“Atriox and his Banished forces are seemingly interrupted while assaulting a Covenant base by a warship led by the Shipmaster Let ‘Volir. With the Banished forces pushed back, Let ‘Volir is able to capture Atriox. But before the Shipmaster can claim victory, Atriox presents him with an offer and reveals that he has other plans for ‘Volir, his ship, and its crew.”
After one or two short delays from 343, moving this issue from its planned November release to December, the penultimate issue of Rise of Atriox is finally here.
And I loved it. On top of being another solid addition to the major events we see in Rise of Atriox, it also serves as a strong spiritual successor to the Hunting Party story in Halo: Tales From Slipspace anthology.
Issue #1 illustrated the pointless and visceral violence that Atriox endured and the person that forged him into; Issue #2 expanded on the moment Atriox defied the Covenant, igniting the spark of revolution after killing the Executioner; Issue #3 gave us more of a lighthearted adventure with Atriox, playing with some typical comic book tropes in order to paint a picture of Atriox’s heroism in the eyes of his followers in the formative years of the Banished.
Issue #4 delves into how Let ‘Volir joined Atriox, illustrating how Atriox is as much a warrior of words as he is of action (that action being, as depicted in the image below, the bear hug he’s offering Let – apparently that’s how one joins the Banished!)Continuing the trend of the narrative framing device for each issue – a research report compiled for Captain Cutter by Seth, an AI aboard the Spirit of Fire, building on a particular part of Isabel’s speech to the Spirit of Fire crew in the first act of Halo Wars 2 – Issue #4 focuses on the line about how the power of the Banished grew through raiding and recruitment.
“Atriox and his Banished raided Covenant resources, cutting a swatch across the galaxy. Growing in strength with each attack. Gathering killers and mercenaries to his side.”
Reflecting briefly on the end of the last issue, Atriox destroyed the control device for an army of subservient Yanme’e, declaring that this would not be the way of the Banished (a perspective that evidently changes for Atriox at some point leading into Halo Wars 2). He is not interested in having an army of slaves, so we see in Issue #4 exactly what kind of army he is interested in.
Similar to the previous issue, the visual palette is colourful and vibrant with some great attention to detail. From the very first page, we see colour used as a storytelling tool as red Banshees swoop down a valley towards a Covenant base.
The red Banshees are, of course, our first glimpse at the Banished’s versions of existing Covenant tech in Rise of Atriox, indicating that time has passed and the Banished have consolidated their visual identity. Rather than telling us exactly when this issue takes place, we’re given the means to subtly infer it.
It almost feels like a missed opportunity that this issue doesn’t have the subtitle ‘Red vs Purple’…And there’s another base from the original Halo Wars, detailed in such a way that you can recognise each of the buildings as they appear in the game – which is awesome! It’s a small and simple bit of continuity, but one I’m happy to see because there was something instantly recognisable about the base structures in Halo Wars that wasn’t quite as present in the sequel.
Something about this shot feels visually reminiscent of the covers of the Forerunner Saga, Cryptum in particular. The silhouetted figures standing atop a cliff, gazing out at an immense vista with some kind of alien structure visible is something of a recurring image in Halo. It’s interesting to see that technique used here; the sense of being a slice of frozen time in the other variations of this image is disrupted here by action, as the Banished launch their attack on the Covenant base.
On the ground, the Sangheili hail Enduring Conviction to call for help; they immediately know it’s Atriox, owing, of course, to the Banished’s clear visual identity.
Note that they specifically say ‘Atriox’ and not ‘the Banished’. The implication one might take from that is that Atriox typically enters the fray with his forces, due to the fact that their operations are much smaller at this point – it’s mentioned later by Let that the Banished are currently limited to a Corvette. That Corvette, the Elegy’s Lament, appeared in Hunting Party, Atriox’s short story in Halo: Tales From Slipspace, where the Silent Shadow infiltrate the ship and are eventually talked around by Atriox to join him (sans their leader, Resa ‘Azavayl, who is betrayed by his own people as he seeks to perpetuate the feud against Atriox).
Back to the issue, there’s a parallel to be drawn between Atriox and Let, as the Sangheili elects to join the battle personally as well. We see some proactive nobility from Let, who says:
“We will not wait for the fleet while they die for each other on the ground.”
We have oft been told that Let cares for his crew and this is the first time we are really getting to actually see that, as Halo Wars 2 unfortunately didn’t afford Let much of a reaction when Enduring Conviction is torn asunder.
Let is also familiar with how Atriox operates, saying that he knows Atriox will not destroy their base until he has looted it – meaning that he and his Banished forces will be in the armoury. It’s simply, but it’s good to see the emphasis on writing that is showing rather than telling us about Atriox from the perspective of another character.
Sure enough, Atriox’s troops are in the armoury and Let commands his forces to flush them out while they’re still on foot – too late, as they are already boarding several Phantoms and speed off to Enduring Conviction’s hangar.Worthy of note is the fact that the majority of Atriox’s forces that we see in this issue are Sangheili, a provocation that Atriox undoubtedly decided to employ with the intention of making a point to Let about the people who have joined the ranks of the Banished.
