With no Assassin’s Creed game this year (for once), I’ve been trying to catch up on some of the expanded universe stuff. Here’s one I’m particularly fond of: Assassin’s Creed: The Fall!
Assassin’s Creed: The Fall explores a new chapter in the Assassin-Templar conflict. It tells the parallel stories of Daniel Cross, a deeply troubled young man in the late nineties, and Nikolai Orelov, his Assassin ancestor from Tsarist Russia. Telling a story that spans decades where empires fall and friendships shatter, it tells a self-contained story that sows some majors seeds for the future of the series.
First off, let me start this review by saying Assassin’s Creed: The Fall is a fantastic comic book. That, by itself, is extremely impressive. Video games don’t often result in good comic books, with most adaptions being weak efforts to cash in on a product. This miniseries, however, is very different. It is the result of Ubisoft hiring two award-winning professionals who know the trade inside-out and letting them make a great comic.
Cameron Stewart and Karl Kerschl handle both the art and writing of the project, and they work fantastically together. Kerschl handles the modern day, and Stewart the past. They both have quite similar styles of art, helping the comic to keep a consistent artistic tone and vision in a way that many dual-artist works lack. They are also stylistically different enough to help the two feel like separate stories. Kerschl lends his harsher style to the gritty adventures of Nikolai Orelov, while Stewart uses smoother art styles on the modern day setting of 1998. It’s clear that the creative team worked together on all aspects of the art, making sure that the story flowed from panel to panel while looking fantastic.
The colourist, Nadine Thomas, also does great work. She always has the right palette of colours for the right situation. Neon pinks and sickly greens contrast with dark reds during a club scene to create an eerie, unnerving atmosphere, lush greens and blues create a calming effect for the Assassin’s compound, and the expected snow whites and cool blues cover Russia. I very much hope that Nadine Thomas sticks around for future AC graphic novels, because she is a truly talented colourist.
And the story itself is fantastic! It manages to balance telling its own story with being part of a franchise spectacularly. It stands alone while feeling important to the series and more importantly it feels like an Assassin’s Creed story. The historical parts have the combination of historical tourism and iconic scenery and events fans of the games love, along with the rollicking action and even a little freerunning from Orelov. The modern day has that combination of conspiracy paranoia and sci-fi action that some of us love so much. Nikolai’s story is action-packed, but also dark and gritty.
The characterisation is deft, and you feel like you know the basics of Orelov and Cross after their first scenes – Orelov starts off idealistic but unsure, Cross starts off jaded and troubled. Getting to know your characters quickly is vital for such a short series, and Kerschl and Stewart do an admirable job of throwing us into the story. The characterisation mostly stays consistent across the three issues and many years of development, leading to both stories feeling extremely satisfying. This especially applies to Orelov’s plot, which has a great payoff that feels very natural to his character.
The story also manages to balance its fanservice fantastically. It doesn’t fall prey to a lot of extended-universe tropes and flaws, where namedrops are happening every two seconds to remind you that THIS IS IN THE SAME UNIVERSE AS THE FRANCHISE HAVE YOU NOTICED YET. Desmond Miles never appears or is mentioned, and only a couple of characters from the games make cameos. Thises it accessible to casual fans or people who’ve never played an Assassin’s Creed game. Thanks to some well-placed exposition, The Fall can be picked up and read by anyone.
While Daniel and Orelov’s stories are both fantastic, The Fall suffers at times from feeling a bit disjointed. There are times when Orelov’s story intrudes awkwardly on Daniel’s. This may have been the point, but it still leads to one weird place in the first issue where Daniel’s plot just kind of hangs until Orelov’s lengthy action sequence ends.
The modern-day story also suffers from an odd pace due to the three-issue structure of the miniseries. While Orelov’s plot fares fairly well under the necessary timeskips due to the historical nature of that story, Daniel’s doesn’t. The events of the first two issues happen one-after another, but in between issue #2 and #3 there is a timeskip of months. Timeskips are worrying at the best of times, but Cross has some significant emotional and physical development that we never get to see, and I feel that some time at least should have been devoted to it. His character does a 180 in the space between the issues and we never get to see why? Bit cheap. The anti-Bush commentary is also a little too on the nose at times.
Orelov’s story is perfect though. It’s great.
Stray thoughts (SPOILERS):
The Fall focuses in on themes of family and choice. Nikolai has become an Assassin not because of his own ideals, but because of the ideals of his father. Once his father dies, he no longer is sure of himself and is motivated by guilt. This struggle eventually leads to him choosing to opt out of the Assassins altogether, finding a new life in America with his family. Meanwhile, Cross starts out utterly alone, finds a family (and a love interest) in the Assassins, but then betrays them – ending the story utterly alone. The way that the two stories parallel each other is fascinating. As Orelov chooses to put his family above everything and leave behind his father’s ideals, Cross has no choice but to follow his ‘father’ Warren Vidic’s plan to kill the Assassins. There’s some really nice thematic elements here, and they don’t stop there.
The story of Daniel Cross and Orelov also parallels the story of Desmond Miles and his ancestors. Like Desmond, Daniel is troubled and wants to escape his destiny. He’s kidnapped by an organisation (the Assassins, rather than Abstergo) and forced to relive his memories for the ‘greater good’. He’s got a destiny that he can’t escape, no matter how hard he tries. Like Altair, Orelov comes into contact with a Piece of Eden but his quest for knowledge brings him great pain. Like Ezio, Orelov is spurred on by his family and eventually leaves the Assassins to be with them (like Ezio, he won’t be able to get away that easily). These parallels serve to highlight the differences between them. Daniel is a lot more tragic than Desmond, while Orelov resigns from the Assassins on much worse terms than Ezio.
Assassin’s Creed: The Fall is an amazing tale that stands up there with the best video-game comics ever. It introduces important lore to the saga, while telling a story that stands on its own fantastically. I’d recommend it any casual or hardcore Assassin’s Creed fan, and any fans of comic books that want a sci-fi/action/historical yarn outside superhero fare. I’m giving The Fall
Nine sneaky stabs out of ten.
(Note: I read this graphic novel on the Assassin’s Creed Comics official app. While it only contains The Fall, it’s the cheapest way of picking up the story by far and also comes with fun extras like the teaser for the miniseries, a six-minute behind-the-scenes of the comic video and the uncoloured pages for every page in the series, which are fantastic extras for the asking price. While this review is for the comic, not the app, I heartily recommend it. Shame the sequel The Chain and Brahman didn’t get released this way.)