves by tossing a Jiralhanae in a vacuum pressure suit to plug it to buy enough time for the ship’s repair protocols to solve the situation.
Atriox asks Decimus to put the new chief engineer on the job immediately, to which Decimus replies that the Jiralhanae now being used to seal the breach is the chief engineer.
Already, something that stands out about this issue that hasn’t been present in the two previous ones is its humour (which I’ll expand more on later). This little situational joke got a snort of laughter out of me.
Atriox then wonders why the engineer was the only one on the bridge wearing a vacuum suit, to which the Jiralhanae replies that he had just come in from making repairs to the ship – the ambiguity of his response angers Atriox; he grabs the ‘engineer’ and says that he’s either lying and therefore a traitor, or he’s telling the truth and is simply incompetent at his job. The end for him is the same either way…Arriving on Otraak, a Covenant installation, Decimus leads a group of Banished troops to visit Sig Raan – a renowned T’vaoan scientist.
As an aside, there’s a nice bit of a throwback here to the original Halo Wars, as Raan’s home here is based on the Covenant bases from that game. There’s a few beats of fanservice like that throughout this issue without laying it on in-excess.
Something that stands out throughout this issue compared to the previous two is just how colourful it is. Issue #1 had a thick fiery haze of orange contrasted with blue (the light from the AI, Beatrix) as it was set in the midst of a horrific battle; Issue #2 emphasised the dull grey interiors with hints of purple in the Covenant’s interior spaces, shifting back to that fiery orange as Atriox is thrown into another suicidal battle.
Issue #3 has eye-popping greens and blues and purples. It’s a sort of visual restoration of the Halo universe’s trademark vibrancy, now that the Banished have broken free of the Covenant and are operating independently – it’s as if they’re free to experience this now, no longer being forced to simply throw away their lives.
This issue is about the early days of the Banished, building up their numbers. There is a sense of hope and triumph about it, from the visuals and from the more lighthearted tone of the writing. That lightheartedness plays into this moment too, as Decimus instructs his men to contact Atriox and tell him that they’ve encountered no resistance, just as he predicted… only to be interrupted by the sudden appearance of a wave of Unggoy who immediately start attacking.
A hologram of Sig Raan appears outside, revealing that she is a T’vaoan – better known as a ‘Skirmisher’, introduced in Halo: Reach. The attention to detail here is great, as it has been established in Mortal Dictata that T’vaoan females have a ruff of feathers on their heads and necks instead of scales, which is reflected in the art.
“T’vaoan males had much heavier upper-body plumage than other Kig-Yar, T’vaoan females had a ruff of feathers on the head and neck instead of dull scales.” [Halo: Mortal Dictata, page 77]
Sig Raan remembers Decimus, saying that she once fought alongside him, and she orders her troops to stand down – saying she wishes to hear what Decimus has to say.
Decimus is adamant that the Covenant has lost its way and the Banished offer a chance for others to break their chains, inviting Raan to join with them because Atriox is interested in her skills. Raan expresses interest in hearing more, saying that she has heard of Atriox, and invites Decimus and his warriors inside the base to show him something “interesting”.Sig Raan informs Decimus that her research efforts for the Covenant have flourished over the years, and her technical expertise is in hot demand.
I have to note that it is refreshing to see a Kig-Yar character like this, as they have historically been relegated to rather restricted roles – space pirates and mercenaries, with little substance beyond that. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve liked a number of those characters, but seeing Raan break those stereotypes as a renowned and successful scientist is something that makes this issue more interesting for me. And it makes sense that the Banished would be seeking out individuals like this.
Raan informs Decimus that she has hit some walls with her research because of the Prophets imposing limitations through ‘holy writs’, but the arrangement between them has been a comfortable and mutually beneficial one. Committing treason by joining forces with the Banished seems like a ridiculous choice, particularly in this early stage where they’re a “ragtag” group of rebels.
Atriox (who Raan notes, disappointed, is not himself present) may have defied the Covenant and won, but that means little to her. The symbolic meaning of Atriox’s victory doesn’t mean anything to her because she’s enjoyed the comforting privileges the Prophets have allowed her to have for what would seem to be a period of years.
The Jiralhanae have not had any such luxuries, so Decimus approaches this conversation with an intriguing level of naivety.
Whatever the Banished goes on to become in terms of how they’re portrayed in Halo Wars 2, at this time, in their earliest days, they’re still sort of trying to do the right thing.
Opening a large chamber door, Raan reveals that she has been working on the ultimate Yanme’e army. She has developed a device that mimics the sonic and pheromonal signals used by Yanme’e Queens to command her Drones, which has major implications for the Covenant’s future military campaigns as a commander could direct whole armies with this device. Decimus looks on in awe and asks her again to join the Banished, as her technology will enable them to flourish.
Raan, however, has led them into a trap and disables their communications – ordering her army to attack.As great as it is to see the Yanme’e again, I have to admit that I was somewhat hoping we’d see the comic use the form of their concept art for Halo 4 – before they were scrapped as the Covenant enemies went back to basics with the Halo: Combat Evolved enemy format.
It’s just a design that I particularly love. I’m sure many were happy to see the Halo 2 (Anniversary) designs used, but I’d have quite liked to see the Yanme’e expanded on by having both the Halo 2 style Yanme’e as lower-class Drones while the Halo 4 variation would be a different caste.