After dispatching the meagre Banished forces present, Let and his troops encounter Atriox, alone, who is given a whole frame dedicated to showing him swinging Chainbreaker through two Sangheili at once. The violence here is confined to this single page, the minimal approach visually making a statement about how deadly Atriox is as he brings the gravity mace down on an unfortunate Sangheili’s head.
In what is perhaps Atriox’s idea of a cordial greeting, he simply says “Shipmaster Let ‘Volir,” as he stands amidst a pile of corpses and surrenders – offering Let the day and the glory of victory.
Let informs him that the Banished have fled and left Atriox behind, that they are, in the end, pirates and thieves who lack conviction.
The rest of the fleet finally catches up to Enduring Conviction and have heard reports that they have captured Atriox. As Let gives the order to answer, Atriox steps in and tells him not to. What happens next… confused me for a good while when I first read the issue, it comes across as abrupt and unclear.
When Atriox tells Let not to respond, his Banished troops, who hijacked the Phantoms earlier (mostly comprised of Sangheili), emerge from the vessels and stand by Atriox; it’s hard to tell because all the figures in the hangar are silhouetted, not coloured, so it’s impossible to tell who’s who and what’s actually going on. As I was none-the-wiser to what had actually happened at first, I wondered whether there was a page missing here…The lack of visual clarity definitely harmed what should have been a great initiation to this climactic stand-off. It’s a real shame, but this is definitely a major negative to me. It hardly needs to be said (I’m going to say it anyway), but comics are a visual medium and it’s a significant problem when you lose somebody with a panel or transition that is confusing due to a lack of necessary detail.
Owing to the fact that this issue was delayed (twice), it is likely that this is the result of some shake-up with the artist(s) and colourist(s) that changed the production schedule.
At the same time, it’s not too bad that my first major negative with this series comes towards the end of the fourth out of five issues. This hasn’t been a common occurrence, so while it is a major one it’s not something that has been a recurring problem or sends the series off in a poor direction – it’s a problem with the storytelling, not the story itself.
Back to the situation at-hand, this is where Atriox decides to play his hand.
Atriox informs Let that he spared as many of Enduring Conviction’s crew as he could, which is another neat way of building on the notion that Let cares for his crew; Atriox is acutely aware of this trait of Let’s, he planned to accommodate it in his gambit to secure the Shipmaster’s allegiance.
He tells Let to inform the fleet that they have indeed captured him, so they can discuss whether he can spare the rest of the crew – to which Let complies.What follows is a really great exchange that is the making of this issue, as these two sides face each other, poised for combat, and Atriox cuts straight through to Let ‘Volir not with a great battle… but words.
This is why I’m convinced that the comic format really works for these stories, as the action is always a secondary aspect. Much greater emphasis is put on the words these characters speak to each other. The payoff with Rise of Atriox isn’t in grandiose destruction, it’s not about the umpteenth Forerunner MacGuffin-of-the-week; it so often comes down to what two characters have to say to each other.
What Atriox says here is that he’s playing a longer game. His raiding and looting has served him well to this point, building up the Banished’s arsenal, but the time has come to think bigger.
“I can raid, I can harry, I can instil fear.
All worthy objectives… if, as you said, I was only a thief and a pirate. But my plans are greater than that.
I gave the Covenant my loyalty until I understood they did not consider me worthy of theirs. Now we all stand on the brink of a new age, and we choose what role we will play.”
There’s a Phoenix Log in Halo Wars 2, titled The Blinded, where Orda Val ‘Saham (who appears in the tenth campaign mission – The Foundry – as one of the Scarab guards), where one of Let’s crew expresses admiration of Atriox for actions such as what we see depicted in this issue.
“With Atriox there are no lies; he speaks like a warrior. He wished to break free from the yoke of the Prophets, so he did. Would that we had joined him earlier.Now he offers us a way to keep our ship and our crew together and I can think of nothing more truthful to fight for right now. The Shipmaster brought us through the war and to this place alive where so many others have perished.He asked us to follow him once more, and I will.” [Halo Wars 2, The Blinded (Phoenix Log)]
Atriox then reveals that he doesn’t just seek to gain weapons on his raids, but intelligence too – and he’s been paying very close attention to Let as a target of interest, as his faith in the Covenant has been waning.This ‘flashback’ has a brief divergence back to the colour palette of the fist two issues where we see Atriox thrown into his suicide missions – the harsh, hazy orange. It’s a big contrast to how bright and colourful Issues #3 and #4 became after moving away from that period.
Atriox: “Your only remaining belief is in your ship. Your crew. Your bond. Did you think the timing of this raid, just as your ship was the closest, was an accident? No. That was my objective today. You were my objective today. All that keeps you in the Covenant fleet is obligation to your crew. They must be provisioned, your ship must be fuelled. I offer you that.”
Let: “And what do you expect in return?”
Atriox: “Your allegiance. Your submission. You will join the Banished.”
Let: “You would make me a mercenary.”
