Written by Fred Van Lente | Art by Dennis Calero | Published by Titan Comics | Format: Paperback, 32pp
The good thing about the Assassin’s Creed universe is that it has almost unlimited potential for stories, due to the Assassins Guild/ Templar Order feud running down through the centuries. You can pretty much use any era, any country, any historical events you wish. As if that wasn’t fertile ground enough, you also have the moral ambiguity of both sides; neither the Templars nor the Assassins Guild are the ‘bad guys’, both operate firmly in a shade of grey and in fact both believe they are the ‘good guys’. Aptly enough for a series of games, books, comics etc called Assassin’s Creed, most have been content to focus on the Assassins side. This series has decided to shine the spotlight on the Templars, and in particular a Templar called Black Cross.
The first issue of Assassin’s Creed: Templars wastes no time in setting the scene and introducing us to Black Cross, who it appears is the enforcer for the Templar Grand Masters, tasked with rooting out corruption in the Order. We open in London, in 1927, as a rather nasty corrupt Templar, Thaddeus Gift, is shown the error of his ways. As well as being a strong sequence to begin the book, the chase and dialogue also give us an insight into Black Cross, his missions and his belief in the purity of the Templar cause. His victims last words are to warn him that all the promises of the Grand Masters will ultimately come to nothing. This leaves us in no doubt that the Templars have as many divisions in their ranks as those we have seen in the Assassins in previous games and stories, something later events reinforce further.
The focus then shifts to Thaddeus’s son, Darius, who is given the opportunity to save his families standing in the Order by undertaking a mission to Shanghai, which he has no choice but to accept. Shanghai at this time is a very dangerous place, with oppressive colonial rule and rebellion simmering in the background. The rather naive Darius soon finds himself well out of his depth, and easily played by a club ‘dancer’, Roo. Just as Darius seems to be getting into even more trouble, Black Cross appears to dispose of yet more people. Is he after Darius as well, or protecting him? We’ll have to wait until next issue to see as that is the last page teaser we are left with.
As first issues go, this was not bad at all. Titan have an excellent creative team in place in Fred Van Lente and Dennis Calero, both having lots of comic book work under their belts, notably for Marvel Comics. Although the plot did feel a little disjointed at times, Van Lente’s writing was strong enough to pull us through and his ear for dialogue was not bad either. Possibly my main grumble was that the Black Cross (seemingly inspired by 1930′s s pulp heroes like The Shadow) almost felt like a plot device. His killing of Darius’s father was the deus ex machina that sent Darius to Shanghai, and it then seems we are following Darius’s story not that of Black Cross. This may be addressed in later issues, but all feels a little contrived and convenient at the moment.
The art by Dennis Calero was excellent. Very moody, nicely enhanced by muted colours, well paced and with some nice big splashes. He captures the ambience of both London and Shanghai very well and, rather like a cinematographer, uses some interesting and varied angles for his panels. This is a man who can draw any future Shadow book, that’s for sure.
Although lacking a little depth, and perhaps more even pacing would help, this is a promising start to what is an interesting new take on the Assassins Creed universe. Black Cross retains his mystery, which I assume is intentional, and Darius seems set to go from one disaster to another, something you assume the Templars knew was going to happen. Who is playing who, and why?
I’m more than happy to come back and find out.
Assassin’s Creed: Templars #1 is out now from Titan Comics