“I was thrown into battle, time after time, until I learned I could refuse.”
Other than Ussa ‘Xellus, few have ever defied the might of the Covenant and gotten away with their lives. Their reasons for doing so quickly become lost after their fall, as the San’Shyuum gloss over them by labeling these beliefs or ideologies as blasphemy.
Atriox, though, is special.
Once a mere pawn in a sea of billions within the Covenant, Atriox came to the realization that he (as well as all other soldiers in the Covenant Empire) were being used and manipulated in order to do the bidding of the San’Shyuum, their only reward being the promise of glorious salvation that may never come. Once Atriox had this epiphany, he did what many in the Covenant who felt similarly did not.
In this article, I hope to effectively explain how the first four issues of the Rise of Atriox comic series have shone light on how Atriox transformed himself from being a slave to a cause he never truly believed in, into a heroic figure. By stubbornly standing against the status quo of the Covenant, he inspired those around him and gave them an opportunity to live a life free of the San’Shyuum’s tyrannical clutches.
On a Leash
Atriox’s backstory begins with Issue #1, in which we are shown how Atriox and his Jiralhanae are continuously deployed against UNSC forces on an unknown planet.
The comic focuses on the perspective of a UNSC Marine Sergeant by the name of Kress. The issue opens with her commentary on the Covenant’s strategy:
“They keep sending them after us, wave after wave…wasting them, like they’re just emptying a magazine. They already won. They tore right through us. But they don’t want to leave anyone alive down here…not our troops…not theirs. They could glass us from space, but that’s not good enough. It’s like they want blood…ours or theirs.”
— Sergeant Kress
Indeed, much of this issue depicts the battle on this planet as unnecessarily bloody. Instead of finishing off the human forces with orbital bombardment, the Covenant instead chooses to send Atriox and his Jiralhanae into the meat grinder — that is, the remnants of fortified bunker emplacements and dozens of machine guns.
As more Jiralhanae troops drop in and assault the UNSC position, they eventually begin to overwhelm the human forces. Despite incurring heavy casualties, they could not keep up with the Covenant’s seemingly endless supply of troopers.
Considering the fact that there are clearly better options here that would require much less time and resources, to say that the Covenant were throwing the lives of these Jiralhanae away would be an understatement.
This is the core theme of the comic. While the Jiralhanae did succeed in whittling down the UNSC forces and eventually eradicating them entirely (major props to Kress for having the balls to go toe-to-toe with Atriox himself with nothing but a combat knife) the piles of Covenant corpses littered around the battlefield make it clear that the entire conflict was pointless and wasteful.
It makes it clear that the Covenant cares little about the lives of its soldiers, and even sadistically sacrifices them for no apparent reason other than “because they can”.
Breaking the Chains
Where Issue #1 focused on establishing the experiences of Atriox and his brothers, Issue #2 highlights the events that lead up to the crucial moment where Atriox openly defies and stands up against the Covenant.
Following his continued survival of numerous battles, a Sangheili officer known only as the Executioner and the Prophet of Truth discuss Atriox’s place within the Covenant.
The Executioner is concerned that Atriox will question the duties of himself and his men as they’re repeatedly sent on suicide missions. Truth, pointing out that nothing he has done so far is heretical in nature, orders the Executioner to speak with Atriox and remind him of his place.
It is here, during this conversation, that Atriox comes to the realization that the Jiralhanae “role” in the Covenant is to be nothing more than cannon fodder.
During the interaction with the Executioner, Atriox openly argues with the Sangheili, suggesting to him that the importance of service in the Covenant is based on a lie:
“Our battle strategies have been based on your belief of the enemy’s capabilities. But the humans are stronger than you realize.”
“The righteous will always find their path to victory.”
“And yet, I’ve seen many of my brothers fall in battle. Maybe loyalty isn’t the path to righteousness we were told it was.”
— Atriox and the Executioner
Following this unprecedented doubt in the Covenant, Truth orders the Executioner to have Atriox killed.
The comic jumps to a battle taking place soon after, where Atriox has cornered a lone UNSC Marine. Before killing him, he expresses his frustration and anger at his situation.
Atriox has become aware of the fact that he and his brothers are being used as slaves, and he hates it. He despises the fact that a life outside of warfare doesn’t exist for him or other Jiralhanae.
