“Brute chief, Jovus, believes himself the most dangerous brute in the galaxy. But Atriox’s fearsome legend has reached even the most distant UNSC outpost. When the two brutes come face to face, their clash shapes the future of the Banished.”
Well, here we are… the final issue of Halo: Rise of Atriox has released, heralding not only the end of this anthology series but also the conclusion of the Halo Wars 2 ‘period’ of fiction – which has spanned the last year.
It’s a bittersweet moment because we’re facing another Great Lore Drought this year, the likes of which have not occurred since 2013, and it’s sad to see this series end…
But it was an end worth waiting for, as this final issue truly consolidates Rise of Atriox as the best Halo comic series since 2009/10’s Helljumper and Blood Line.
Rise of Atriox is a triumphant crescendo of important lessons having been learned from the last couple of years of Halo’s storytelling in the comic format; the result is a truly delightful origin story for a character and faction I find myself only wanting to see more of.Before we get into the content of this issue, I think now is a good opportunity to look back on how far we’ve come – how far Atriox has come – over the last four issues…
In Issue #1, we were thrown into the middle of one of the most visceral battles ever depicted in Halo fiction – one that served to highlight the pointless, senseless slaughter that was the norm of Atriox’s existence under the Covenant’s heel.
Told from the point of view of the UNSC’s Sergeant Kress, making her final stand with a handful of survivors against wave after wave of Jiralhanae being sent to the slaughter, this was a very self-contained prologue that served as a tonal introduction for the character and the series.
Issue #2 then expanded on the moment Atriox defied the Covenant, following a Sangheili Executioner who was tasked with gauging his loyalty to the Prophets to see what value he might have as a subservient tool.
Atriox, however, is cynically opposed to the Covenant’s religion and the ‘wisdom’ of the Prophets, which ignites the spark of revolution when he quite literally overturns his own death sentence by killing the Executioner and declaring to his Jiralhanae brothers that he will guide them on a new path.
Issue #3 gave us more of a lighthearted and jovial 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.
Facing off against Sig Raan, a renowned Kig-Yar scientist who aimed to enslave the Yanme’e, we see Atriox reject that power and declare that the Banished will not dominate others as the Covenant did – they will aim to do better, and those who would join them will do so because they have seen what the Banished are.
Issue #4 then depicted one of Atriox’s greatest victories – securing the loyalty of Let ‘Volir, Shipmaster of the assault carrier Enduring Conviction. In contrast to the action of the previous issue, this was something of a spiritual successor to Hunting Party in Halo: Tales From Slipspace where Atriox was articulated as warrior who can weaponise his words as effectively as he does Chainbreaker – his trusty gravity mace.
Setting up shop on Ansket IV with a plentiful supply of fuel, practice fodder – in the form of a human-occupied base – to keep their restless warriors occupied, and a fearsome name that will come to be known across (and, one day, beyond) the galaxy, Atriox has everything he needs to set the Banished up as a faction that is here to stay and means business.
Which brings us, at last, to Issue #5…As with each instalment of this series, we begin with a part of Isabel’s speech about Atriox to Captain Cutter and the Spirit of Fire crew in Halo Wars 2, this issue’s pretext being:
“The Covenant had two targets in those years: humanity and Atriox. They almost got us. But Atriox? They never came close. The whole damn Covenant couldn’t contain him at the height of their power.” [Isabel, Halo Wars 2 – A New Enemy]
This quote isn’t as relevant to the issue as previous ones have been, but it is notable for the fact that the looming shadow of the Covenant is well and truly absent from this story. They have been in every issue prior to this in some form, but, in the finale of Rise of Atriox, the focus is on Jovus and Atriox (indeed, it is mentioned that the Banished are wrecking the Covenant on Karava, where the main action of this issue takes place).
Jovus, depicted in the image above attacking a UNSC repair and resupply facility, is a Jiralhanae warlord with a lust for both violence and recognition – the latter of which he most certainly must get, given that he opts to wear Chieftain’s armour over his legs and arms, as well as a helmet, but leaves his chest completely exposed.
It’s an… interesting wardrobe choice.
He also sports a patch over his eye – whether it’s to cover up an injury or serves any tactical purpose is unclear, but I’d quite confidently wager (given his aforementioned wardrobe choices) that it’s the former.
Jovus and his forces drive the UNSC to retreat into the station, taking sadistic pleasure in the killing of so many humans that are so ridiculously outmatched by him.
Already, this establishes something of a contrast to Atriox’s characterisation in the first two issues by providing a similar setting and situation – except Atriox lamented the wanton slaughter he was part of, to the point where he almost seemed to mentally disassociate from it.
You may recall a moment in Issue #2, where Atriox allows a human to flee from the battle and slowly follows him, openly confiding his hatred of the Covenant to the only person he can – an enemy he’s about to kill.