Back to the comic, Raan expresses disappointment in Decimus – saying that she thought he and his soldiers would offer a better challenge to her hive…
And then, at last, Atriox shows up.
Atriox reveals that he sent Decimus first, to see what she had in store, and the sight of the Yanme’e in her thrall was all he needed to see Raan for who she is: an extension of the Covenant’s ruthless and ‘dehumanising’ need for control.
Atriox: “They are called the Banished, T’vaoan, because they no longer allow the Covenant to tell them what they are. But I know what you are, Jackal. Which is why I sent Decimus first, to see what you had in store. Now I’ve seen it. You are not as clever as you think. Too bad for you.”
Sig Raan: “And you must be Atriox. Your presence changes nothing.”
Atriox: “Wrong again!”
Atriox charges into the fray by himself, holding off the Yanme’e with Chainbreaker, while Decimus and the other Jiralhanae look on in awe. Decimus then snaps them out of their inaction by reminding them that Atriox is fighting for them, so they will likewise fight for him.
Defeat at-hand, Raan attempts to flee, but Decimus kills the Yanme’e holding her aloft and sends the T’vaoan falling to her death.
Decimus expresses disappointment that she didn’t choose to join them as he picks up the controller for the Yanme’e.Later, Decimus is holding the device and considering the implications of the Banished using it – of the power they could have, controlling whole armies of the Yanme’e. They could avenge their fallen brothers, as well as serve as engineers for their ships.
The latter point is important because the issue began with Atriox dealing with an engineer whose loyalties were deemed ambiguous, so he demanded that Decimus find him a reliable engineer. That’s what he obtains at the end of this issue, an army of Yanme’e that will do exactly what he commands without question.
And he rejects it.
Atriox takes the device in his hand and crushes it, to Decimus’ dismay.
The issue ends with Atriox declaring that this isn’t the kind of help the Banished needs, to exploit the Yanme’e in this way would make them no better than the Covenant.
Decimus: “What– what did you do? That box–“
Atriox: “–Isn’t the kind of help we need. The Covenant already treats warriors as tools. It’s why we left.
The warriors who follow me will do so because they know me. Because they have seen me and they know I will fight whoever it takes, wherever I have to, and that I will win, no matter what.
Mark my words, Decimus – those who see us will join us. That is a promise.”
As I said earlier, we’re seeing the earliest days of the Banished here and, at this time, they aren’t yet what they go on to become – what we see in Halo Wars 2.
I say that now because we know that the Banished go on to do exactly the kind of thing that Atriox just rejected later on. We know that they hook the Huragok they capture up to torture devices that keep them in constant agony; we know that the Banished’s Scarabs are modified to maximise damage output, which utilises unstable power generators that actually ends up killing the Lekgolo operators, which Atriox is apathetic about.
Something evidently happens in the time between now and Halo Wars 2 that changes Atriox’s perspective and turns him into a hypocrite, falling prey to the revenge complex – causing his own violence to be mimetic of the violence he tried to break free of.
With two issues left, it’ll be interesting to see how that is potentially dealt with…Reflecting on this issue, then, I really did like how this was… almost a jovial story. It comes as an unexpected shift in tone for the series that this has more humour in it – both situational and direct.
We’ve seen Atriox examined through the lens of other characters (Sergeant Kress and the Executioner), but this is the issue where he gets to step out from under the shadow of others and have his own moment to really ‘play the hero’ for the Banished. Furthermore, we’re getting to see him with the closest thing he has to a friend: Decimus. Think of it as a sort of mid-series twist in the storytelling.
This is why the dialogue comes across as a little ‘cheesy’ (I hate using that word because it has so little meaning in how it’s used in criticism, but it fits here).
That’s… sort of the point. The entire tonal contrast (right down to the vibrancy of the colours in the artwork) is the point.
Free from the Covenant, this is the kind of story that Atriox and his fellow Jiralhanae are able to have now – such a sudden contrast to the first two issues was necessary to drive that point home. We’re not being mired any further in the excess of pointless death and the more philosophical nature of Atriox’s existence. We’re stepping into something of a more ‘traditional’ kind of comic book story that feeds on established tropes of a privileged and power-hungry scientist trying to raise an army.
Perhaps that’s not going to be to everyone’s liking, and that does indeed paint this issue apart from the rest, but it (once again) works really well with the limitations of this storytelling medium in service of the greater arc.
Issue #4 will inevitably provide another contrast to this, as we know Atriox succeeds in turning Let ‘Volir to the Banished’s cause. That’s going to be Atriox’s big triumph before Issue #5 presumably brings us something of a ‘fall’ in terms of how the future of the Banished is shaped.
As we conclude here for this month (goodness, I need a break! I’ve written about 25,000 words in the last two weeks), I have another Halo Wars 2: Complete Edition code for a very lucky reader.
This is the last code I have to give away.
Halo Wars 2: Complete Edition contains:
- Halo Wars 2
- The Season Pass (8 additional leaders and Operation: SPEARBREAKER campaign)
- Awakening the Nightmare expansion
You can purchase Rise of Atriox #3 on Dark Horse’s site here.