Those who love Halo but only play Halo video games may be oblivious to some of the big developments going on in the series lately. There are big things happening, particularly in the Halo comics, that any Halo fan should know about.
The extended literature around Halo isn't required knowledge in order to follow the games. It tends to simply flesh out known, historical events in the series' lore.
But some of the recent literature overseen by series caretakers 343 Industries — specifically, the Halo: Initiation and Halo: Escalation comic series — contain significant events that could potentially set the table somewhat for upcoming Halo projects. These projects include, naturally, the recently announced/confirmed Halo 5: Guardians game for Xbox One, the TV series executive produced by Steven Spielberg, and the digital feature directed by Ridley Scott.
Perhaps of slightly lesser significance to the future, the Halo: Initiation comic series fills us in on some unexplained events that take place between Halo 3 and Halo 4. The Halo: Escalation series, on the other hand, takes place between Halo 4 and the upcoming Halo: Guardians. The comics have been written by Halo writer Brian Reed and are published by Dark Horse. Both series feature the return of characters and concepts from previous Halo games; some expected, and some not so expected.
The hardest of the Halo hardcore are already keenly discussing said developments in forums all over the internet. But it seems these things have slipped under the radar of the press and the broader game-playing audience.
To remind you where the games left off, 343's 2012 Xbox 360 game, Halo 4, saw the Master Chief prevent the Forerunner commander Ur-Didact from "composing" the population of Earth (turning humans into his digitized, Promethean warriors), save for the city of New Phoenix. But it wasn't without personal cost: his longstanding and deteriorating AI partner, Cortana, sacrificed herself to enable the Chief to defeat the Didact. And while he hasn't officially appeared in any post-Halo 4 literature yet, last year's E3 trailer (for what we now know to be Guardians) suggests Chief's embarked on some kind of solo quest to restore her.
The following is intended to help bring those who are only familiar with the games up to speed with a few select, recent story developments that may be of interest. Obviously, spoilers follow for the Halo: Initiation and Halo: Escalation comic books.
The Return of Halo: Reach's Jun
Halo: Reach is largely known as the story of the downfall of one of the most important human colonies following an overwhelming attack by non-human Covenant forces in the year 2552. It also constituted the near decimation of the entire existing SPARTAN super-soldier population, with the exception of Master Chief and a handful of others.
In Reach, we witnessed the deaths of nearly every member of Noble Team, one by one. Many players no doubt noticed that the SPARTAN-III expert sniper Jun was the only member unaccounted for by the game's end. He was last seen escorting Dr. Catherine Halsey as they made their escape by Pelican from the destruction of Sword Base. Given that Dr. Halsey appears in Halo 4, it seems he was successful.
In Halo: Initiation, it's confirmed that not only is Jun very much alive, but he worked with a former SPARTAN-II candidate by the name of Musa to facilitate the SPARTAN-IV program. All prior SPARTAN projects required the abduction of young children who were indoctrinated and trained as military assets from a young age, eventually receiving physical augmentations. For the SPARTAN-IV project, however, Musa approached existing, decorated United Nations Space Command (UNSC) troops to volunteer for service. In fact, we learn in Initiation that Jun personally recruited and trained Sarah Palmer, the former Orbital Drop Shock Trooper (ODST) who first appeared in Halo 4 and served as the protagonist of Halo: Spartan Assault.
The Return of The Arbiter
It's probably safe to say the return of the Arbiter Thel 'Vadam — the disgraced Sangheili (Elite) commander who eventually became an ally to the UNSC — isn't entirely unexpected.
Like Metal Gear's Raiden, the Arbiter was initially detested by a great many players. This was mostly owing to the protagonist bait-and-switch technique that Halo 2 borrowed from Metal Gear Solid 2: players hungry to continue the adventures of Master Chief were shocked to discover they'd spend roughly half their time playing from a Sangheili perspective.
In Halo 3, the Arbiter was relegated to AI-controlled support (or player two in co-op) where he eventually earned the affections of series fans. After assisting humanity against the Flood and separating from Master Chief in Halo 3, the Arbiter parted ways with the UNSC and left Earth (presumably to tend to his fellow Elites after the apparent dissolution of the Covenant).
