The birds of The Assassin’s Creed graphic novel

Posted by CB Droege

The short sequential art tale, based on the video games, is now available in hardback.

Assassin’s Creed is one of the deepest and most compelling narrative video game franchises going right now. It tells the story of bartender Desmond Miles, who discovers that he is descended from a long line of important figures in an organization called simply the Assassins, who have been waging a war with The Templars for the freedom of the world.

Throughout history, the Templars have been making moves to take over the leadership of the governments and religions of men, in order to fulfill what they see as their grand destiny to lead mankind to a golden age.

The Assassin’s stop them the best way they know how, by killing them swiftly and quietly from the shadows. The fight has waged back and forth for centuries, and Desmond finds himself at a key moment. The Templars (now called Abstergo Corp.) are searching for a powerful artifact; a Piece of Eden, a small hi-tech device left on earth by an ancient civilization which came before man.

To find it, they developed a machine, the Animus, which can analyze the genetic memories of an individual, and allow them to explore the events in the lives of their ancestors. That’s where they need Desmond. One of his distant Ancestors, Altaïr ibn-La'Ahad hid the Piece of Eden from The Templars hundreds of years ago, and they’ve never been able to find it. They force Desmond to explore the memories of Altaïr to try to discover where the artifact is hidden. Desmond must play along with the project, living Altaïr’s life in the machine, while trying to find a way to escape Abstergo in-between sessions.

The graphic novel, released in three parts late last year, starts by telling the story of Desmond’s abduction. Double agent Lucy is responsible for seducing him, and drugging him, so that Abstergo can get their hands on him. It is also she who eventually frees him, and inducts him into the ranks of the Assassins.

The books are interesting in that they offer some idea of some of what was going on while Desmond was in the Animus, and thus events that are not shown in the game. There are some illuminating conversations, for example, between Lucy and her bosses at Abstergo, showing that Desmond would have been killed early in the project if not for her intervention (arguing for his value as a test-subject).

It also illustrates some of the other subjects of the Assassins’ and Abstergo’s Animus projects. 16 is there, in the flesh, and a bit wacko, completely different from the composed and slightly snarky version of the man that Desmond meets inside the Animus in Assassin’s Creed II: Revelations. This version of 16 has been trapped outside the Animus for some time, after over-exposure of the machine drove him to a violent madness.

There is also Jonathan Hawk (bird names seem to be a thing in the lore of Assassin’s Creed), a fellow subject who was seemingly never exposed to Abstergo’s methods, and so is still quite sane, if a bit arrogant. Hawk has an ancestor who was close to one of Desmond’s and the two are able to interact both in the present and the past, where Desmond’s - and Altaïr’s - ancestor Aquilus meets up with Hawk’s ancestor Accipiter in ancient Rome, before the Assassins or the Templars have earned their names.

Hawk’s story is actually one of the most interesting parts of the book, and I wish that we’d seen a lot more of it. In fact, I would really like to see more of the other Animus subjects in general. We’ve got more than enough of Desmond’s story through the games. Some other subjects would really expand the universe and make it feel more verisimilar. They could even do an ongoing book in that vein.

Of course, the focus on Desmond also means that one must put up with some canon inconsistencies. It’s impossible to get everything right, and so there are a few details that don’t quite line up with how they are depicted in the games, or at the very least, the apparent discrepancies are not clearly explained. For example, if 16 is alive, why does the part of him trapped in the Animus database think that his body is dead in the outside world, does he just not realize? And if Desmond knows that he’s not dead (Desmond meets 16 alive before the events of Revelations), why doesn’t Desmond say anything when he meets that disembodied personality later? Canon issues are always part of cross-media promotions however, so it’s not terribly surprising.

Overall, the books are a fun, but very short, diversion that gives a bit of extra background on several key characters. It could also serve as a good introduction to the series for someone who wants to play the games, but doesn’t want to start at the beginning of the series, as the books recap the events of the first game pretty well.

The Three parts of the Assassin’s Creed graphic novel, Desmond, Aquilus, and Accipiter - each about 50 pages - are now available in hardback.