With yesterday’s announcement of the new Mass Effect: Legendary Edition debuting on May 14, 2021, please enjoy this look back at the (additional) comic possibilities from the franchise from 2018.
Happy N7 Day, and welcome to a special edition of We Want Comics – the column speculating about all our favorite intellectual property licenses – on BioWare‘s beloved sci-fi role-playing video game series, Mass Effect. Since the cancellation of Mass Effect: Andromeda’s DLC, there’s been a lot of uncertainty over the franchise’s future, with the third of three planned tie-in novels, Mass Effect: Andromeda – Annihilation, only finally making its way into stores this week after 18 months of delays and revisions.
Small wonder Dark Horse Comics haven’t announced another series after last year’s Andromeda prequel “Discovery,” which followed the adventures of turian militia chief Tiran Kandros. But there is so much else to explore in the Mass Effect universe (Milky Way and Andromeda), even with its cloudy future, which is all the more reason to open the gates to more creators, to play in its vast sandbox. (Beware minor possible spoilers ahead.)
What’s Come Before
Before we begin, let’s list all the novels and comic series thus far, to provide a sense of what ground has been covered (and could be again if Dark Horse were so inclined):
- Mass Effect: Revelation (Drew Karpyshyn, 2007): A prequel set two decades before the original trilogy, exploring the history between Captain Anderson and Saren Arterius.
- Mass Effect: Ascension (Drew Karpyshyn, 2008): A spin-off picking up after the first game, following scientist Kahlee Sanders after her protégé, Gillian Grayson, is taken by her father – a Cerberus operative – into the lawless Terminus Systems.
- Mass Effect: Retribution (Drew Karpyshyn, 2010): Sanders and Anderson reunite to find Gillian’s father, Paul, who is now being used by Cerberus as a test subject for Reaper technology after he turned on the organization.
- “Mass Effect: Redemption” (Mac Walters, John Jackson Miller, Omar Francia, 2010): A four-issue prequel to Mass Effect 2 depicting how Liara T’Soni recovered Commander Shepard’s body for Cerberus.
- “Mass Effect: Evolution” (Mac Walters, John Jackson Miller, Omar Francia, 2011): A four-issue origin story for Cerberus’s leader the Illusive Man.
- “Mass Effect: Invasion” (Mac Walters, John Jackson Miller, Omar Francia, 2011): A four-part set-up for the Mass Effect 3: Omega DLC, showing how Cerberus seized control of Aria T’Loak’s space station Omega.
- Mass Effect: Deception (William C. Dietz, 2012): Gillian Grayson returns, swearing revenge on Cerberus for what they did to her father. (The novel was widely panned by readers, and BioWare promised a revised edition, but none transpired.)
- “Mass Effect: Homeworlds” (Various, 2012): A four-part anthology, each issue respectively spotlighting squadmates James Vega, Tali’Zorah, Garrus Vakarian, and Liara.
- “Mass Effect: Foundation” (Mac Walters, Jeremy Barlow, Various Artists, 2013 – 2014): A 13-issue maxiseries starring most of the rest of Shepard’s squadmates in the original trilogy, framed as reconnaissance by Mass Effect 3: Citadel villain Maya Brooks.
- Mass Effect: Andromeda – Nexus Uprising (Jason M. Hough, K.C. Alexander, 2017): A prequel to the fourth game revealing what exactly went down when the Nexus arrived in Andromeda, leading to the exile of those on board who took out their disgruntlement on the ark’s leadership.
- “Mass Effect: Discovery” (Jeremy Barlow, Mac Walters, John Dombrow, Gabriel Guzman, 2017): The four-issue Andromeda prequel starring Tiran Kandros explored how he joined the Andromeda Initiative, and how they obtained the data from the geth array giving them real-time data on our neighboring galaxy.
- Mass Effect: Andromeda – Initiation (N.K. Jemisin, Mac Walters, 2017): A prequel novel following a mission Pathfinder Ryder’s squadmate Cora Harper went on before she embarked for Andromeda.
