By Patrick Wolf
You don’t have to be a fan of the popular video game franchise to enjoy Dark Horse’s first installment of Mass Effect: Discovery. It’s stealthy, smart, and fun enough to appeal to both children and adults. The best part is if you’re into sci-fi and detective stories, this series was pretty much made for you.
The story takes place on the alien world of Palaven where Kandros, the planet’s prince, accepts a covert mission to infiltrate a human organization known as the ‘Andromeda Initiative’. Armed with just his wits, Kandros quickly secures himself an interview with the insidious corporation—only to discover he must first recapture a missing scientist if he’s to gain their trust. Together Kandros and his new partner set off on a journey to find the elusive scientist before someone else does.
For the most part, I liked the comic version of Mass Effect. I’ve never played any of the games before, so I can’t really compare them, but if they’re anything like the book, I can see why they’re so popular. While the comic was by no means action packed or philosophically profound, it was interesting enough to keep me turning the pages and wanting more once I reached the end. I know that doesn’t sound like a stellar review, but as far as first issues go that’s about as good as it gets.
In particular, I like how we’re told the story from the alien perspective. I know we always like to think of humanity as the ‘good guys’, but sometimes it’s nice to see the aliens’ point of view as well. I also enjoyed how Kandros’ decisions stemmed from his character: he’s thoughtful, ambitious, and clever, so his actions mirror his personality. He’s genuinely in despair when his comrades die; he becomes a spy to prove his worth; and he prefers cunning to violence.
Another element that caught my attention is how you don’t need any background knowledge of the Mass Effect universe to understand what’s going on. At no point did I feel lost or confused or out-of-the-loop. The objective was plain, the hero’s motives were clear, and the characters felt fresh (even though they may have a lot of history in the video games).
The artwork was appropriate as well. I like how Guzman marries the styles of traditional detective stories with sci-fi adventures: an approach that really blends the genres nicely. Atiyeh’s colors are dark and serious just like the narrative, and Heisler’s letters were clear and easy to read. Also, at no point did I feel the artwork waned as the story went on. The final panels had just as much attention to detail as the first ones.
I only have three minor criticisms for this issue. First, it’s not explosive enough to warrant a perfect score. I know that’s a little unfair since first issues typically are on the slower side, but if you want to be the best, you’ve got to rise above. Second, there’s quite a bit exposition. Again, I understand this is a sci-fi with a lot of history to explain, but exposition is annoying. Fortunately, Barlow does a good job of disguising it in dialogue and visuals, so we’re never really notice it anyway. Finally, I would’ve also liked to see a little more action as well, but—like I said—this is just the first issue.
All in all, Mass Effect: Discovery is an entertaining first installment. I really sympathize with the hero, and I’m earnestly interested in the next three issues. While the story suffers a bit from its exposition and lack of action, its use of mystery and character development by far make up for these shortcomings. If you’re a fan of detective stories and space odysseys, I recommend giving this mini-series a go.
Mass Effect: Discovery # 1
Writer: Jeremy Barlow
Artist: Gabriel Guzman
Colorist: Michael Atiyeh
Letterer: Michael Heisler
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics