Two Hundred And Four Reasons: Part 7 – It’s in the Subtext

Though most of John-117 and Kelly-087′s time together as both teammates and friends has been chronicled in the official novels, I’d still like to take a look at some of the fiction that exists in-tandem with these pieces of Halo canon. Specifically the comics – some of which offer a slightly different perspective on certain events from the books, while others contain relevant plot details and set the stage for Blue Team’s adventures in ‘Halo 5: Guardians’. But no matter how different they are in style, all of them serve to supplement what has long been established about Blue-One and Blue-Two, and the strong bond they share.

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It’s in the Subtext

In the comic book adaptation of ‘The Fall of Reach’, obviously much of the story of the original novel is condensed (and some events are omitted entirely) in order to fit everything into twelve issues. However, interestingly enough, a lot of attention is still given to John and Kelly’s partnership and how they’ve stayed side by side practically their entire lives. Even to the extent that a few moments and details that aren’t present in the source text were added to the comic that emphasize the closeness of their relationship.

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(Throughout the comics there are many panels like the ones above that depict isolated moments between John-117 and Kelly-087. I’ve chosen the ones that I thought were the most significant and relevant to this series of writings, but there are indeed more. So I definitely recommend checking out the whole comic books for additional context.)

The panels below take place during Blue Team’s fist official field mission to infiltrate an Insurrectionist outpost. John is asleep while the Spartans are in hiding, waiting for their ship to dock; and in his dreams he sees a battered and bloody looking younger version of Kelly – just as the real Kelly is waking him up to tell him something relevant to their mission. I assume the nature of her appearance in the dream betrays John’s fears that something could go wrong during this mission and cost him one of his teammates. Still, the fact that she is is closest friend, and him envisioning her so severely wounded does underline the weight of the worry on John’s mind. Furthermore, this is not the only time we’ll see John dreaming of Kelly in this comic serial – but more on that later…

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As I mentioned earlier, there are many instances where John and Kelly’s interactions with one another are singled out and given a fair amount of priority – more so than all the other Spartan-IIs. Which in turn says a lot about the underlying importance of those moments, due to the fact that in a comic there is limited space in which both the writer and artist can tell a story and develop the characters. Therefore they have to carefully consider what to depict in order to achieve maximum narrative effect.

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This emphasis can be seen in the panels where Kelly tends to John’s wounds (above), as well as when John is dispatching orders to the rest of Blue Team and always chooses Kelly to accompany him (below). They are partners nigh constantly for the entire issue. This is a pattern we’ll see repeated for the whole run of this comic, and even in ones that come later.

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At the end of the mission we even see them exchange some playful banter; something that did not occur in the original book, as Kelly was seemingly more concerned about the seriousness of John’s injury as well as his reservations about the collateral damage that occurred during their escape. However, I think both versions do still illustrate one thing very well: that these two Spartans are incredibly close and comfortable with one another both in and out of combat.

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There are other instances of this kind of more lighthearted dialogue between John and Kelly that wasn’t in ‘The Fall of Reach’ novel. For example, during their first direct encounter with a Covenant ship John uses an uncharacteristically informal way of asking Kelly to use what she’s learned about the alien’s tech to open doors for them.

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Now obviously this difference in the tone of the dialogue can come about due to the fact that the comic books’ author and the original book’s author have different writing styles and slightly different grasps on each character. However, the fact remains that when adapting the novel into comic book form, it is John and Kelly’s relationship that is really put at the forefront as being at the heart of Blue Team and their operations over the years.

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In the panels above and below, we see additional examples of the comic taking the time to note how John and Kelly interact with each other. As comrades-in-arms who respect one another fully, and as lifelong friends who know each other inside and out. Whether it’s John lightly ribbing Kelly for her comment about “not questioning orders”, the two having a thoughtful conversation about how many people they managed to save during their mission, or Kelly expressing to John how pleased she is they’ll be returning to Reach – their home – for a little downtime. They are consistently singled out for these kinds of subtly intimate interactions.