- Mass Effect: Andromeda – Annihilation (Catherynne M. Valente, 2018): Setting-up Andromeda’s canceled DLC, this book answers what transpired on the quarian ark that led them to broadcast the warning signal Ryder receives at the end of the game.
Two things stand out about the previous books. First, aside from Cora and the Nexus leadership, none of Andromeda’s supporting cast have received their own stories. Secondly, all of these are set around the games’ timeframe, at the most only taking a place a few decades beforehand.Continued below
The next logical step would be to give Andromeda’s characters another chance. Pathfinder Ryder’s crew in the game included:
- Cora Harper: A human biotic, and the Tempest‘s first officer. While Cora was the main protagonist of Initiation, her prior adventures serving with asari commandos could sustain an exciting ongoing series, as she’s the perfect human guide into the asari’s corner of the Milky Way.
- Pelessaria “Peebee” B’Sayle: Speaking of asari, Peebee, the Tempest‘s spirited asari archaeologist, has quite a flesh-out backstory and previous relationships. It’d be fun to learn how she escaped her dull upbringing to become an adventurer who can fend for herself on alien wildernesses. If nothing else, a one-shot about her past could let us meet her elcor father, and elcor are nothing if not hilariously boring.
- Liam Kosta: Ryder’s frustrated crisis specialist worked as a cop and then in Heavy Urban Search and Crisis Response. Emergency response is a rather unexplored theme in comic books, because as exciting and dramatic it can be, writers prefer personal threats. Still, it’d make for a refreshing story, especially if we saw what kind of worlds Liam served on.
- Vetra Nyx: The turian smuggler and her sister Sidera’s past, escaping their wretched mother to find work (legal and illegal) on the frontier, is a no-brainer for a one-shot or even a series. It would certainly allow a writer to delve further into the Milky Way’s criminal underworld.
- Jaal Ama Darav: The angaran freedom fighter, and sole member of Ryder’s team native to Andromeda, Jaal has been fighting the kett occupation of the Heleus Cluster since he was a boy. We learn there’s been enough tragedy in his life, from the disappearance of his first love, to the descent into madness of his classmate Akksul. It could be an insightful spotlight, delving into just what keeps Jaal going every day.
- Nakmor Drack: Last but not least, Drack, the 1400-year old krogan mercenary. The old lizard mentions some truly outrageous adventures in the game, some of which must be the stuff an artist’s dreams are made of (he surfed a shuttle crashing onto an asteroid, or so he tells a bartender). His age must also make him a writer’s dream, which brings us to our next section…
Milky Way Wars
The series should also start diving back into the distant past. The krogans have a grisly and destructive history, which can be divided into roughly three eras:
- The Golden Age, which came crashing down when the krogans descended into nuclear war after overpopulation and a lack of resources, turning their verdant homeworld Tuchanka into an irradiated wasteland.
- The Rachni Wars, when the salarians uplifted the krogan into interstellar society to defeat the insectoid invaders the rachni. Afterwards the krogan were granted their own colony worlds as a reward for saving the galaxy, and began demanding more and more…
- The Krogan Rebellions, which saw the salarians make first contact with the turians to put down the advancing krogan. It concluded when the two species unleashed the genophage, an engineered virus that renders 99 percent of krogan babies stillborn. Drack himself fought in the Rebellions: he reveals that he was a member of the infamous warlord Shiagur’s clan. Just imagine what it must’ve been like for him when the war ended, when he and his fellow warriors realized they would probably never become fathers when they returned home.
The next big piece of Mass Effect backstory that deserves to be explored in full is the Morning War, when the quarians created the AI geth, and the subsequent war that got them exiled from their homeworld after they panicked and attempted to destroy their creations. We got a very impressionistic VR-style depiction of the war in Mass Effect 3, but a comic can easily go beyond, examining the conflict from all its perspectives (anti-geth, pro-geth etc.) in more depth. More excitingly, it can also depict quarians as they were, before life in exile on the Migrant Fleet weakened their immune systems to the point they always had to wear their distinctive masked suits.Continued below
These events pale in significance next to the Protheans‘ extinction at the hands of the Reapers 50,000 years ago. As Commander Shepard discovers in the first game, the Reapers harvest all of the Milky Way’s spacefaring civilizations every 50,000 years, but if you go back any further to introduce a whole new set of alien species, you risk becoming too obscure to draw in readers. With a series about the Prothean cycle, readers could be reintroduced to Javik, the delightfully caustic warrior who was cryogenically frozen at the end of the war, and then had to spend Mass Effect 3 hanging out with aliens that were primitives in his day.