“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?” [Atriox, Halo: Rise of Atriox – Issue #2, page]
Where the action with Atriox is accented with something a little more cerebral, Jovus simply and cartoonishly delights in the rush of pointless combat – seeking out the leader of the human forces and getting one of his henchmen, Buca, who he titles the keeper of his ‘legend’, to orate about himself.
Only, he doesn’t get quite the reaction he expected…Jovus becomes infuriated by the humans’ expectation that it was Atriox who attacked them, ordering his Jiralhanae followers to destroy the entire facility and leave nothing standing.
Buca begins to interject, mentioning “the supply houses” that they were presumably there to claim, but Jovus says:
“I don’t care if there’s anything here that we need! I don’t let my warpack say that name. I won’t hear it from the enemy! I have fought in more battles than anyone alive – yet his legend grows faster than mine. And now the humans cower in fear at his name. What has he done to deserve it?”
Suffice it to say, Jovus is an idiot.
He and his warpack attacked this station with the intention of gaining supplies, but Jovus decides to burn it all to the ground at the slightest wound to his pride by a human.
Their mission, this slaughter, ended up being for nothing…
Buca assures Jovus that he is sure the humans knew about Atriox because of his raids on the Covenant, but what matters is what he has done since then. We then get a flashback panel to Issue #2 (the first of several, which illustrates what the point of this comic series has been) where Atriox kills the Executioner.
“He defied the Covenant, as no Jiralhanae ever had. He refused to fight their battles any more – and when they called him heretic, he slew his executioner!”
The tone of Buca’s dialogue in this scene – just a little bit too flattering – provides some good set-up for a reveal later in the issue, which we’ll get to later…
Jovus retorts that the Prophets no longer control them (establishing that this story takes place post-war), asking why it should matter that he was the first to break away when they live now as “the Jiralhanae of old” – meaning that they raid, pillage, and battle for dominance amongst themselves.
It’s this kind of perspective that led to the First Immolation in Jiralhanae history, where their rival master-packs fought a war of attrition that culminated in a nuclear holocaust which almost wiped their species out (blasting their Tier-4 civilisation back to Tier-7, a pre-industrial state).
That is Jovus’ ‘philosophy’, the old ways he romanticises that he believes his people should aspire to.
As I said: Jovus is an idiot.Seeking out Atriox in order to battle for dominance, a Jiralhanae on the bridge informs Jovus that Atriox is on Karava – an old Covenant outpost from which a distress signal is going off from the Covenant forces there.
Upon arriving in the system, they are greeted by the sight of Enduring Conviction – which now bears its signature red lights – and hailed by Let ‘Volir, who is now among the ranks of Atriox’s Merry Men. He asks if Jovus and his crew have come to join the Banished, with Jovus showing great reticence to the idea of Sangheili and Jiralhanae joining together under a shared partnership.
Let speaks almost fondly of Atriox in the panels that follow:
“We are something new. I thought I had captured Atriox once – but in truth, he captured my loyalty. With a pledge that all beings in his service would fight as one, for themselves!”
As we learned in Issue #4, Let lost his faith in the Covenant as he saw it decay into “blood feuds and barbarism,” as Atriox put it. This Shipmaster’s belief lies in his ship and crew, which is how the theme of family – one of Halo’s main thematic motifs – applies to the Banished.
Let ‘Volir was given a choice. He chose to cut ties with the ailing Covenant he served in order to secure a better future for his warriors and the ship they call home.
Demanding a meeting with Atriox (who is “On the planet below, securing his latest victory,” as Let puts it with an implied hint of admiration), Jovus orders his ship to the surface and to engage the Enduring Conviction if it attempts to stop them. Let says that they will not even attempt to move to defend, stressing that it makes no difference whether he has come to talk or to fight.
Landing in a forest on Karava, Jovus continues to complain about being disrespected because Let ‘Volir allowed them to land without so much as a hint that he might have come to relieve the Banished of the supplies they have just taken from the Covenant.
Another Jiralhanae, presumably Buca, assures him that they knew his name and that that is respect.
It is at this moment that Decimus approaches them… alone and unarmed.Decimus respectfully venerates Jovus, saying that he has heard of his activities, and freely invites him to join the Banished – to become one of Atriox’s Merry Men. Jovus, however, immediately decides that he’s not having any of this – taking it as an insult that Atriox has sent an unarmed “underling” to deal with him.
Jovus is the kind of Jiralhanae who recognises and respects a show of strength, well and truly missing the point that Decimus approaching him unarmed is exactly that.
Unfazed, Decimus pointedly says that “Where [Atriox] goes, the ground shakes.”
This is where we get our second flashback, this time to Issue #3 where Atriox confronted Sig Raan and fought off swarms of her enslaved Yanme’e by himself in front of his troops – including Decimus. This was where Atriox truly secured the loyalty of his followers, who looked on in awe.
