Mass Effect: Redemption
The first of many short series to expand the Mass Effect universe into the realm of comic books, Redemption features an original story intended to bridge the gap between Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2. It is also intended to build excitement for Mass Effect 2 by showcasing some of the new characters from that game. Tie-in elements are always appreciated, but one of Mass Effect's more attractive strengths is its ability to mesh a strong and cohesive canon with great storytelling and characters. Does Redemption measure up to the lofty standards of the games, or fall into the more middling area of the tie-in novels?
Unlike the Mass Effect novels, this book actually inserts itself into the storyline of Commander Shepard and friends. Set between Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2, the book primarily concerns the efforts of Liara T'soni to recover Shepard's corpse after they (Shepard's sex is not revealed because it would conflict with the way half the people played the game) died at the hands of a Collector ambush. This different approach to storytelling in the Mass Effect universe is a bit of a mixed blessing. On one hand, it's pretty nice to get a more definitive story and to see one of the more enjoyable supporting characters in action. On the other hand, the actions of this supporting character are going to be hard to reconcile for just about any player who didn't pursue her romance storyline. Liara's actions really only make sense if she was a romantic interest with Shepard, as she is fanatically loyal to tracking down their body beyond the point of simple friendship. Indeed, she is arguably a bit out of character even in this scenario, as she loses her mind with rage and impulsivity quite often. This is more of a "Liara unleashed" than a solid exploration of the character, so if you like to see her go nuts with bionic powers and intimidating people and basically acting like she has spent too much time around a Shepard that has strictly followed the renegade path, then this book will be a great experience for you. Even though her characterization is kind of bizarre, some seeds involving her future roles are planted in a way that will delight those who have followed the character throughout the series. More specifically, her role as the Shadow Broker is hinted at towards the end of the comic.
As for the story itself, it is indeed a fairly simplistic affair. Liara, with the help of the shifty and ambiguous Feron, battles her way through scores of Blue Sun mercenaries and the warriors of the mysterious Shadow Broker, working her way through various complications along the way. Feron's changing allegiances and unclear motivations provide most of the twists, and he manages to be a character that is simultaneously extremely frustrating and somewhat endearing. This is a very action heavy comic, with the only real intrigue coming with the various factions vying for Shepard's body, including the mysterious Cerberus and the even more enigmatic Collectors. There isn't anything in this book that is going to shock anyone who has played beyond the first hour of Mass Effect 2, but it is a fun ride with plenty of entertaining moments and a generally light hearted tone, despite the somewhat morbid subject material.
Of course, the heart of this comic doesn't entirely concern the story. As a bridge between the first and second video game, Mass Effect: Redemption is more concerned with introducing several concepts from the second game than it is with crafting a truly memorable story. You'll see several familiar faces from the second (and best) game of the trilogy, including Miranda, the Collectors, the Illusive Man, and Aria. Much of the action takes place on Omega, a fantastic setting reminiscent of Nar Shaddaa in the Star Wars universe and a major hub in the video game. Including all of these characters gives the book a bit more weight, and more intense fans of the series will enjoy the various continuity nods and background information about these important figures. There's a bit more context to Miranda's actions in Mass Effect 2, and the Illusive Man's efforts to find Shepard are explored in a more satisfying and enlightening way than in the game.
Since Redemption is basically a vehicle for Liara to shine, her appearance in the art is a crucial part of the comic. Unfortunately, this is the only real flaw in an otherwise beautifully drawn and colored book. Liara just looks a bit too juvenile and wild to gel with the character she is supposed to be. She lacks the sense of elegance, the dignified mystique, that I associated with her character in the games. Instead she seems like a generic action star, all swaggering poses and cocky grins. Additionally, Liara is the victim of some objectifying poses that simply do not fit with what her character is about and come across as a very cheap way of throwing in some cheesecake shots in a book that truly had no purpose for them. Besides some problems with Liara's depiction, the art is really good. There are plenty of interesting ship designs, and the various alien species are perfectly rendered. Of the handful of well known characters that make an appearance, nobody is misrepresented, although the Illusive Man's eyes seem a little off, lacking most of their humanity but not being as blatantly robotic and alien as what we saw in the games. The bionic powers are very gratifying as well, and Redemption is as good at representing the unique style of the Mass Effect universe as you are likely to see.
Mass Effect: Redemption is a read that will probably appeal to fans of the video game series, but I have a hard time believing it would appeal to people unfamiliar with the series. Liara doesn't have a lot of personality in this book, and it is a bit too self referential to be something that your average reader could just pick up and enjoy to a reasonable extent. There are some problems with the art work, and the story is a bit too simple to really sink your teeth in to, but this is an above average tie in work that has significant appeal to fans of the series, but doesn't manage to translate to something I could recommend to the average genre reader.