The latest chapter in the expansive “Halo®” universe unfolds today with “Halo: Initiation” – a three-part comic series created by 343 Industries and Dark Horse Comics. Written by “Halo” franchise writer Brian Reed and drawn by “Star Wars: Purge” and “Secret Invasion: Front Line” artist Marco Castiello, “Halo: Initiation” follows the career of Sarah Palmer from Orbital Drop Shock Trooper to commander of a new breed of Spartan super-soldiers aboard the UNSC Infinity.
“Halo: Initiation” picks up at the end of “Halo 3.” The galaxy is at a state of relative peace, the remnants of the Covenant are being mopped up, and the UNSC is in need of Spartans to enforce order throughout the colonies. John-117, the Master Chief, is missing in action, and the rest of his kind are gone, so the UNSC turns to their best and brightest to create a new generation of Spartans – Spartan-IV’s.
The interim between “Halo 3” and “Halo 4” has been explored before, most notably in the Karen Traviss novels “Glasslands” and “The Thursday War,” but what is interesting about “Halo: Initiation’s” story is its focus on Sarah Palmer. Palmer has appeared in two “Halo” video games, in addition to playing a major role in “Halo 4’s” Spartan Ops campaign, and now a comic series, making her one of the most prominent characters in “Halo” fiction. Arguably, only the Master Chief, Cortana and a select few others have had more visibility with fans.
“Sarah Palmer is one of those fun cases where when you’re writing things, it doesn’t go as planned and ends up taking you in surprising directions,” said Reed.
Palmer was originally created by Chris Schlerf, lead writer of the Reclaimer Saga, as just a background character in “Halo 4” that welcomed the Master Chief to Requiem. However, as the team was writing Spartan Ops, which was led by Reed, she gradually evolved from a minor speaking role to being an active figure on the battlefield. Schlerf, Reed and the rest of the writing team brainstormed more details about personality and dialogue until they had fleshed out who Palmer really was, and the ideas that her character inspired always resonated with them.
By the time 343 Industries began looking at “Halo: Spartan Assault” and launching a new comic series, Palmer was clearly the logical choice to focus on, explained Reed. They wanted to explore the origins of the Spartan-IV program, and since Palmer was already an established figure among fans, it made sense to delve deeper into her background as well.
Expanding on Palmer’s story also fulfilled the studio’s vision of highlight exciting and interesting characters as they grew the “Halo” universe.
“’Halo’ has so many strong female figures, and Palmer, being commander of the Spartan-IV’s aboard on the UNSC Infinity, followed in the footsteps of the likes of Halsey, Keyes, Kat and others,” said Reed. “She was a natural fit.”
Of course, Palmer is just one character in an overarching narrative that encompasses novels, live-action digital series, video games and even an upcoming television show. Ensuring her story remained consistent with the direction of the broader universe required coordinating with the entire “Halo” franchise team.
“The first question I ask when we come up with a new plot idea is ‘what comes next?’ If we do this, what happens after that, even if we don’t get to it until the year 2018 or 2025? We need to be ready for it,” said Reed. “As we start mapping things out, it allows us to hook up to existing plans and sometimes create brand new ones.”
Having such a small writing team grants them the agility to take ideas and quickly seed them into other stories. While “The Thursday War” was being written by Traviss, the “Halo 4” team was able to insert new characters in the novel that ended up playing a significant role in the video game. Small touches like these make the “Halo” universe cohesive, giving fans the ability to pick and choose how they engage with it.
According to Reed, every story is designed to be satisfying and self-contained. However, if you follow the entire universe as it’s told through games, novels and more, all the interconnecting narrative threads between each piece of fiction makes the experience all the more rich and immersive.
For example, if you just read “Halo: Initiation,” you’ll be regaled by an action-packed, sci-fi tale about how Palmer became a Spartan-IV. But if you read “Halo: Initiation” and then play “Halo: Spartan Assault” and “Halo 4,” you’ll gain a better appreciation for who Palmer and her Spartans are, and how their missions intersect with other iconic “Halo” cast members like the Master Chief, Dr. Catherine Halsey and more.
In the future, Reed hopes the “Halo” franchise reaches a point where the universe is so rich and diverse that every character 343 Industries introduces will be capable of amassing their own unique fan base. “We want to be able to release a ‘Halo’ product with someone we’ve never heard of, or someone who we’ve followed for years, and they’ll both stand a chance of being awesome,” said Reed.
343 Industries’ journey to accomplish this goal continues with Sarah Palmer – a once minor footnote in “Halo” history that has evolved into something far greater – in “Halo: Initiation.” The first issue launches today— to get a sneak peek, read the digital preview now.