Atriox: “I was thrown into battle to die, time after time, until I learned I could refuse. The same choice is upon you, Let ‘Volir. Your orders from the fleet will be coming as soon as order is restored on the surface. Decide.”
Atriox reads Let like an open book; while the beginning of his speech does move into telling us about his characterisation, it’s earned by the amount of showing they’ve done throughout this issue.
There is something to be said though about Atriox’s posturing about being free to choose one’s own fate, as what he is offering Let here is simply a different master to bow to other than the Covenant – demanding not just the Shipmaster’s allegiance, but his submission too.
It’s a bit of a false choice, as refusal will result in a battle which Let would most likely lose.
Twelve hours later, Let has made his choice and the Covenant have seemingly restored order on the surface of the planet, hailing the Enduring Conviction to check if Atriox is secure.
Let then gives his orders to his crew.
“Here are your orders. What remains of the Covenant is corrupt and dying. We have all seen this, and we have shed our blood, and in return they waste our lives. No more. Our bond is with each other. As of this moment, we control our fates. We fight for Atriox now.”
The Covenant fleet interprets Let’s silence as indicative that he has fallen and Atriox now commands the Enduring Conviction, as the ship changes course. Every ship in the area fires on the Enduring Conviction, but Let takes the opportunity to demonstrate a tactic that will further entice Atriox to value the ship that is now sworn to him.Let conducts a pinpoint slipspace jump while within the planet’s atmosphere (moving to the very edge of it), the effect of which we’ve seen before in Halo 2 and Halo 3: ODST. The slipspace rupture creates a devastating EMP which disables the Covenant ships in the area, allowing the Enduring Conviction to make its escape.
In other words: Let ‘Volir defects in style.
N’tho ‘Sraom wishes he could make an exit this dramatic!
The story concludes with Atriox making good on his end of the deal, ordering the ship to go to a planet named Ansket IV – a world that houses a UNSC forward operating base to keep Let’s warriors occupied, and a hydro-processing facility to keep Enduring Conviction fuelled.
At this point, it becomes clear how this issue directly ties in with another one of the Phoenix Logs in Halo Wars 2.
ONI Section Zero Board//Surveillance transcription of internal communications between subjects ‘D’ and ‘S’, 05.06.2553 1702 hrs//Full transcript available on request//
[‘D’] …what’s the name of the ship? Something pronounceable, I hope.
[‘S’] ‘The Enduring Conviction’, sir. A CAS-class assault carrier. The Conviction and its Sangheili commander have been known to us for some time, we’ve lost quite a few ships to it over the last four years. According to our intel it’s the largest ship Atriox controls now.
[‘D’] He’s amassing quite a fleet. This must be the ninth raid in as many months.Still, he’s never gone for something this large before. How did he raise enough troops to capture and then crew a CAS-class carrier?
[‘S’] We’re piecing together what we can, sir. From what we understand, Atriox and a small group of his warlords were captured during a raid on a former Covenant air base and taken aboard the Enduring Conviction. Twelve hours later, Enduring Conviction broke formation and contact with the rest of the fleet it travelled with. The Conviction was hailed, warned, and then fired upon when it ignored orders. The Conviction performed evasive maneuvers, returned fire and escaped. It was an impressive move… and it’s one we’ve seen before during a battle with the Conviction two years ago.
[‘D’] Are you implying the commander was still in control?
[‘S’] It’s possible, sir. It’s unclear who’s giving orders to these Sangheili ships now and his crew was fiercely loyal. If we knew that, then Atriox would have. What if Atriox planned to be captured by the Conviction so he could get close to the commander and get him to defect? It may have even already been planned and this was just a cover.
[‘D’] An assault carrier and its crew. Atriox has just painted a very large target on his back, he’s going to want to lay low for a while. Keep track of known Sangheili, let’s see if this snowball turns into an avalanche. [Halo Wars 2, Rise of Atriox III (Phoenix Log)]
What we’ve witnessed in this issue is one of Atriox’s greatest triumphs, the point at which the Banished begin to evolve into more than just a far-off story about a warlord wreaking havoc against the Covenant with occasional forays into UNSC territory.
Given the nature of storytelling when everything is going well like this, in-concert with the aspects of Atriox’s characterisation that have yet to be reconciled with his portrayal in Halo Wars 2, I can only anticipate that the final issue will bring about some kind of shift in his perspective that changes the nature of the Banished.
On that, we’ll just have to wait and see…
Overall, Issue #4 is a major net-positive for me, but does bring with it a moment of confusion that practically ruins the set-up for the climax. The climax itself is fantastic, one of the highlights of this series, but the poorly illustrated moment establishing the turn of the screw there is the first big negative of Rise of Atriox.
Ultimately, though, there’s far more to love than there is to quibble about and there’s a strong sense of intertextual connectivity between this issue and the Phoenix Logs in Halo Wars 2, while also serving as a sort of spiritual sequel to Tales From Slipspace with another demonstration of Atriox as a warrior of wit and words.
You can purchase Rise of Atriox #4 on Dark Horse’s site, here.
It’s also available on Amazon for your Kindle, and a complete hardcover edition will be released in April 2018.