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Comic Book Review – Assassin’s Creed: The Ankh Of Isis Trilogy and Hawk

Assassin’s Creed: Desmond, Aquilus, Accipter and Assassin’s Creed: Hawk, written by Corbeyran, art by Djillali Defali, English-language translation by Mark McKenzie-Ray, published by Titan Books

Confession: I have never played Assassin’s Creed, the massively popular video game series, although I did enjoy its spiritual predecessor, Prince of Persia. This means that I have no knowledge of the game or the story, so I read these books with a fresh pair of eyes, allowing me to indulge my interest in comic book adaptations of computer games – I think they share a lot of storytelling genetic material.

Each individual 48-page book is part of the continuing story set in the world of Assassin’s Creed, with the first volume, Desmond, retelling some events from the first game and the beginning of Assassin’s Creed II. The story starts in the present, with Desmond Miles: he has been kidnapped by a corporation called Abstergo: they are using a machine called the Animus (a virtual reality simulator) to force him to visit his past lives in order to find clues to help them locate certain powerful objects (called ‘Pieces of Eden’). Desmond remembers himself as Aquilus, an assassin during the time of the Roman Empire, 3rd century AD, and as Altair in the Holy Land, 1190. When Abstergo is successful and extracts the information from Desmond, they decide to kill him, so he is broken out of the compound by Lucy, who informs him that the company are the Templar Order, descendants of the Knights Templar, while Desmond is a descendant of the Assassins, who have fought a secret war against the Templars for centuries, to do with the birth of humanity and to the winner will go world domination.

In the second book, Aquilus, Lucy’s team has to go on the run with Desmond to escape Abstergo; meanwhile, they use the animus on Desmond so he can visit his descendant Aquilus in Lugdunum (now Lyon), capital of Gaul in the third century, interacting with his father and learning about the Ankh of Isis, an object of great power. In using the Animus, it seems to affect his genetic memory in a physical fashion, because his body is able to remember how to do the moves of his ancestors, which comes in useful when the people helping Desmond escape are attacked by mercenaries working for the Templars …

Assassin's Creed: Hawk cover

The third book, Accipter, switches the focus of the story between another Assassin descendant, Jonathan Hawk, visiting his ancestor Accipter (cousin of Aquilus, seen in the second book), and Desmond revisiting Aquilus – each story in the past connects with the other and crosses over, providing more information about the object and the Liberalis Circulum and the location of more Pieces of Eden. The fourth book, Hawk, is the latest instalment in the story, with the focus moving from Desmond to Hawk, as he visits his ancestor El Cakr, in Egypt, 1340, to find out more information about the Piece of Eden number 24, the Scepter of Aset; there is a subplot involving Hawk’s stolen eye. All these stories allow for classic Assassin’s Creed action – running along and leaping gymnastically from rooftops, fighting in close quarters with blades on the inner arm – while embellishing the mythology and linking pieces through the history (including a strange connection involving different names for ‘eagle’ and ‘vulture’).

It’s interesting to read a bande dessinée interpretation of Assassin’s Creed – these graphic novellas are the chapters of a much longer series, with a different rhythm and pace to a one-off adventure or an ongoing comic book series as published in the mainstream American market. I’m more used to the American pacing, so it’s a change to see a French approach, which doesn’t have the same urgency or dynamism; the art isn’t as dynamic because it has a more cinematic feel, placing the characters and the dialogue more prominently – the word balloons are very large and are non-strategically in the panels, the speech trails crossing across each other inorganically. However, the English translation is very good – the dialogue flows and the narrative is never unclear.

I have never seen Defali’s art before but his style has a nice line, a mix of the rough and the smooth (I thought that perhaps, because of the style of art associated with the video games, the art in the books would be more painterly and photorealistic, but this is traditional pencil-and-ink comic book art), and he is able to handle the transitions from modern day to the different eras of the past with ease and aplomb. The panel transitions are good and there’s a decent translation of the computer game’s fluid action within the static comic book page. These handsome hardback books are enjoyable in their own right and enjoyable for fans of the game because of the increased background detail they provide about the story and mythology of Assassin’s Creed – reading these made me want to play the games, which is the highest compliment I can give them.

Disclosure: these books were provided for review purposes.

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