Soon after killing the Marine, a Jiralhanae warlord sent by the Executioner arrives, declaring Atriox a heretic.
This Jiralhanae represents the image of what the Covenant expect them to be: complacent, obedient, and devoid of self-thought. This Jiralhanae has been successfully manipulated by the San’Shyuum, and is nothing more than a puppet. In many ways, he is not unlike Tartarus.
The two do battle, with the warlord scoring a hit in Atriox’s side. However, Atriox ultimately defeats the Jiralhanae, and in doing so proves to himself that he is the righteous one. By breaking free of his chains and standing for the first time not as a slave, but as an individual, he becomes stronger. The Executioner’s claims about what is righteous are wrong.
After the engagement, Atriox returns to the Covenant base that he deployed from to find that the Executioner is there, awaiting him.
The Executioner, you see, does a fantastic job of manipulating Atriox. Truth warned him not to outright have him executed, lest he become a martyr for the Jiralhanae; in order to get around this problem, he ordered the Jiralhanae warlord to kill him. If the warlord succeeded in killing him, then Atriox would have been reported KIA, demoralizing the Jiralhanae that look up to him and quelling the possibility of an uprising. If Atriox kills the warlord (which is what happens) then he can be branded a traitor for killing one of his own.
The Executioner makes one fatal mistake, though, which is assuming that Atriox, like so many of his brothers that get needlessly sent into death traps to die over and over and over, would simply roll over and take the punishment.
As anyone who played Halo Wars 2 knows, that is not the case. Not at all.
As the Executioner raises his blade to deliver the killing blow, Atriox reaches out, gripping the energy sword by it’s boiling edges before ripping it out of his hand and plunging almost the entire weapon through the Sangheili’s abdomen.
Floored by what they just witnessed, the Sangheili present ignite their own energy blades and encircle Atriox, preparing to quell this so-called heresy before it can spread.
But spread it does.
Inspired by the display of individualism and refusal to die that Atriox put on, the rest of the Jiralhanae present attack the Sangheili from behind and execute them. Like the Executioner, the Sangheili warriors make the grave mistake of assuming that these Jiralhanae are just going to obey after watching a fellow brother challenge a Sangheili superior and win.
This issue concludes with Atriox and his brothers triumphantly standing over the corpses of the Sangheili who, at one time, ordered them to charge into extremely unfavorable battles with no support whatsoever. Atriox, as well as his Jiralhanae, have now taken a successful stand against the once-thought-to-be untouchable Covenant.
In this defining moment, the Banished are formed, and Atriox and his followers have an opportunity to experience a real life.
Forming a Code
Issue #3 switches a large amount of the focus off of Atriox and instead opts to make Decimus it’s main character.
Taking place a decent period of time after Issue #2, this comic shows the early days surrounding the Banished. The group has a vessel, and a large contingent of Jiralhanae, but nothing more.
The comic begins with Atriox demanding Decimus to find him a reliable chief engineer after the Banished’s ship suffers multiple hull ruptures from (presumably) poor maintenance and repair. After the ship is patched up, the Banished travel to the planet of Otraak in order to try and recruit a Kig-Yar scientist to their cause.
The bright, vibrant colors used to bring life to Otraak’s calm ecosystem suggest that this is the dawn of a new age for these Jiralhanae; this aesthetic sharply contrasts that of the first two issues, in which fiery oranges and moody blues are used to depict horrific battlefields and a cold, heartless empire.
Atriox, staying with the ship for the moment, sends Decimus (with some backup) to meet with his contact. Soon after, they discover a Covenant outpost present on the planet. Decimus and his men approach, the former explaining that he knows the scientist who operates from this area.
As they move in, several Unggoy begin to jump from nearby trees and ambush the Banished. Decimus and his Jiralhanae engage the Unggoy and manage to hold them off until the aforementioned Kig-Yar scientist shows herself and orders them to stand down.
The scientist, named Sig Raan, is revealed to have fought by Decimus’ side before when he was still in the Covenant. Because of this, Raan is willing to listen to what Decimus has to say.
Decimus attempts to sway her to Atriox’s cause, to no avail. Shortly after, Raan unveils a new toy: a special remote that mimics the sonic signals that Yanme’e queens possess. With this tool, Raan effectively can control hundreds of Yanme’e at once, bending them to her will.
