Apr 15, 2010

By David K. Ginn

No, I am not likening the first issue of Dark Horse’s Mass Effect tie-in comic to a stewed fruit sauce. Rather, I’m referring to the issue’s protagonist, blue-skinned alien Dr. Liara T’soni, and the overload of sassiness she brings to the pages.

I have a general problem with media tie-ins, mostly because they’re not much more than an insulting way to squeeze money out of an already popular fan base. Essentially, it’s milking a cow without raising it. That’s why I’m happy to see tie-in comics that are written and drawn with care, and appeal both to comic enthusiasts and fans of the game. Mass Effect: Issue 1 falls in that category.

Some other media-related comics, such as Dark Horse’s Buffy series, are spinoffs and continuations. That has a huge impact on the quality of a comic. Now that the legacy falls completely in the hands of the new medium, it’s treated with more care and respect by its authors. It has to be. So far, the Mass Effect comic series is solid enough to feel like the same care and respect was put into it- and it’s no surprise, considering it was authored by one of the game’s critically hailed co-writers.

Mac Walters, lead writer of the recently released Mass Effect 2, is someone to look out for. He is one of the many people in game development trying to revolutionize the medium as a storytelling art. This is important when you consider that comic books faced a similar revolution only decades ago. Golden Age comic books went up against the same critical roadblocks that video games are only now trying to hurdle. Writers like Alan Moore and Frank Miller forever morphed comics from pulp entertainment to serious storytelling. No, Dark Horse’s Mass Effect comic series does not compare with these greats. But Bioware’s video game series does.

Still, Walters and script-writer John Jackson Miller do not fuck around. There’s a lot of action, a lot of boobs in just about every frame, but the story is fascinating and it’s a damn good ride. Omar Francia’s pencils are very faithful to the source material, while adding a bit of comic book breast enlargement and action poses that will be familiar to any comic book fan.

The tale begins sometime after game protagonist Sheppard meets his maker, so to speak, and sometime before he is resurrected through a dubious organization’s hilariously titled Lazarus Project. Dr. Liara T’soni, sporting her blue squid-tentacle head and mega-boosted boobage, has gone from uncomfortably pathetic love interest to a bitchin’ babe who doesn’t take shit from anyone. Cool.

Her mission is to find Sheppard’s remains and stop the Cerberus group from recovering them. Anyone who has played Mass Effect 2 knows how well that turned out (spoiler alert: not well at all). Liara teams up with a krell, an alien species that was introduced in ME2. They’re supposed to be very rare, but I guess that was just ME2‘s way of explaining why they weren’t in ME1. Oh well. We’ll just say it’s a species native to sequels but equipped to survive in tie-ins.

Not much happens story-wise; Liara hires a ship to help her out, and when they fuck with her, she fucks with them right back. So she totally kicks their asses, in other words. Then she and the krell talk about something, and something else happens, and okay so the story isn’t brilliant. But it’s told well, and definitely entertaining.

This is the third media tie-in for Mass Effect, the first two being novels that were published within the past couple years. Mass Effect fans might be a bit thrown off- as I was- by the difference in storytelling, namely that the games are decision based and the tie-ins clearly aren’t. The only way to truly replicate the game’s storytelling mechanics would be to make Choose Your Own Adventure books, and those only exist now in the form of nostalgia and Something Awful memes. It’s probably for this reason that all three stories do not feature Commander Sheppard in any capacity. Instead, they tell character back-stories and past events- intangible aspects of the Mass Effect universe that in no way affect or affected by the player’s choices. Good job.

For fans of the game, Dark Horse’s Mass Effect series is essential reading. For comic fans, you know what? Go for it. It might just get you into the game. No word yet on when the first trade will be published, but grab the issue now. It’s a well paced, solid read.