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One of the best examples of this type of display of their bond is the moment depicted in the panels below. This is the part from ‘The Fall of Reach’ where John is forced to delay Operation RED FLAG and divide up his Spartans in order to help with the defense of Reach from Covenant attack. In the book, Kelly selflessly offers to lead the space-op in John’s place; a gesture which he deeply appreciates, but in the end he denies her request. After that she accepts her assignment to be a part of Fred-104′s Red Team, and the two part ways. However, in this version, Kelly hangs back as the rest of the group departs and she and John share a poignant moment that takes up almost half a page. And in a comic book where each panel is precious space, the significance of this is pretty clear. The words exchanged between John and Kelly are few indeed…but the way both Spartans linger, clearly wanting to say something more to each other, but in the end not knowing how – it certainly leaves some very interesting implications about the nature of their relationship in its wake.

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After completing his own mission (and losing two of his teammates in the process), John returns to the Pillar of Autumn. The Covenant have proven to be too much for Reach’s defenses and the remaining UNSC forces have no choice to abandon the planet – thus forcing John to leave the rest of his Spartans behind as well. With nothing else he can do, the Master Chief goes into cryosleep until the ship exists slipspace. During that sleep though, once more we see him having a moment in is dreams with his best friend that was also not present in the source material. Which again serves to reaffirm just how much John thinks of Kelly as one of the few constants in his life, particularly when considering the conversation that his younger dream-self is having with her is about the notion that “Spartans never die”.

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…After the events of the games Halo 1-4, as well as the books ‘First Strike’, ‘Ghosts of Onyx’, ‘Glasslands’, and ‘Last Light’ – John-117 and Kelly-087 would be separated for nearly five years before finally being reunited in July of 2557. This was chronicled in issues #8-10 of the ‘Halo: Escalation’ comic series. And though the artwork and writing of the issues often left much to be desired, the same patterns that were established in ‘The Fall of Reach’ comics can be seen here as well.

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After rejoining his Spartan-II family, John immediately takes up his traditional post as Blue-One with Kelly acting as his Blue-Two; an arrangement that is seemingly the natural order of things to everyone on the team. So much so that Fred-104, who is now a Lieutenant and technically the Spartan in charge, quite literally takes a backseat to the pair without protest when Blue Team departs to investigate Promethean activity on Gamma Halo (below).

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Throughout the three issues Kelly and John are most often seen at each other’s side, or guarding each other’s back. Making themselves the center of most of their team’s formations in battle.

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Eventually Blue Team faces down the Didact himself, who was only teleported away from the Mantle’s Approach when John neutralized him with a pulse grenade at the end of ‘Halo 4′. The Spartans put up a valiant fight, but the power of the Forerunner General proves to be too much for them to handle and Fred, Kelly, and Linda are all knocked off their feet. John readies his combat knife in retaliation, and honestly I don’t think it’s mere coincidence that the comic makes a point to show that Kelly specifically is in danger when John moves in to strike his enemy.

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Fortunately, with the help of the friendly Monitor AI, 859 Static Carillon, John and Blue Team are spared from the Didact’s immediate vengeance. Together they find a way to “contain” the Forerunner by teleporting him to the Installation’s control room, and then dropping that section of the Halo ring on top of the Composer’s Forge – thus composing the Didact in the subsequent explosion. As the rest of Blue Team waits for the Monitor to teleport itself and John back aboard their ship, just as we’ve seen many times in the past it is Kelly that is openly concerned for John’s well-being and safe return.

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Naturally the Monitor materializes a moment later though with John in tow, and Blue Team remains intact. After this event John rejects Lord Hood’s order that Blue Team take some time off for R&R, and instead continues to run missions with his fellow Spartan-IIs – with Kelly right at his side, as per her usual.

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This comic is the last we’ve seen of Blue Team, until ‘Halo 5: Guardians’ is set to pick back up with them more than a year later in late 2558. And though we don’t yet know what the future holds, based on the content of these comic books I would be willing to bet that John and Kelly’s lifelong friendship and history as teammates will play a critical part when it comes to getting both themselves and their fellow Spartans through what is shaping up to be their most difficult challenge yet.

(Particularly since Brian Reed, one of the lead writers for ‘Halo 5′, is also the writer behind both series of comics I referenced here. So I have hope that with him on board, the next game will acknowledge how important Spartan 117 and 087’s relationship is. Both to them as characters, and to the story of Blue Team as a whole.)

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