The universe is a large place, and humans are just beginning to explore it. How fortunate, then, that Dark Horse announced today at Comic-Con International in San Diego that it will be publishing a second miniseries based on BioWare’s epic space-faring action-RPG “Mass Effect” games. “Mass Effect: Evolution” reunites the creative team behind the first series, “Mass Effect 2” head writer Mac Walters, John Jackson Miller on scripts, and artist Omar Francia, with Massimo Carnevale providing the covers.
The four-issue miniseries will focus on the Illusive Man and Cerberus, the pro-human organization viewed by some as terrorists for their often violent efforts to secure a more prominent place for mankind within Citadel space. CBR News spoke with Mac Walters about the new miniseries and making sure the Illusive Man stays illusive.
Though video game tie-ins are not a new thing, this year’s “Mass Effect: Redemption” was especially well-received, and Walters was pleased enough with the experience to immediately dive back in with a short story on “MySpace Dark Horse Presents.” Appropriately enough, the upcoming “Mass Effect: Evolution,” also represents the property’s evolution into a true multimedia world, as unlike “Redemption” the new miniseries does not coincide with the release of a new game.
“I was pleasantly surprised,” Walters said of the first miniseries’ success. “We know that fans of ‘Mass Effect’ are eager for anything new that deals with ‘Mass Effect’ and that features the characters, so that wasn’t so much of a surprise. But the fact that it was well-received as a comic and well-received in the comic community is, well, I won’t say a surprise – Dark Horse made it a key thing that this wasn’t just a format to talk about ‘Mass Effect’ but it was going to be a good comic. But for me, personally, being new at it, experiencing it for the first time, [there was] trepidation in tackling a new medium that I’m basically a newbie in, so certainly with the first one I went through it with a sense of humility and ‘I hope it works out well,’ and in the end I think it really did. Now we’re doing a second one!”
The story of “Evolution” takes place before the events in the “Mass Effect” series of video games. “Essentially, what we’re looking to explore are a couple of themes: first, the origin of Cerberus, which is one of the main groups you’re dealing with in the ‘Mass Effect’ universe, especially in ‘Mass Effect 2.’ How they came about, and how the event of their inception tied in with one of the major wars humanity faced, which was the First Contact War with the Turians,” Walters told CBR. He also indicated that mysterious Cerberus leader, the Illusive Man, would be a major focus of the series. “It’s also a story about him, although it takes place far before the game and well into his life. I know some people say, ‘well, he’s the Illusive Man – if you tell his story, will he still be illusive?’ I think fans will be pleasantly surprised,” Walters said. “We’ll be telling an interesting story that gives some insight into Illusive, but really just enough to whet your appetite for more.”
As Walters suggested, there is a danger in revealing too much of an enigmatic character. But, he said, doing so was never his intention. “I think [readers will] definitely have a different view of him,” the writer said of the series’ effect on how the Illusive Man is perceived. “One of the things we wanted to be careful not to do is explain why he does what he does. It’s not necessarily to drastically change people’s perception of him, because that’s who he is. He is the Illusive Man, and we’re not going to tell all the things about him. It’s not going to be suddenly, ‘Oh, wow, that’s not how I pictured him at all!’ It’s still very true to who he is. It’s just a little bit more of the secret lives of megalomaniacs, something like that.
“I think the fact that he is illusive and he has all this power and is willing to use it for ultimately what he says is the good of all humankind, but sometimes his actions seem completely at odds with what he says, makes him very compelling,” Walters continued. “This is for the good of mankind, and yet he will happily sacrifice as many humans to do that as possible. He’s an interesting paradox. I think also, because he walks that line of, is he evil? Is he truly good? He’s much more in grey than a typical villain, and certainly much more grey than any regular protagonist in a story. I think, partly, that’s what makes him compelling, is that you’re not quite sure where he’s coming from.”
Working primarily as a writer of video games, which can take years to produce, Walters said that he enjoyed the relatively quick turnaround time of completing a comic book series. “It can take a long time, even from early story pages to first concept art” in a game, he said. “In the comic books, you can have a whole series out in a relatively short time. I think it satisfies that primal urge for instant gratification – ‘I wanna see it now!’ But it’s also kind of an interesting process because there are so many fewer people involved directly in the creative process. I find it’s a very tight group of us, the editor, John Jackson Miller, and of course Omar [Francia]. Just a very small group working together. On a game like ‘Mass Effect,’ I could be working directly with dozens of people and indirectly with up to 100 people. That obviously has its fun, but it also has its challenges. It’s been a really terrific experience, and I attribute a lot of that to Dark Horse. They’ve been fantastic to work with.”
Speaking of his collaboration with Miller and Francia, Walters said that his working relationship with the team has matured from “Redemption” to “Evolution.” “I think John and I have a bit of a rapport certainly in the things we send back and forth to each other, and I certainly know what to expect from Omar and I can almost start to imagine what [his art’s] going to be like,” the writer said. “That’s certainly, personally, has evolved the way in which I look at the story, and when I’m reviewing things, I think that’s helping to make things go a little more smoothly. Most of that, I think, is because of those relationships that we’ve developed, and the fact that we know what to expect from each other is allowing us to try different things, go a little bit deeper with the story and maybe be a little bit more complex in some of the ideas we’re trying to get across.”
With the second “Mass Effect” miniseries on the horizon, CBR News asked Walters whether he might be interested in eventually extending the story into an ongoing series. “I’m sure there’s a lot of financial of business considerations related to that which I am not privy to or aware of. I would say this: if Dark Horse thought that was a good opportunity and something fun to do, then yeah, I would definitely look at doing that,” Walters said. “I think the ‘Mass Effect’ universe is huge, there are so interesting many characters that we’ve already developed. There’s no end to the stories to be told there. Finding material would not be a problem; finding time, maybe. I think that would be a really fun opportunity.”