Mass Effect: Discovery (Dark Horse), by John Dombrow, Jeremy Barlow, Gabriel Guzman & Michael Atiyeh — a comic book review

MEDiscovery

This is a review of the trade paperback collection of the Dark Horse comic book Mass Effect: Discovery, issues #1 – 4.

My worst-kept secret is that the Mass Effect series of video games by Bioware is my favorite game franchise of all-time. Even more so than Insomniac Games’ Spider-Man (which I loved, although it’s technically not a franchise yet) and the Arkham Batman games, or Uncharted, Need for Speed, Watch Dogs, Madden, NBA 2K, and any of the other franchises I enjoy but failed to list.

My respect for the ME franchise even includes Mass Effect Andromeda, which disappointingly never included any DLCs and will probably never get a sequel because it didn’t meet the expectations of many fans or the developer. This doesn’t mean that Bioware won’t return to the Mass Effect well again, though. Casey Hudson is GM of Bioware these days, and this franchise was always his baby. I remain optimistic that I will play another ME game in the future, should I live long enough.

Mass Effect Andromeda, in spite of its lackluster performance, spawned a trilogy of media tie-in novels (which I read, of course, and reviewed) and this four-issue comic book series from Dark Horse. I’ve always believed in total immersion when it comes to the franchise, so I always knew I would read this as well. I pre-purchased the trade paperback long before it was published, even though I only recently got around to reading it.

As a person who’s played all the games, watched the single Mass Effect animated movie Paragon Lost, read all of the Dark Horse comics and the novels (except for the William C. Dietz one that most consider noncanonical (I awn a copy but haven’t read it yet)), I would consider myself an authority on the Mass Effect fictional universe if I had a better memory. And, as such—a quasi-authority—I’ve noticed a trend when it comes to these MEA tie-ins.

None of them are really about the game I played.

Sure, the first MEA novel was about the Nexus uprising, which was referenced as backstory in the game, and the last MEA novel was about the quarian ark that never arrived in the game. So, there’s that. The best MEA tie-in novel—Mass Effect Andromeda: Initiation, by N.K. Jemisin and Mac Walters—is set entirely in the Milky Way galaxy as a prequel to the game itself. Our galaxy. The same one that was the setting for the Commander Shepard trilogy, the one with the Reapers and the ending that was re-edited after public outcry.

Mass Effect: Discovery shares this trait with the Jemisin/Walters novel. It is a prequel story about events that happened prior to the arks of the Andromeda Initiative leaving our galaxy. Another trait it shares with the novel: it’s pretty darned good.

So good, in fact, that I find myself wishing that this had been a playable video game rather than a comic book story.

The main character in this story is Tiran Kandros, the turian soldier featured in the game and in the novel Mass Effect Andromeda: Uprising. It turns out that Kandros was sent to investigate the Andromeda Initiative by the turian hierarchy, which suspected the Initiative of using illicit geth technology to achieve its ambitious ends. Along with a human partner, Kandros accepts a mission to hunt down a missing quarian scientist who holds the key to the Initiative’s biggest secret. At the same time, the scientist is being hunted by a salarian mercenary with supercharged biotic abilities, a character who is built up in the comic as a Magneto-level adversary. This four-issue series is about Kandros’s investigation and how this led to his final acceptance of Jien Garson’s vision for a new start in Andromeda. This is not a spoiler for those who have played the game.

The artwork is good, a status elevated at times to “great,” in my opinion, but consistently good and in keeping with the aesthetic introduced in the games. The story, as I insinuated earlier, is exciting and satisfying. On a Mass Effect 2 scale of appreciation.

What this Dark Horse series, and Mass Effect Andromeda: Initiation ahead of it, convinces me of is that the next installment of the video game franchise could also dip back into prequel territory in a way players might find more acceptable than MEA. In fact, the events of the novel and this comic book series would make a fine game on its own, I think, complete with missions and boss battles. Then, a Mass Relay could be discovered in Andromeda, linking that game universe up to the original, where, 600 years after the events of the original trilogy, maybe the Reapers have returned as a new threat to both galaxies. Just spitballing ideas here.

If anyone at Bioware wants me to sit in on the next story-planning sessions, I am available.

In the meantime, if you’re a Mass Effect fan, as I am, then you’ll want to read this book as well. I recommend it.

Firewater’s Every-Day-is-N7-Day Report Card: A

A

A surprisingly good and faithful addition to the canon.

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