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Hail to the Master Chief!

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A sure sign of success for any video game system is to develop what is called a “killer app,” or killer application. It is the one game franchise that defines the company and encourages gamers to buy their system.

Sega carved out a niche for itself based on Sonic the Hedgehog. Nintendo has several “killer apps,” namely the Mario and Zelda family of games. Sony was an oddity in that it made its mark without really having an exclusive marquee franchise of its own.

When Microsoft decided to join the home video game market in 2001, it had an uphill battle. Nintendo and Sega were on their 4th generation of consoles each with the Game Cube and Dreamcast respectively and Sony had just come out with their second Playstation installment. Microsoft’s Xbox needed a “killer app” to gain a foothold in an otherwise crowded market.

That killer app would be Halo .

The first installment in the Halo series, Halo: Combat Evolved , was released on the same day as the Xbox itself—November 15th, 2001. It was a first person shooter in the tradition of the Doom and Quake series, a game where action takes place from the perspective of the player, giving the illusion that he is shooting down the bad guys himself.

The storyline mixed elements of a war game with heavy sci-fi elements. A multi-species alien armada called the Covenant has dedicated itself to destroying the human race. The lone human survivor of a destroyed human military base is a man referred to as “Master Chief.” He draws the aliens away from Earth to a mysterious and gigantic ring-like construct, the titular “Halo,” where he fights to stay alive.

The first Halo game really caught on with gamers. As a matter of fact, the installment landed at #14 on IGN’s 2006 list of the 100 Top Video Games Ever. The game’s developers, Bungie Studios, upped the ante with Halo 2, which added an Xbox Live component to the mix. This allowed Halo fans to go online and compete with other Halo fans around the world.

The word “phenomenon” is used quite liberally in the world of pop culture, but Halo truly is a phenomenon in every sense of the word. The impending release of Halo 3, the first for Microsoft’s Xbox360 platform, has the gaming world buzzing. Turn on G4’s Attack of the Show any given day and odds are that you’ll find them talking about the game. The property has made its way into novels, action figures, soundtracks, and there is also talk of a possible Halo movie produced by Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson.

Given all of this, it would only be a matter of time before Halo reached comic book pages. Marvel’s partnership with Microsoft and Bungie Studios began in July of 2006 when the comic company published the 128-page hardcover Halo Graphic Novel. The respect Marvel has for the Halo franchise shows in the international line-up of creators involved in the book, including legendary names such as Geoff Darrow, Simon Bisley and Jean “Moebius” Giraud.

This respect continues with tomorrow’s Halo: Uprising . Coming a little over a month before the North America release date of September 25th for Halo 3 (the game will also be released in Australia that day, in Europe the day after and in Japan on September 27th), the miniseries picks up where Halo 2 left off and surely will set the stage for the next installment of the game. The story is written by what is arguably Marvel’s best writer, Brian Michael Bendis, with art by his Daredevil cohort, Alex Maleev.  

Bendis has called Halo “our generation’s Star Wars.” I don’t know if that is true, but when Variety states that Microsoft is expecting Halo 3 to sell $155 million dollars in units in one day, which is more than the opening weekend gross for Spider-Man 3, Bendis might not be far off. You might not think that kind of sales figure is attainable for a video game, but consider that Halo 2 had a first day sales total of $125 Million. That might mean that Halo isn’t just a popular videogame, but a cultural phenomenon.

 

Also out this week:

Betty and Veronica Double Digest #154

This is it. Archie’s experiment with a new, realistic style for its characters comes to a close as the “Bad Boy Trouble” arc ends. We will finally find out if Nick St. Clair is merely misunderstood or rotten to the core.

But will we ever find out if the experiment was a success? The direct market orders for the title more than doubled for the first issue of the arc (#151) and I had noticed an increased presence of the comic at my local newsstands and bookstores. But was anybody buying these issues and if so, did they enjoy the change? The answer might come if, or when, Archie continues to do stories in this style in the future.

Various (W), Various (A), Archie Comics, $3.69. Ongoing Series.

Bonds #1

One bullet changed Faith Warner’s life. Fired from an assassin’s gun, it claimed the life of the man Faith loved the most—her father. In the upheaval that his death caused, Faith rediscovered the magical powers that long lay dormant inside her.

She has a thirst for revenge and now she has the means to exact it. All that’s left is questions she must ask herself. How far is too far? Is she okay with having another person’s blood on her hands? What price is too much to pay to settle the score? And is she willing to sever her bonds to humanity just so her father’s killer can suffer?

This gritty examination of vengeance, magic and sacrifice is brought to you by Durwin Talon, artist on Batman: Officer Down .

Durwin Talon (W/A), Image Comics, $3.99. Three-Issue Miniseries.

Amazing Spider-Man #543:

Speaking of assassin’s bullets, we come to the end of the "Back in Black" arc. A hitman, on orders from the Kingpin, shot Peter Parker’s Aunt May. May has slipped into a coma and Peter has slid down the slippery slope of vengeance. Peter has beaten and humiliated the Kingpin and sent him a message—if Aunt May dies, the Kingpin dies right after.

May is still clinging to life, but keeping her alive is costing a lot of money, which Peter and Mary Jane are just about out of. May’s best chance of returning to health is staying where she is, any change might kill her. But the Parkers need to move her to a cheaper hospital or come up with more money. What will Peter do? And will what he does be enough? Will May die? And if she does, will Peter cross the line and become a cold-blooded killer?

J. Michael Straczynski (W), Ron Garney (A), Marvel Comics, $2.99. Ongoing Series. 

Superman #666

666 is the legendary “Number of the Beast.” It signifies the Prince of Darkness, the Lord of the Flies, or, in other words, Satan. Is it any wonder that in his six hundred and sixty sixth issue that Superman will be going to Hell? Not really, considering a future version of Batman just faced off against Satan in his six hundred and sixty sixth issue a month or so back.

The storyline does seem a natural for the issue number. Of course, it would be interesting to see what happens if certain religious leaders notice this issue. They criticize Harry Potter for promoting the occult through the book series’ tenuous connection to it. What would they say when comics’ most recognized icon goes toe to toe with the Devil in an issue numbered 666?

Kurt Busiek (W), Walter Simonson (A), DC Comics, $3.99. Ongoing Series.

World War Hulk Gamma Files

Perhaps the biggest obstacle in getting new readers to pick up a comic book is continuity. Almost every book on the market today has decades of underlying backstory at the very least and at most is continuing a three year long storyline.

The World War Hulk event is like that. People coming into the crossover without having read the more than a year long Planet Hulk storyline might be completely lost. Thankfully, for these late arrivals, Marvel has given them this book.  In the tradition of their “Official Handbook” series, this one-shot will give newcomers all they need to know about the characters in World War Hulk . You’ll find out their histories, how they relate to each other, their powers and their enemies. This is an invaluable resource for anybody whose head is swimming by the event.

Various (W), Various (A), Marvel Comics, $3.99. One-Shot.

###

William Gatevackes is a professional writer living in Mamaroneck, NY with his wife Jennifer. He also writes periodic comic reviews for  PopMatters, is a weekly contributor to  Film Buff Online and writes title descriptions for Human Computing’s Comicbase collection management software. Links to his writing can be found at his website,  www.williamgatevackes.com.

 

 

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