While Decimus and his men are in awe, Sig Raan springs her trap, revealing that she planned to kill Decimus and his troops, and then use her army to board their ship and slaughter the rest of the Banished.
As Decimus and the Jiralhanae hold off the Yanme’e, Atriox finally arrives in the comic, jumping into the fray.
“They are called the Banished, T’vaoan, because they no longer allow the Covenant to tell them who they are. But I know what you are, Jackal.”
As the Yanme’e focus their attack on Atriox, Decimus and the Banished warriors begin to defend their leader in an act of camaraderie.
“Banished…he’s fighting for you! Fight for him!”
Together, Atriox and his troops ultimately kill the majority of the Yanme’e, and Atriox kills Sig Raan before she can escape. After the engagement, Decimus examines the special remote Raan invented and suggests to Atriox that it would be incredibly useful to enslave the Yanme’e, noting that it would solve the Banished’s current problem of lacking a competent force of engineers.
Yet, despite all of the usefulness that could come from this device, Atriox destroys it because it represents the manipulation and control that the Covenant once had over him and the Jiralhanae in the Banished.
It is here that we see Atriox develop a code. A code in which character and integrity take precedent over things such as material value and military strength. Atriox is not willing to sacrifice his belief in order to solve issues with his faction’s materiel.
When Decimus expresses his disdain over this action, Atriox makes it clear why he crushed the device.
Though his time in this issue is short, Atriox displays his admirable traits here. Between his willingness to take the full brunt of the attack on his men and his rejection of a corrupt ideology that would benefit the Banished, Atriox showcases his bravery, integrity, and honor. Though he arguably already was one for his actions back in Issue #2, this issue truly starts to solidify him as a heroic figure — at least among the Jiralhanae.
A Like-Minded Individual
Finally, we come to Issue #4. Since the ending of the last comic, the Banished have been busy; despite lacking a competent naval vessel, they nevertheless have gathered a large contingent of Banshees and Phantoms to use. Noticeably, this issue also is the first time the Banished have their trademark crimson red coloration on their materiel. Large amounts of Sangheili have joined the Banished, too, and stand with the Jiralhanae as equals.
Before even reading the actual story present in this comic, we can finally see Atriox’s vision for the Banished being brought to life by simply glancing over the art in the panels: A faction of free, independent warriors who oppose the oppressive and tyrannical Covenant with every chance they get, liberating those who feel trapped within it and absorbing them into the structure of the Banished. The switch over to the red coloring is a visual representation of the Banished having what the Covenant despises — identity.
Anyways, the story of Issue #4 begins as the Banished launch a raid on a Covenant base located in a crater of some kind. (Props to the art team for the callback to the Halo Wars Covenant base design!).
As Atriox’s Banshees rain fire from above, Phantoms drop off squads of Sangheili and Jiralhanae infantry that quickly begin to infiltrate the base. The Covenant forces attempt to counterattack, but ultimately fail to do so aside from shooting down a Banshee or two (as depicted in the background of the image above).
Desperate and out of options, the Sangheili in the base hails the Enduring Conviction for help. Let ‘Volir, who some of you will recognize as one of Atriox’s right hand men in Halo Wars 2, responds to the call and moves his ship close to the Covenant base.
‘Volir then deploys alongside a large contingent of Sangheili warriors to the surface and ambushes the Banished troops that are looting the base’s armory. A brief but bloody encounter follows in which the Banished and Covenant kill many of each other. Due to their numbers advantage, however, the Covenant gain the upper hand, and some Banished troops take the opportunity to retreat via Phantom and attempt to raid the Enduring Conviction. The others who stay behind at the base are slain by ‘Volir’s forces.
With the majority of his forces gone, Atriox, who is inside the base, is ultimately captured by ‘Volir and his strike force. ‘Volir, unaware that the surviving Banished forces were currently on his ship, makes the argument that Atriox’s followers lack conviction as evidenced by their fleeing.
On board the Enduring Conviction (where the Banished troops aboard likely ceased fighting after hearing of their leader’s capture) ‘Volir reports his capture of Atriox. Shortly after, Atriox begins to speak.
He poses the question, “Why did I let you capture me?”
It’s a good question, indeed. If he didn’t want to be captured, then he could have easily evacuated on a Phantom the second he saw the Conviction approaching.