Javik constantly talked about the other species from his time, like the antagonistic oravores, the advanced densorin, the pacifistic synril, and the AI-enhanced zha’til, all characters on a page just waiting to be designed by an excited artist. His people’s ability to pass experiences through touch would be a great framing device for his stories, as well as his ancestors’ lives before it.
Meanwhile in Andromeda
Similarly, there’s a lot of mysteries set up in Andromeda about that galaxy’s past, which will be harder to explore given the uncertainty over the next game: even if Mass Effect 5 leaps forward thousands of years into the future, some of these may still be needed to help tell its story. Still, why did the Jardaan descend into civil war? What’s a Jheln? Are the Jardaan actually angara or disembodied beings that created them as their physical forms? Where are they now?
One big loose end in the game goes back to the Milky Way: the identity of the Andromeda Initiative’s benefactor, who somehow knew the Reapers were returning and funded the arks to covertly save as many inhabitants as possible. They also ordered an assassin to kill Initiative founder Jien Garson when they arrived, so the question is, why? There were some hints in Initiation that the benefactor was trying to get to Alec Ryder’s AI research, and hiring proxies to steal it, but overall this storyline would be very difficult to conclude in a prequel comic.
Unshackling the Past
It would be good then, for Pathfinder Ryder to resolve these mysteries in a sequel comic, although that opens a whole can of worms: the books have always strived to not contradict anyone’s playthrough of the games, by not including playable characters like Shepard and Ryder, or telling stories with characters that take place after they can potentially die. (Otherwise, we might have had comics starring Wrex, Ashley or Kaidan set after the first game, or following Miranda Lawson during Mass Effect 3.)
But let’s face it, it’s 2018: Titan Comics are doing a “Life is Strange” series that explicitly follows on from one of the game’s endings, which no one feels is negating the other. Artists and writers shouldn’t have to worry about the gender of someone else’s Shepard or Ryder while they’re taking the reader to new places, and introducing new characters – in fact, creators should be able to celebrate their own playthroughs with projects like, say, an anthology for Valentine’s Day exploring the different romance options.
What kind of creators? Our list shows a lot of the books are written by BioWare employees like Karpyshyn, Walters and Dombrow, and it’d be great if they kept reaching out to award-winning, outside voices and fans like they have done with hiring Jemisin and Valente on the novels. It’s mind-boggling that “comics famous” writers like Greg Rucka or Chris Roberson have penned tie-ins for Dragon Age, Call of Duty, and God of War, but not Mass Effect. It’d be amazing if Kieron Gillen (“Star Wars”) or Bryan Edward Hill (“The Wild Storm: Michael Cray”) got to write Mass Effect comics, having covered the games during their journalism years (here’s Hill’s review of Mass Effect 2, and Gillen’s thoughts on the game).Continued below
Similarly, there should be a lot of rising artists now who’ve grown up playing the games, like Kate Niemczyk (“Mockingbird”), whose variant covers for “Discovery” were astonishing – she should be doing interiors too. There’s also Sami Basri, whose anthropomorphic artwork on Image’s “Dissonance” would be perfect for Mass Effect’s many alien characters. Other artists who’d be great on a new Mass Effect series include Alexandre Tefenkgi (“Outpost Zero“) and Alex Shibao (“The Last Space Race“), whose aforementioned series are beautifully drawn sci-fi series, technically competent but not overly complicated looking.
So, over to you now: which characters or events deserve the spotlight, in your opinion? Anything we’ve overlooked? Would you mind a comic contradicting your playthrough of the games? What writers and artists would you like to see play in the Mass Effect Universe? Is there a story that you might prefer as prose? As always, do comment with your thoughts, hopes, and speculation below.