Mass Effect: Foundation (Vol. 1) by Mac Walters, Tony Parker and Omar Francia – Advance Review [Bellarius]

Mass_effect_Foundation

With another Mass Effect comic on the horizon, Bellarius looks at the best and worst of Mass Effect: Foundation by Mac Walters, Tony Parker and Omar Francia.

“Fantastic character stories, problematic ways of telling them.” – Bellarius, The Founding Fields

Much like the previous Homeworlds series, Mass Effect Foundation serves as a look into the lives of characters prior to joining Commander Shepard in the games. Taking place either mere minutes before their introduction or even years before they were ever encountered, the comic gives some further insight into the lives of Wrex, Ashley, Kaiden and one or two surprise characters. While ultimately treated as an isolated episode or brief moment in the spotlight, every story is connected by an ongoing narrative. Specifically a duo of Cerberus agents who are examining the characters’ histories (or just running into them) and looking into the events behind Eden Prime. While this sounds effective, and it does give some insight into what Cerberus was doing when such a major threat emerged, the results are ultimately hit and miss.

Before we even get into the story we need to talk about the art. While this is something usually left to a paragraph or so in the latter point of these reviews, the structuring and their quality vary considerably from page to page.

While the actual art itself resembles the style of Frank Quitely in many respects, mostly sans absurd faces, it seems like a less refined version of his work. There seem to be problems handling certain details and poses on characters, as while the environments and more physically solid items look great, the characters in movement themselves all too often look like ragdolls. While an armoured figure like Jasox or Ashley looks fine, and unlike Genesis Wrex is consistently decently drawn, athletic figures or those without too many details to latch onto visibly suffer. You’ll see this repeatedly with the first character introduced as she serves to forward the tale’s framing device.

While the above flaws would be acceptable on their own, the problems come with the story being so oddly planned out. While it’s nice to see a tale avoiding the massive padding decompressed storytelling has become an excuse for, this one has the opposite problem. Too many times the sequential art is lost to the point where the comic seems to be teleporting from one place to the next. At many points the movement of the characters seems lost and you’re just left wondering how they managed to get from point A to point B.

Also the combat is left to extremely short bursts and is barely shown. It’s often limited to short bursts of combat and has this habit of turning every biotic attack and shot from a gun into a massive blast of all consuming light. This is especially obvious when concentrated fire from geth looks as if a character is taking cover from a Kamehameha wave.  These combat sequences in particular is when the story starts to get a little strange, and they feel both underdone and oddly over the top at the same time. It’s only moving away from such events that the story truly begin to show some quality behind the work.

Learning more about the characters or an event that they had spoken of in the video games is something to be appreciated, at least when it’s done right. Along with the sense of the characters and universe being fleshed out, they allow the story to feel more complete and less as if you have missed something crucial. Here this is the case for the most part. While not always something which successfully gives further insight into people, seeing what they spoke of is something which gives insights into their personalities.

A number of tales are told through flashbacks with Kaiden and one other surprise character both displaying events which took place in their early lives. These are ultimately the ones which work the best as they show exactly what shaped them into the figures they become or followed their life’s path. In the case of Kaiden it displays the previously spoken events on Gagarin Station, and show the lengths he was driven to strike out at the turian commander there. It displays the much more pressing nature of their trials and just what life was like onboard the station, giving some groundwork for his attitude towards aliens and use of violence. It’s interesting to see the characters at such a point and does for the most part work in their favour as, even when the story is repeating previously known information, seeing the events are much more effective than just hearing of them.

The other major flashbacks, covering the events of Eden Prime, are better interwoven in the tale. They originate from the Cerberus’ agents efforts to piece together what happened and gather data, highlighting their differences in approach as well as the characters involved. We see some of what made Ashley such a promising figure within the military but how her family’s history repeatedly came back to bite her. While hardly handled in the best way, mostly coming down to one person and one decision, it’s better displayed here than it ever was in the first game. Actually having a degree of impact in her life rather than being mentioned but never built upon.

As for Wrex, it’s what you’d expect. There’s nothing really furthering his character, just some decent bounty hunting and a couple of humorous moments. Nothing especially bad, but beyond showing you what he did to get C-Sec to take him by force in the first game it doesn’t add much to the overall universe.

The stories in of themselves are hardly bad. There is a good deal of talent displayed in how they are linked together, and unlike other tie-ins we’ve seen each one does not waste time in getting to the point, but it’s hard to appreciate given the mistakes with the storytelling structure. It will likely take more than one reading for people to get past some of the problems, and they really are ones which a franchise so famed as Mass Effect should have been able to avoid. It doesn’t help that most feel as if they could have been better told if these were a fictional novel or episodic video games.

If you’re a diehard fan of the universe or want to see more of the characters involved, give this one a look. If you’re more interested in bigger scale stories or comics with better artwork, try one of the other Mass Effect comics.

Mass Effect: Foundation is set to be released on the 18th Febrary and can be bought on Amazon.

Verdict: 4.5/10

Bellarius

Long time reader of novels, occasional writer of science fiction and critic of many things; Bellarius has seen some of the best and worst the genre has to offer.
Find more of his reviews and occasional rants here:
http://thegoodthebadtheinsulting.blogspot.co.uk/