In recent months, the Arbiter made his first appearance since the ending of Halo 3 in issue #1 Of Halo: Escalation. In sharp new digs (golden battle armour and a cape), the Arbiter represents his Sangheili race at a diplomatic meeting with the Jiralhanae (Brutes), another alien race formerly devoted to the old Covenant. The meeting takes place under the guard of the UNSC Infinity, but is soon jeopardized by rogue Covenant zealots enabled by…
Moles in the UNSC
One of the big revelations in Halo: Escalation is that some UNSC personnel have betrayed humanity, leaking sensitive, classified information to Covenant forces (such as the details of the aforementioned meeting). In fact, one of the new SPARTAN-IVs turned on and killed some of his peers in aid of the Covenant zealots' attack. It seems that this subterfuge has been largely resolved, but it's not clear if this goes any deeper.
The Return of the UNSC Spirit of Fire
The root of the insubordination, it turns out, is one Daniel Clayton, the illegitimate son of Captain James Cutter of the UNSC Spirit of Fire. Halo players may remember the Spirit of Fire as the Phoenix-class colony ship that serves as the player's base in the Ensemble Studios RTS Halo Wars.
What's interesting here is that, in terms of timeline chronology, Halo Wars is the earliest game in the series, set 20 years before Halo: Combat Evolved. We learn that the historical actions of Lord Terrence Hood (who appeared in Halo 2 and Halo 3) essentially meant that the UNSC could not relocate and retrieve the Spirit of Fire after it traveled to an unknown system early in Halo Wars. The Spirit of Fire's slipspace drive was destroyed by the end of Halo Wars, and so a return journey to human-colonized space would be a journey of many years even in a best-case scenario where the crew wasn't lost.
Clayton facilitated the insubordination within the ranks of the UNSC as part of an elaborate revenge plot against Lord Hood for essentially causing the loss of his father. As far as the UNSC knew, the Spirit of Fire became MIA early on in Halo Wars, and so the events of that game are technically unknown to it, which leads us to…
The Return of...The Flood?
This one's likely to elicit a few groans, as the Flood isn't exactly the most popular enemy faction in Halo for many players. Nevertheless, the Flood was a core part of the original Halo trilogy, and its absence was felt in recent games, for better or for worse.
The Flood is the dangerous parasitic species that can spread rapidly throughout the galaxy by consuming/mutating organic life and reproducing from it. The Forerunners constructed the Halo rings as a countermeasure to prevent the spread of the Flood; activating the rings (in their intended manner) kills off all organic life in the galaxy, depriving the Flood of food.
The Flood is largely believed to have been wiped out after the events of Halo 3, in which Master Chief activated a newly constructed Halo ring in close proximity to the Ark (the ancient Forerunner structure introduced in Halo 3 that can construct and activate the Halo rings). This, understandably, destroyed the known Flood population that focused its remaining strength on the Ark in a bid to prevent Master Chief from destroying it. It's entirely possible that Flood spores are contained on the remaining Halo rings located throughout the galaxy. But it seems it's not the contained Flood specimens that the galaxy needs to worry about.
Chronologically, the first time modern-era humanity encountered the Flood was in Halo: Wars, which (as previously mentioned) is set 21 years before the events of Halo: Combat Evolved. Those who've played Halo Wars know that The Spirit of Fire came into direct contact with the Flood in the course of that game. And the closing frames of Halo: Escalation issue #6 depict a distinctive Flood spore/infection form skittering across the floor of a seemingly abandoned Spirit of Fire.
It's possible that the UNSC may contain this Flood threat before Halo 5: Guardians comes to pass. In fact, it's possible that Escalation may resolve all of the aforementioned story threads, and there's no guarantee the returning characters will feature in the upcoming Halo media at all. Escalation is currently only six issues deep out of 12, so there's plenty of room to tie everything up.
But it's sure interesting to see some aspects of older Halo games absent from Halo 4 return in these comics in the lead-up to Guardians. Official descriptions exist for the next three issues, and it sounds like Master Chief is set to appear in issue eight. But for now, it's fun to speculate about the possibility of some older… personalities returning to the Halo universe.
Chris Leggett is a freelance journalist who'll bore you to death with video-game discussion over at his Twitter account.