Q&A: Halo comic scribe

Brian Michael Bendis talks about jumping on board Bungie's sci-fi epic with <i>Halo: Uprising</i> limited series.

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With the Halo brand stretching out into movies, books, toys, and even soft drinks, it's clear the sci-fi first-person shooter is a marketing juggernaut. But Microsoft and Bungie Studios don't let just anyone buy the name and slap it on a random product; they maintain close controls on the Halo universe, working with their licensors to ensure that creative works derived from the games hold true to the spirit and story of the original subject matter.

In March of 2006, Marvel Comics jumped on board the Halo merchandising bandwagon with a graphic novel anthology of stories. The publisher of comic characters like Spider-Man and the Hulk signed up a roster of creative talent to work on the project, including artists Moebius and Simon Bisley.

Now Marvel is returning to Bungie's universe with Halo: Uprising, a four-issue limited series set to debut in comic stores next week. The publisher is once again tapping some big-name talent, as Uprising is written by Brian Michael Bendis (Ultimate Spider-Man, Daredevil) and drawn by Alex Maleev (Daredevil, Sam & Twitch).

Bendis recently took some time to answer a few of GameSpot's questions about the series.

The Uprising begins next week.
The Uprising begins next week.

GameSpot: How did you get involved with the Halo: Uprising project?

Brian Michael Bendis: Marvel initially asked me to drive up and help close the deal on the graphic novel. They thought if Bungie got a load of me and my beautiful baldness they'd be woozy with excitement and sign up instantly. When Ruwan, Marvel's Halo dude, and I got there and saw that Bungie had already hired comics legends Moebius and Bisley, we pretty much knew they could care less that Ultimate Spider-Man boy showed up. [Smiles.]

When the ongoing series came up, I raised my hand because I knew firsthand that Bungie was not trying to make some cheapo licensing knockoff comic, and if you're like me you despise cheapo licensing comics.

GS: How does the story fit into the series' chronology?

BMB: It starts at the cliffhanger of Halo 2 and ends at the beginning of Halo 3. And, believe it or not, you can read it cold without ever having played the game.

GS: How familiar were you with the Halo games before you started working on this series?

BMB: I was pretty familiar. I played a lot. But I am not a master player like artist Alex Maleev is. He is really good. When I got the gig, I studied Halo meticulously. Now I am very entrenched in all things Halo.

GS: With the Ultimate titles, you've worked on some of the biggest comic superheroes and completely rewrote the book on them, so you're obviously no stranger to taking cherished, firmly established properties and revamping them for an apprehensive, and possibly unreceptive, fanbase. Is Halo just another big name for you to work on? Is the pressure of the rabid fan community's expectations any better or worse than it would be if you were being thrown on Spider-Man or Captain America for the first time?

BMB: A lot of the lessons I have learned writing Marvel Comics came into play here, but I've said this in other interviews and I mean it sincerely: Halo is our generation's Star Wars. It's got a rich and untapped backstory and worldview that completely inspires me and millions of others. That's why the game is such a hit, that's why it raises past being a game into a cultural phenomenon, because it has richness to it that other games, and frankly, a lot of movies and television shows simply do not have.

It was an honor to be asked to add something to the Halo pot. To bring to Halo what the graphic novel also brought, some humanity and perspective. Something you can't get in the game based solely on the nature of the different mediums.

GS: You're known for sometimes wordy stories or characters with lengthy monologs, yet Master Chief is virtually mute in the games. In fact, gamers never even get to see his face. How did you handle crafting a story around a silent protagonist, especially when so little of the character's background and motivations have been established?

BMB: I'm also proud of the fact that I know when to shut up. Many of my books and the characters I work on have very stoic personas. In the case of the Chief, it is not hard to let the suit and the visuals do the talking.

But the Chief is only part of this story. We also have the Earth under attack. The cities are falling. Most civilians have no idea what is happening or why. They are just being slaughtered and it is desperate and awful.

We also follow two complete strangers who are thrust together and just trying to deal with what is happening and how it affects them. A little similar to how Spielberg reworked War of the Worlds by showing a massive attack but only from a singular point of view.

GS: What kinds of constrictions were imposed on you by the license? Was there an existing plotline that you had to follow, or were you given the chance to flesh out the Halo universe however you saw fit?

BMB: I was given a time period and some very juicy locations to have my way with. Obviously I couldn't do anything that contradicted what was to happen in the third game--that would be silly.

The Bungie team was very open and ready to allow us to express some new ideas or to explore some lesser-known bits about the Halo universe within the context, and that's been great. Alex Maleev and I pitched and they bought--that part went pretty smoothly.

GS: What other video games would you like to see adapted to comics?

BMB: Crackdown! And Geometry Wars. [Smiles.] And maybe Frogger, but I'm holding out for a crack at the movie!

GS: As a writer used to a captive audience that can't influence the story's outcome, what do you think about the storytelling potential of games? Are user-directed narratives something you could see yourself exploring?

BMB: I've written a game and I am working on another one now. There are more similarities to comics and games than are instantly obvious. Comics, in their own way, are just as interactive as games. The white space in between the panels is the space the reader fills in time, space. The balloons can only dictate so much of the voice; the reader fills in a lot of that as well. In comics, the reader has a lot to do with how the story is told and their own enjoyment of it.

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