Assassin’s Creed: Origins #1
Publisher: Titan Comics
Writer: Anthony Del Col
Artist: PJ Kaiowa
Cover: Stephanie Hans
Colors: Dijjo Lima
Reviewer: Steve Sellers
Assassin’s Creed is one of those series that has certainly had its share of highs and lows as a video game franchise. It has seen many good games over the years (including such outstanding titles as Black Flag), though Ubisoft has missed the mark periodically as well with the series. Still, the core concept of two groups of secret societies involved in a hidden war throughout history is a compelling one that lends itself well to comics.
Although Ubisoft has made its share of missteps, Assassin’s Creed: Origins is not one of them. Indeed, this game has been one of their more solid efforts in recent years, presenting an open-world action game that’s elevated the series. Cleverly, they’ve made the decision to collaborate with Titan Comics in a deeper way than I’ve seen comic adaptations do. They provide in-game incentives to read this book, perhaps in the hope of providing a deeper experience for those who have read the book and played the game. This comic is connected to the core story, but it’s just removed enough to allow the comic room to tell its own story, which is appreciated.
In the end, Assassin’s Creed: Origins is a promising experiment that results in a solid comic book tie-in.
The main cover for this series was provided by Stephanie Hans, who’s proven to be a good cover artist. To her credit, the image is well designed, and Aya is well presented as a lead heroine. Those familiar with Assassin’s Creed, even those who haven’t played the game, should recognize the distinctive hood and costume as consistent with the series. The decision to present Aya with a half-raised hood also presents the character to the reader unambiguously, and she should be recognizable to those who have played the game. The lighting is also quite well done, focusing attention squarely on Aya’s face. However, this cover does struggle as an attention-getter, relying more on nostalgia and the series’ classic imagery than on showing anything interesting happening on this cover. While Aya is well illustrated, this is still very much a “stock pose” cover that doesn’t tell the reader much about what to expect inside the pages. This is unfortunate, because just a single identifiable visual element from the story would have gone a long way towards grabbing the reader.
While this is my first encounter with PJ Kaiowa as an artist, Assassin’s Creed: Origins provides some strong visuals. Although the artwork is more stylized and less photorealistic than the Ubisoft game, these pages are recognizably Assassin’s Creed and move with the same brisk pacing. Effective use of speed lines and dramatic action poses give emphasis to the combat sequences. There’s also just a hint of manga influences in these pages, partly through the speed lines but also with expressive headshots. The assassination of Caesar particularly has an Eastern flavor, which is an interesting touch to a story like this one. The layouts are likewise effectively done, with the locations looking visually distinct and interesting with detailed backgrounds. Overall, it’s solid work that looks like it belongs in an Assassin’s Creed title.
Dijjo Lima provides the coloring this issue, and it’s a good, reasonable effort. One of the interesting thing about this title is that it spans two different historical locations, both of them cosmopolitan areas during the last days of the Roman Republic. Consequently, there are many people from all different walks of life that make up the backdrop to this story, and they all look distinct as they’re portrayed in this comic. Much of this is down to Lima’s coloring, which manages to make each side character unique in some way, whether it’s a Senator, a common Roman plebeian, or the Egyptians. When the script doesn’t make it clear who the characters are, the coloring embellishes those details and gives life to each one. Additionally, the coloring is striking at the right dramatic moments, whether that’s the firelight bringing out Cleopatra’s features, or the fading colors as Caesar is assassinated by the conspirators.
The lettering this issue is a Comicraft production, and they have usually done some excellent work for Titan. For the most part, this issue succeeds for them as well, though there are moments where the word balloons could have been more effectively placed. At times, the tail of the word balloon doesn’t quite point to the speaker’s mouth, though this is a minor issue and no real confusion results from this. Aside from this, Comicraft does well at the size and placement of the balloons, and there aren’t any real instances where the script intrudes on the art in these pages. The sound effects are probably the best aspect of this issue’s work, as it enhances some already strong action panels. A key death is given greater impact because of the size and placement of the sound effect, centering the eye on the death of this one character. Likewise, battles feel more visceral because of well-chosen sounds and fonts that complement the action going on in the scene. Comicraft always delivers solid work, even if it could have been just slightly improved this issue.
Though Anthony Del Col is credited as the writer of this issue, other hands were at work in the creation of this comic. According to the issue’s credits, Del Col and Anne Toole were responsible for the story concept, with story consultation by Ann Lemay. Lemay is a writer and narrative designed who was involved with the Assassin’s Creed series at Ubisoft Montreal, while Toole is an Egyptologist who wrote for the Assassin’s Creed: Origins video game as well as Horizon: Zero Dawn. Presumably, Toole and Lemay were involved in assisting with series continuity as well as the historical groundwork of the time period of Origins.
Though the primary setting of the game is in Ptolemaic Egypt, this easily allows for a side adventure to the end of the Roman Republic. Since the Assassins have been involved in numerous high-profile deaths throughout history, it naturally makes sense to connect them to the assassination of Julius Caesar. This also makes historical sense, since assassination was a common political weapon during the late Roman Republic. This allows Del Col a wide tapestry to work with, and it generally works well for this comic. Though he’s most obviously influenced by Shakespeare’s version of Julius Caesar (fitting for the man who created Kill Shakespeare), it’s a reasonably fair take on the assassination and provides a good backdrop to the story he’s telling about Aya.
Centering the story around Bayek’s wife Aya is a good storytelling decision; she’s an interesting character in the game, but the player spends less time with her. This allows room for a writer to develop her and take her into some interesting directions. Moreover, it allows Del Col to show the reader who Aya is outside of her relationship with Bayek, who is the primary focus of the game. Her established relationship with Cleopatra in her Origins appearances is fleshed out somewhat further as well, though this is used more as a framing device to set up Aya’s adventure. Her character is also used well here, as Del Col explores the political reality of Caesar’s assassination; mirroring Roman history, his death only creates more problems for the flailing Republic than it solves, causing more difficulty and tension for Aya as she struggles with the growing political tensions. All in all, this works for the story Del Col is telling.
Although there are some negatives, these are mainly small nagging issues that don’t bring down the story too much. Some of them are simply anachronisms that weren’t caught in revision, such as a reference to Caesar as “emperor” (a term that wouldn’t be used in Rome in its modern context until Caesar’s nephew Augustus rose to power). Caesar himself comes across as a little too villainous in his brief appearances as well, though it could be argued that his threat to the Republic needed to be established on panel. This also probably isn’t a good book to begin with if you’ve never played an Assassin’s Creed game and especially if you’re not familiar with the world of Origins, though Del Col does his best to make the title accessible. Aside from those concerns, this is a capable script that sets Aya in a promising direction.
All in all, Assassin’s Creed: Origins is a solid video game tie-in comic that comes across as a “lost chapter” of the series. Titan Comics is putting some worthwhile effort in making their game tie-ins matter, and that shows on this title as well as on books like Bloodborne. These creators show good knowledge and passion for the game they’re working with, and that’s always a positive sign for a project like this.
Because it offers a solid introduction to Aya’s adventure, Assassin’s Creed Origins #1 earns a backstabbing 8.0/10. Although I’m willing to recommend this book at full price, it isn’t a title you should go out of your way to get if you’re not invested in the series. If you don’t know anything about Assassin’s Creed, you may have some difficulty getting into the book. If you’ve played the video game, this comic will be more worthwhile to you, since it includes a code for a blade that you can unlock within the game. Still, the idea of a Roman adventure in the world of Assassin’s Creed offers a strong concept that I hope that these creators will continue to build on.
Written By Steve Sellers
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