“You should have seen what happened at Otraak. My forces were surrounded by Yanme’e, tearing us apart by command of the twisted Sig Raan… and Atriox himself threw himself into the fray, saving us all. No leader of mine had ever done that.”
Rather than convincing Jovus, this infuriates him. First Sangheili and Jiralhanae joining forces, now he learns that they serve under somebody who fights for his underlings?
Jovus tells Decimus that he has forgotten what it means to be a Jiralhanae, that they do not “join together,” but fight for dominance. And they certainly don’t fight to defend and save forces that get themselves surrounded in battle…
As Jovus commands his own forces to search for Atriox, the ground shakes again and he realises that Atriox has set charges which are going off under the clearing – the only clearing that was large enough for Jovus and his troops to land. Decimus informs him that, in fact, it wasn’t all that big at first, until Atriox ordered it “widened” so the Banished could have a clear line of sight.We then get a sudden surprise appearance from Pavium and Voridus – the ‘Brute Brothers’ from Halo Wars 2’s Awakening the Nightmare campaign expansion – who lead the charge against Jovus.
The attack leads Jovus to flee to an old Covenant supply depot, only to find that it, too, is occupied by Banished forces who have been waiting for them.
Surrounded, outnumbered, and outgunned, Jovus’ forces are decimated. He falls to his knees, having seemingly been shot in the arm, and calls for an end to the hostilities. When the Banished stop firing, he is caught off-guard, only to see that Atriox is standing in front of him.As it turns out, Buca had been in contact with the Banished and wanted Jovus to join with Atriox – something which, as I mentioned, was set up earlier in the issue from the tone implied in Buca’s dialogue when he spoke about Atriox’s ‘legend’ – how he made a stand against the Covenant and succeeded where nobody else had.
Where Jovus had been so focused on trying to prop up his own legend, he never saw that one among his number actually bought into it and prompted him to try to save his life.
Buca believed in Jovus, and Atriox sympathises with the situation they find themselves in because he recognises that there may be some degree of truth to Jovus’ own ‘legend’ – his boasting about having fought the most battles.
Atriox says to him:
“No one suffered more under the Covenant than the Jiralhanae who served under them longest, Jovus. You and your surviving troops would be valued among the Banished. What do you say?”
This is a great moment for Atriox’s characterisation, as he recognises the impact that the Covenant has had on Jovus and sees it as redeemable; he sees Jovus as somebody who can be rehabilitated from how he was conditioned to think, and that reverting to the ‘old ways’ of the Jiralhanae isn’t the answer.
The time has come for a new answer, which is the opportunity the Banished represent: the chance to reclaim one’s agency and decide their own fate.
In another life, another time, Atriox could well have been in Jovus’ position…
You may recall in Issue #2 that there was a Jiralhanae who follows Atriox during the battle and overhears the “heresy” he speaks to the human soldier, with Atriox trying to talk sense into him about the Prophets. This Jiralhanae was a ‘mirror’ of Atriox, representing what the Prophet wanted Atriox to be: loyal, devout, and complicit with the position his kind have been relegated to.
In the end, one of them has to kill the other.
That scenario is replayed here at the climax of Rise of Atriox, bookending Atriox’s story by showing that there have been many he has been able to turn to his side… but it’s his own kind who are so often suicidally incorrigible.
This proves to be the case with Jovus, who charges at Atriox, saying:
“Don’t… know ’bout them. But I know what I am… and I didn’t get any say.”
Jovus, ultimately, is a tragic case of somebody who holds a lot of internalised hatred – not just of his enemies, but of himself. He’s still defining himself by what the Covenant sought to turn him into, what they valued about him, and he’s never been able to break free of it.Jovus is cut down by a single swing, with a distressed Buca imploring to know why he attacked when he was injured, outmatched, and being offered this deal.
Like the Jiralhanae of old, Jovus’ path was one of self-destruction, which is something that the Covenant took advantage of – sending countless Jiralhanae in waves to die pointlessly, telling them that death in battle would speed their holy Journey…
This way of thinking is, quite simply, incompatible with the modern setting now.
One must adapt, philosophically, or become outdated and die.
It is for this reason why Jovus was portrayed (in terms of both the art style and writing), particularly at the start of the issue, during the attack on the UNSC, so… ‘comically’, for lack of a better word.
What he says sounds and is ridiculous, where he’s willing to destroy the resources he and his troops were fighting for because a human mistook him for a rival among his own kind.
He is, really, quite pitiable. Atriox offers him the chance to start anew, to take control over who and what he wants to be, but – like Tartarus in Halo 2 – the hand of reconciliation is cast aside because they know and can conceive of no other reality than the one they’re living…
The issue concludes with Atriox making a final speech to Buca and Jovus’ troops, who are seen cheering alongside the Banished:
“Jovus knew he could never serve me, because in his world, no leader would have ever tolerated a threat in his ranks. He would never have respected me for letting him live – and in his mind, you never would have respected me either.
