Once Upon a Time in Templar China.
Titan Comics’ latest Assassin’s Creed project has several big selling points right out of the gate. For one thing, it explores the other side of the centuries old conflict between the Assassins and the Templars. For another, it features an intriguing setting in the form of 1920’s-era China. Finally, and appropriately given that distinctive setting, it reunites the creative team behind Marvel’s X-Men Noir comics, writer Fred Van Lente and artist Dennis Calero. All of these qualities combine to form a worthwhile comic for any Assassin’s Creed lover or anyone who loves a little pulpy action.
This mini-series aims to shed a little more light on the Templars and humanize this shadowy group of control-obsessed masterminds. This first issue focuses on both the Black Cross, a mysterious Templar killer who bears more than a passing resemblance to The Shadow, and Darrius, a destitute college student who is selected to carry out a dangerous mission for the Templars. The stark contrast between these protagonists is enough to make the story interesting. And while Black Cross is kept at arm’s length for the entirety of this issue, with little insight into his personality or motivations, Darrius quickly becomes a fully realized character with his own desires and foibles. If the goal of this series is to show a human side to the antagonists of the Assassin’s Creed series, it’s succeeding.
Who better than Calero to bring the world of 1927 Shanghai to life? Calero’s noir-flavored art style is a perfect fit for this story. It’s moody, slightly surreal and very apt at channeling the swanky exterior and seedy underbelly of the Templar world. And while Calero’s coloring style isn’t quite as lush or surreal as seen in X-Men Noir, the colors enhance the moody tone of the art well. [note – the review has been corrected to reflect the fact that Calero colored the issue]
All that said, this issue does become overly murky and jumbled at times. Some of Calero’s figures suffer from wonky perspective choices, and in some panels it can be difficult to distinguish one character from another. A little more storytelling clarity would go a long way in future issues.