An Atomic Moo Comic Review of the Graphic Novel by Atomic Moo contributor; Numbers
Review Originally posted on True Game Truths and copied here with Permission
Legendary video game programmer John Carmack once said that “story in games is like story in porn movies: expected to be there, but not that important”. While that may have been the case back in 1993, when the first-person shooter was but a burgeoning genre, the modern arena is… a different story.
So much so that the makers of HAWKEN, the fast-paced multiplayer mech shooter, felt compelled to not only develop a backstory for their game, but to have it released as a hardcover graphic novel. Published in 2013, HAWKEN: Genesis “paints a hauntingly beautiful and engaging tale of ambition, loyalty, and betrayal set against a fantastic future world of corporate military warfare,” according to the back cover. A bold claim, but does the book deliver? READ ON TO FIND OUT!
A group effort, HAWKEN: Genesis sets the stage for the game in a way that mere cutscenes could not. As a multiplayer-focused FPS, there is not much room for story, with only scattered references to the book appearing in item descriptions in-game. Both book and game are enjoyable apart, though the tale spun in Genesis adds a lot of context to the shooter’s dangerous world. With a story developed by the makers of the game and written by freelance writer, and former Dark Horse editor Jeremy Barlow, HAWKEN: Genesis tells the story of Planet Illal, a world terraformed and colonized not by the United Terran Authority, but by a conglomerate of Multi-Planet Corporations, with minimal involvement of the UTA government. From prosperous, promising colony in the year 2332 to quarantined battlefield for mechs in 2368, the central character of HAWKEN: Genesis is the planet itself. People looking for a new beginning chased the Illalian Dream, only to have it turn into a never ending nightmare on a world where “corporate warfare” is literal.
Genesis’ story is told over several chapters, each illustrated by a different artist. While this results in a sometimes jarring lack of visual cohesion, mech-focused chapters are illustrated by artists who excel at drawing machinery and sci-fi equipment. Dialogue-heavy chapters are brought to life with expressive drawings of the characters’ frequent disagreements, heated arguments, and silent backstabbing. Art talent includes the likes of Francisco Ruiz Velasco, Alex Sanchez, Kody Chamberlain, Sid Kotian, Bill Sienkiewicz, Bagus Hutomo, Michael Gaydos, Federico Dallocchio, Nathan Fox, and Christopher Moeller, with styles ranging from frenetic sketches to digital painting to watercolours and beyond.
Jumping between characters from chapter to chapter allows the story to not only follow the named characters working for the Multi-Planet Corporations, but the countless individuals affected by the MPCs’ hold on Planet Illal – researchers, mech pilots, corporate spies, and double-agents. Up-and-coming businessman Rion Lazlo convinces his best friend, the brilliant but introverted scientist Dr. James Hawken, to defect and join Lazlo’s MPC. Dr. Hawken’s new employers grant him the lab, funding and resources he needs, but he soon finds his research into lightweight transportation corrupted. Efficient, powerful Heavy Loaders are weaponized, turned into mechs, and Illal’s corporate warfare becomes literal. Lazlo rises through the corporate ranks, but tension between him and Dr. Hawken test their friendship while forces beyond their control reduce their planet into battleground for power-hungry corporations and daring mech pilots. Amid the chaos, secrets are revealed, backs are stabbed, and Illal is driven to the brink of destruction. Framing Lazlo and Hawken’s story is the tale of reporter Marion Carthright, whose attempts to tell the truth about Illal are halted at every step by harsh corporate censorship. News reports appear between chapters, not unlike the in-universe interstitial material in Watchmen, along with Carthright’s rejected stories and emails with insiders who know what the public is never told. Even those who wanted to save the world are powerless to do. The power, instead, is placed in the hands of the players, in the HAWKEN online game.
Readers looking for the intense, visceral mech combat that put HAWKEN on the videogaming radar are likely to be disappointed, though. Out of the nine chapters (including interludes and prologue), only four contain actual mech battles. The five-issue HAWKEN: Melee comic series follows mech pilots during the war, so fans of the game’s action might want to consider that instead. HAWKEN: Genesis focuses primarily on the backstory of the Illalian battlefront and the human drama that could not be presented in the game outside of a boring, contrived Lore Menu. Mechs wouldn’t exist in-game were it not for the events of HAWKEN: Genesis, and even without the game to tie into, the book is more than capable of standing on its own. Its universe is fleshed out, its characters are well defined, and there are enough plot twists and action to keep the reader’s interest. Human drama couldn’t push a multiplayer shooter forward, but it shines in Genesis. That last page of Chapter 3 is one I won’t soon forget. Strangled by bureaucratic red tape and poisoned by the corrupted technology that would have made it humanity’s jewel, planet Illal degenerates into a hellish futuristic wasteland that must be played to be believed. HAWKEN: Genesis not only sets the stage for the award-winning game, it holds up on its own as a science-fiction tale of conflicting loyalties and corporate priorities. Highly recommended.
The HAWKEN: Genesis graphic novel can be purchased digitally at Comixology.com, in addition to the five-issue HAWKEN: Melee series of stand-alone singles. The free-to-play HAWKEN shooter can be found at PlayHAWKEN.com and is available on Steam. The game’s soundtrack is provided by musical group Paper Sound, is available on their Bandcamp page.