Assassin’s Creed: Reflections
Ian Edginton (Writer),Valeria Favoccia (Artist), Giorgia Sposito (Inker), Carlos Lopez (Colorist)
September 23, 2017
This articles contains spoilers for the Assassin’s Creed II game and Assassin’s Creed: Reflections.
For those who may not be familiar with the Assassin’s Creed game series from Ubisoft, it is a tale of the Templars and the Assassins, two secret societies at war throughout history, across countries, generations, and landscapes. The story is based on the idea that a mysterious technology company called Abstergo Industries builds software that reads the DNA of the Assassins’ ancestors and helps the company to create interactive programs with these “ancestral memories.”
Throughout the games, players have a chance to be multiple characters, each one with a unique link to their ancestors’ past, as well as the past of the Assassins and Templars. The series is popular amongst gamers and has generated 19 games on 11 platforms over 10 years, along with a dozen graphic novels and even a feature film starring Michael Fassbender. Assassin’s Creed: Reflections is a four-part miniseries created to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the original Ubisoft game title, and 10 years of Assassin’s Creed.
Reflections looks back on the lives of four of the greatest Assassins the Templars know of. Juhani Berg, a side character in several Assassin’s Creed games and graphic novels, is visiting Abstergo Industries as part of his job to find out more about the weaknesses of the Assassins. The comic indicates that a secret Templar order called The Black Cross has made Berg one of their newest members. Oddly, there is no interaction with anyone else from The Black Cross in the entire comic.
It is clear from the beginning that Berg suspects that love for friends and family is the “weakness” of the Assassins. The first “reflection” (flashback, truly) looks back through the eyes of Ezio, the central figure in the Assassin’s Creed II game, and other related titles. The comics begin with a story of Ezio and his great friend Leonardo da Vinci. This isn’t a far fetch because Ezio gains da Vinci as an ally in his original storyline. The story of the two of them meeting as old friends makes sense, although what follows makes a lot less sense.
When I first started reading this particular story, it felt unbelievable to think that Ezio somehow met Lisa del Giocondo (the model in the Mona Lisa painting) and fell in love with her. Not only is this improbable, his attitude in the comic is also improbable. Ezio is a man of honor; in the game he is on a mission to discover and expose a plot to kill the Medici family, pinned wrongfully onto his innocent father who was hanged as a result. He is not in the middle of a barn with a beautiful married woman in his arms. That is not the nature of a man learning to be an Assassin, nor the story of two factions at war for the control of history.
But, somehow, Ezio’s secret romance led to the perfect Mona Lisa facial expression, because Lisa del Giocondo looked at him just right while da Vinci painted her. Perhaps it was a nod to the ’80s film Somewhere in Time. It just seemed out of place, too romantic for Assassin’s Creed, and far too sappy for Ezio. Perhaps that’s why it was portrayed as a memory that two old men were sharing together, to give a backdrop that might allow for some romanticism of the past. It was strange to be taken out of the Assassin’s Creed universe and its utter seriousness (they are dedicated trained killers, after all) for the sake of this story. It seemed to set a tone for the rest of the comics in this collection.
The second story is about Altair, the central figure in the Assassin’s Creed II game. It is similar to the first in its odd emotional arc. There are several missteps during an assassination, which the Assassins are traditionally careful to avoid. Berg is looking for emotional weakness in the history of the Assassins, so it’s possible that’s why there’s so much personal attachment and romance involved in these reflections. It doesn’t feel true to the character of Altair or of Ezio to put personal desires before duty and action.
Speaking of action, I will say this: the action sequences are very well executed. The variety of action sequences, with characters exploding out of panels into the frays, is skillfully done. The art makes the action easy to follow. Valeria Favoccia’s clean lines followed by Giorgia Sposito’s additional inks make the prominent outlines dark, bold. Shadow is a definitive influence in the collaborative mixture of Favoccia’s and Sposito’s work.
Onward with Berg’s research for The Black Cross. Edward Kenway’s reflection was third, a story that felt more true to the character. His story ends on a note about treasure, something that is always on Kenway’s mind, even as he becomes an Assassin in Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag. It was also interesting to see the use of a diving bell in the story, something that is an engaging part of playing Black Flag itself. These little nods to the game story makes Kenway and his narrative more believable. Colors are earthy in this reflection, like Kenway’s personality, except for the beautifully chosen bright blues and subtle greens of the ink-washed skies. Even prettier were the colors that are something between blue and green, something both and neither.
We get more of surly, scarred Berg’s comments on the whole reflection, which feel somewhat obvious at times, and then we move on to the story of the Native American Assassin from the Mohawk people, Ratonhnhaké:ton/Connor. The fourth reflection feels somewhat true to character in its themes and its portrayal of Ratonhnhaké:ton. He is bent on teaching a future Assassin, and he has the intelligence to recognize the gift in his daughter. This motivation to perpetuate the Assassins’ historic hunt by teaching his daughter to participate feels right.
Finally we get to see a non-romantic female character in this collection: Io:nhiòte! She is Connor’s daughter, never before seen in any of the games or stories. This is her debut comic, and though she was created to represent her father’s “weakness,” she is clearly a sharp and determined young lady. It’s refreshing to see Io:nhiòte front and center in the story. The great talent that Favoccia has for portraying action continues in this hunting tale. Admittedly, this is another comic in Reflections that has almost nothing to do with the original storylines or the games. Despite Connor’s motivations to train a young Assassin, there is little in his game character to support the kind of nurturing anxiety that he has as a father in Reflections.
That’s the end of Berg’s review of the Assassins’ weak points throughout history. All involving family, or lovers, or close friends in some way. What’s interesting about this entire comic is that it culminates in a scene that reveals more about Berg to the reader, and it makes sense at last why all of these “reflections” have been important to him to review. It was not something I expected when I read it, so it made me reflect on what I had just read in a different way.
In the end, in each “reflection,” it is clear that the comics are too compassionate for Assassin’s Creed. They are well drawn; the art and coloring are handled with care. The action scenes are more evocative than the emotional ones. Warm earth tones within the memories distinguish them from the cold, blue backdrop of the rooms Berg visits at Abstergo to access the Animus. This is a comic that is skillfully put together. Yet, it still feels tertiary to the world of Assassin’s Creed.
The Assassins have weaknesses as a group, and they are all related to one another by blood. So along the line, someone must have had a lover, had children, or had a wife. We already know some of the men along the line did. An Assassin’s Creed comics collection with an overall family-related theme just feels strange. The Assassins are family in that world. They are the Brotherhood, they support one another, and live and die for one another and for history. That is what family comes to mean to each of the central characters in the games.
Overall, though it was enjoyable, this felt more like a fan comic than a vital piece of canon that would have any influence on Assassin’s Creed history. More’s the pity, I’d love to play Io:nhiòte as an Assassin!