Atriox continues by answering himself: while the Banished is well armed and composed of skilled warriors, they lack a strong naval vessel. Suddenly, the raid attempt by the retreating Banished forces makes a lot more sense.
The message is clear. Atriox wants the Enduring Conviction.
Let ‘Volir makes the point that the Banished have the corvette Elegy’s Lament, but Atriox reiterates that while that ship has served the Banished well, it isn’t sufficient for the plans he has for the future. It’s the next piece of dialogue, though, that really gives us an idea of what’s important to ‘Volir:
“I observe, Let ‘Volir. On raids, I discover not just weapons but intelligence. And what I know of you is this: your faith is wavering as you see the decay of the Covenant. Its descent into blood feuds and barbarism.”
Here, we see that Let ‘Volir and Atriox are very similar. Both of them were forced to watch the pointless, needless bloodshed that the Covenant encouraged and endorsed on a regular basis. Both of them realized the manipulative nature of the San’Shyuum and the Great Journey concept, and both of them were slaves to an ideology they didn’t truly believe in.
Atriox, seeing that ‘Volir is in the same position that he once was, is extending an offer to the Shipmaster to be a part of his crew. An offer from one Covenant slave to another.
The beauty of this moment is that, if ‘Volir really wanted to, he could flat out refuse the offer and have Atriox and his Banished troops slaughtered in seconds. Atriox is in no position to bargain, and yet he’s so confident in his reasoning that he’s willing to risk everything he’s built in order to pull another like him from the clutches of the Covenant, and in return asks nothing more than for the Conviction to serve the Banished.
While you could argue that Atriox’s request for submission is hypocritical given that he escaped the Covenant in order to avoid domination and control, I think it’s important to remember that Atriox operates (at least, in Rise of Atriox) with a code. The Banished, unlike the Covenant, does not send its warriors to die in suicide missions. The Banished, unlike the Covenant, rejects things like manipulation and disregard for life.
When the alternative is a cruel and sadistic empire, is pledging your allegiance to Atriox’s nobler cause a bad thing?
If his actions and words in these comics didn’t already do so (which, in my opinion, they do) then this moment between Atriox and ‘Volir undoubtedly cements Atriox’s position as a hero.
A Word on Halo Wars 2
While Rise of Atriox so far tells the story of an enslaved puppet that ends up becoming so much more, Halo Wars 2 paints Atriox in a rather unfavorable light.
It’s interesting to see how Atriox’s code has been shattered by 2559. The Jiralhanae are indisputably the dominant species in the Banished and treat them as lesser members of the faction, which opposes the equality between the Sangheili and Jiralhanae that Rise of Atriox #4 shows. Sangheili are frequently sent on suicide missions (sounds familiar, doesn’t it?) and Huragok are outfitted with control devices that induce copious amounts of pain whenever one deviates from its ordered task. Perhaps the most disturbing is the fact that the lekgolo operators of Banished Scarabs are often killed by their overloading plasma reactors, thanks to the modifications made to maximize damage and minimize safety.
Sadly, it appears that something happened to Atriox that caused him to abandon the values he once held during the early days of the Banished. Perhaps this event will be explored in Issue #5, but if it isn’t, then we’re going to need an answer. All we know now is this: Atriox didn’t die the hero, and he definitely lived long enough to see himself become the villain.
This one was originally going to be shorter, and then I sat down and started writing, and then before I knew it, five hours had passed and I somehow managed to write a 3.2k word piece on Atriox. Crazy how writing works!
Seriously, though, I LOVE Atriox. These comics have been absolutely nothing short of fantastic, and I think that he’s one of the most unique and interesting characters the franchise has seen in years. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not a Jiralhanae fan, but I can’t help but love this one to pieces.
I’ll be interested to see if the final comic in this mini-series explains why Atriox has become a major hypocrite in Halo Wars 2. Only time will tell!
On another note, I have something good coming for you all this weekend. Whether or not this review will be positive or negative will depend on my thoughts after seeing it later today.
(Yes, that’s Leia’s hair bun. They didn’t make a good movie poster that fit the dimensions for a header image well, alright?)
Anyway, that’s all for today. Thanks so much for reading as always! Make sure to leave your thoughts in a comment either here or in a Tweet to me on Twitter.