But I will never see strength as a threat – not when it is put to proper use.
And use it I will. Not an endless series of battles in the name of a false religion – but rather, for something else. Something I decide.
The days of Jovus and the Covenant are done. But the time of the Banished has just begun!”
The last year has been rock ‘n’ roll, with some really solid fiction that has rejuvenated my excitement for Halo after having been at my lowest point as a fan of the series in the wake of Halo 5.
It hasn’t been perfect, but it feels like the start of something exciting and new – something that could effectively be its own spin-off series, which I would absolutely love. We’ve been introduced to a lot of new characters with diverse and interesting backstories, and Halo Wars 2 provides a setting – the Lesser Ark – with which you can do almost anything.
I think my biggest criticism to raise here, though, is that it feels like there are two very different Atrioxes…
The Atriox presented in this comic series and other peripheral media (such as Hunting Party) is an interesting, charismatic, and thoughtful character.
He’s a revolutionary freedom fighter, and, when you get down to it, an idealist who will sacrifice huge advantages – like an army of enslaved Yanme’e – if they don’t jive with his principles. He has no desire for pointless slaughter and extends a hand to those he considers worthy, even when they’re adversaries.
I feel like this is a character who is easy to connect to, a conceived ‘villain’ in the Halo universe who genuinely comes across as heroic at times.
This does not at all feel like the Atriox in Halo Wars 2…It’s well-documented that the Phoenix Logs in Halo Wars 2 reveal a lot about the inner-workings of the Banished that seem to wholly contradict Atriox’s characterisation and the vision he has for his faction.
I raised this point in the review for Issue #3 regarding the Phoenix Log entries for the Huragok and Scarab – how Atriox “cares not for this sacrifice as long as the Scarabs continue to bring him victories,” regarding the unstable plasma of the Banished’s Scarabs quickly killing the Lekgolo occupying it.
Once again, the Unggoy end up being the recipients of significant abuse too – something that largely comes across as comic relief, which I’m personally not too compelled by. They are expendable and used as target practice by bored Jiralhanae… what’s new?
For somebody so opposed to unnecessary slaughter, his actions on the Ark (just outright killing the humans there, most of whom were simply researchers) doesn’t really track with his characterisation. The Banished lack any taboos when it comes to using and modifying Forerunner technology, so one would think that keeping these researchers around (if only because they have a head-start on studying the Ark) would make sense. They could have refused the offer of partnership and then that could then be narratively justified as the reason for why the Banished just killed them.
Similarly, in Issue #2, Atriox says to the Executioner that humanity are stronger than they know, which was very well shown in Issue #1 with Sergeant Kress fighting to the bitter end against him… and yet, humanity are curiously absent from the Banished – even with their own history fighting the Covenant (and beating them, against all odds).
Had this been articulated differently, I could buy that this shift partially comes down to the evolution of the Banished – going from a bunch of freedom fighters with an ideal they’re striving for to an actual organised system with internal politics beyond Atriox’s sort of cult of personality. And perhaps that will play out in this fashion to some degree, but there is a sense that a huge chunk of Atriox’s characterisation is missing to illustrate how different he is in the game versus the peripheral fiction.
It’s like we’ve seen the beginning and the ‘end’ of this character, two radically different versions with a complete absence of a middle to form an actual arc.
This is a character and a faction with a lot of potential, that much is more than evident from this comic series, so I would implore those who are crafting this character to deal with these contradictions in characterisation and worldbuilding.
Overall, Rise of Atriox has been a huge net-positive for me. It feels like Halo is well on its way to solving its ‘comic problem’, something that has seriously affected the last half a decade – from Initiation, through much (not all!) of Escalation, and Tales From Slipspace.
What really makes Rise of Atriox stand out is how it does more with less, each issue is well-suited to the format of storytelling because the writers (featuring the venerable talent of people like Jody Houser and John Jackson Miller) know how to work with the medium and its limitations in order to get the most substance out of a minimalist approach.
At its best, this even extends to the art as well, which has been a huge step up from a lot of previous Halo comics as well.
With the next Great Lore Drought now upon us, it really does feel like this is the end of an era for Halo Wars 2…
I’m tremendously sad about that, but it’s got me excited to go over it all in the Halo Wars 2 narrative postmortem (which I will be getting around to very soon, I’m in the process of consolidating my notes and curating all the relevant resources).
It has established a solid foundation to build upon in the future, but that also comes with its share of things that can be improved upon to really make the most of what I hope will be regarded as one of the more interesting and unexpected developments in the Halo universe.
You can purchase Rise of Atriox #5 on Dark Horse’s site, here. It’s also available on Amazon for your Kindle, and a complete hardcover edition will be released in May 2018.