Let’s take a break from actual video games, retro or otherwise, to dive into a video game-related subject: the complete collection of Mass Effect comics. This tome caught my eye one day and I picked it up to read a little while I sat in a bookstore waiting for my wife to be ready to go home. A short time later and I was disappointed when she was ready to leave. Later, when I told her about it, she made a mental note and gave me the book as a Christmas present.
To be clear, I used the word tome because this is a hefty volume; it comes in at almost 800 pages. You wouldn’t want to ship this anywhere for fear of the price of postage! Content-wise, I wondered how good this could be at the time I’d found it in the store and that question mark hovered over me even as I started reading it. I mean, the games are magnificent, but they are based on how you play as Commander Shepard. You, the player, define the character right down to the gender, so how could the writers do it any justice without ruining the experience? Simple: Shepard is always on the outskirts of the stories, always present in some form but not the focus. Well, actually that’s not strictly true! S/he is the focus in fact, but you never see the commander beyond a background image. How’s that, you ask?
The first story, Redemption features our old friend Liara T’Soni as she tries to recover Shepard’s body after the incident that opens the second game. Players will remember that the game begins with the commander drifting off into space, after his ship, the Normandy, was destroyed. She is working to recover the body. This functions to give backstory to what we actually experience in the game itself.
Evolution introduces us to The Illusive Man before he became… special. We see the death of his brother and we are introduced to Saren, the former specter. Again, this is giving us the backstory on the characters that will become a part of the games. (We knew Saren from the first game, but The Illusive Man is a second game character and this gives us an understanding of who he is and how he became that man.) Invasion brings in popular bar-owner and ruler of Omega, Aria T’Lok, who features prominently on the cover of the volume. An attack is underway to take Omega back from T’Lok. This is entirely her story and establishes her as a heavy hitter.
In Homeworlds: James Vega we get some backstory on (you guessed it…) James Vega. He will feature prominently in game three as a member of your crew. This gives us his backstory and shows us the start of his career. This is followed by Homeworlds: Tali’Zorah Nar Rayya. Readers of the Junkyard will recall my fondness for Tali, so this was a nice look into her life. I was impressed to read about her motivations and what lead her to that notion of a house on her own homeworld. This also adds a nice touch to the way I played the final game in the trilogy, but I suspect not everyone will have the same experience. Homeworlds: Garrus Vakarian continues the run of backstories showing us his youth and the relationship with his dad. We witness the battle that eventually leads him to Sherpard. Homeworlds: Liara T’Soni puts our favorite Asari in conflict with The Illusive Man before heading off to Mars. This is the last of the Homeworlds series but considering the nature of a good RPG, these characters are already well defined and stick in our minds long after we play the games, which gives the graphic novel an edge; it sharpens those images nicely.
Incursion is more about build up. Aria finds data that will launch game 2. It’s a short tale but again increases the cohesiveness of the story in the game. (Remember how Rogue One did that for Star Wars?) Inquisition gives us a bit on Bailey who gets a promotion from Councilor Udina. A nice touch as this will eventually lead to Udina’s fall. Yet again, no impact to the games we play short of defining the characters we know and love (or hate, as the case may be). Conviction has James Vega recruited to guard a very special prisoner: commander Shepard. In He Who Laughs Best we get the low down on Jeff Moreau, the pilot of the Normandy. It’s a terrific but short story of the man with the brittle bones and how he became the pilot of the most advanced ship in the fleet. (All the while, I hear Seth Green’s voice as I read his lines!)
Blasto: Eternity is Forever is a comedy and the first story that doesn’t focus on our main cast. Blasto is a Hanar specter which is hilarious in its own right. Hanar are religious jellyfish worshiping the “enkindlers”, that use “this one” to indicate themselves as no pronouns are in use by their species. I laughed out loud over “Enkindle this” or the Clint Eastwood moment, “Is this one feeling fortunate…” threats. (His romance with an Asari adds to the comedy nicely.) This story was the last chapter-titled story before the massive Foundation.
Foundation takes up almost the entire remainder of the book going from roughly page 430 to 710. With no chapter breaks, I started reading this thinking we were involved in a massive story that connected all the major characters, but it actually just gave more background on the characters. Since we’d already done that, I was a bit put off by this. I would have preferred more clarity and the absence of chapter titles seemed lazy. I had a chance to see the backstory on a character from the DLC that I didn’t play so that was a nice addition that focused on a character I didn’t really know but the font was idiotically small and I actually broke out my magnifying glass for some of it! (And I don’t wear glasses!) I did enjoy the backstory on Thane Krios whose meeting with his wife, her death and his estrangement with his child all come into focus. Thane was a great character so this story felt fresh and exciting.
All of this wraps up nearly 700 pages of game background. But I did say the book was nearly 800 pages! The final story, Discovery takes us away from the influence of Shepard. This is the Andromeda Initiative’s story. The last 70 odd pages is dedicated to the story that will lead to the 4th game in the Mass Effect universe: Andromeda. I have not revisited Andromeda in the Junkyard yet, but I will admit, reading this made me excited to replay that.
This massive 800 page volume retails for $40. If you were a fan of Mass Effect, it is well worth reading. The art work is good but I will tell you that I started reading another graphic novel right after this and I see where this tome goes wrong. As mentioned above, the font is a bit small to begin with but in some of the stories it is nearly unreadable without aid. The art is often massively busy too. There was a moment, for instance, where a hostage situation is resolved with the word “plink”. It took me a full panel beyond this to realize the bad guy had his head blown off. In the grand scheme, this takes away little from the overall enjoyment of the book because this is really about building on characters we love. In fact, the truth of the matter is that the book holds up very well because of the strength of the bonds we formed with the characters in the three games. So yes, this is worth pursuing but expect it to take a while to get through. And it makes me wonder, with the announcement that a 4th game is coming in Shepard’s story, will we see more issues of the comic in our future? I can only hope so… ML