Tony Black reviews Assassin’s Creed: Trial By Fire…
Charlotte de la Cruz is over-educated and underemployed, wasting her time in a dead-end job in San Diego, and spending her free time chasing down conspiracy theories on the dark side of the internet.
When a real-life conspiracy crashes into her life, she’s pulled into the orbit of the Assassins, a mysterious organisation of principled killers with roots stretching back thousands of years – and users of the stolen Animus technology, which allows them to experience the memories of their ancestors as if they were there!
Charlotte has a secret in her blood… the genetic memory of an ancestor who was in Salem at the time of the infamous witch trials: Tom Stoddard, an Assassin who witnessed a dark act with repercussions for the present day!
As Charlotte is trained in the Assassins’ art, and as she begins to investigate the life of her ancestor… the forces of the Templar Order move against her. Will Charlotte learn the skills she needs to survive, and the truth she needs to prove her worth – before the Templars silence her forever?!
A collection of the first five issues from Titan Comics new Assassin’s Creed run, Trial by Fire serves very much not just as a beginning for the franchise under a new publisher but a worthy introduction to the entire concept for anyone who may not be a gamer and familiar with its multi-game origins on numerous consoles, and it’s possible future on the big screen if the upcoming movie translation takes off. Writers Anthony del Col & Conor McCreery, alongside talented artist Neil Edwards, successfully bring to life Ubisoft’s series which of course explores a modern day conspiracy alongside numerous, varied sojourns into historical time periods thanks to the Animus, a piece of technology that can access the genetic memories of lines connected to the Assassins and their world-controlling enemies, the Templars.
Chances are, of course, if you’re reading the comics, you don’t need much of a primer into the world, but nonetheless the first issue gives you one alongside the introduction and origin of our new heroine, Charlotte de a Cruz, an ambitious, strong-minded and sassy protagonist who we first meet playing an Animus-esque VR game as an Assassin in the 19th century Gold Rush, and soon finds herself plunged headlong into the war between the Brotherhood of Assassins and the Templars. Said first issue primarily concentrates on introducing Charlotte and the modern day players around her – Brotherhood team leader Xavier Chen, the slightly antagonistic team member Galina Voronina, and their geeky technician Kody. They admittedly fall into numerous stereotypes pretty quickly, but they serve a purpose, though the biggest surprise is how Templar-like in her views Charlotte is at the beginning of her story, on the verge of being unlikeable as she attempts to gain employment at Abstergo Industries, the conglomerate cover for the Templars in the modern day.
Her transformation begins pretty swiftly through the Animus, of course, as she settles into the time period the first arc covers – 1692, Salem, Massachusetts, a place infamous for the deaths of many innocent young women under the accusation of witchcraft, which stamped it’s way into cultural history as a byword for injustice (and the final issue gives a handy real life history primer of some depth at the end). It’s an ominous, appropriate setting for an Assassin’s Creed story, Edwards drawing lots of low sunsets and dark shadows around the Puritanical town, which is deeper explored in the second issue as Charlotte encounters her genetic ancestor – trained Assassin, Tom Stoddard, a British man on a dedicated mission in Salem, which connects back to the mythology of the series.
The final three issues are then on course to fuse together a healthy balance of historical intrigue and modern day conspiracy, as the Brotherhood attempt to blend memories of the past with actions in the future in attempting to root out a possible traitor on the side of the Templars, allowing del Col & McCreery to do what the AC series enjoys doing so well – using multiple time periods as a connective to tell an overarching narrative, and in this they succeed while setting pieces in place to move on from Salem but keep Charlotte’s story alive. Crucially, the Salem narrative never seems throwaway; Stoddard is a complicated, rounded individual with shades of moral grey the series enjoys exploring so well, and through him the writers & artist neatly manage to explore the injustice regarding how women in Salem were treated and weave that into Assassins/Templar lore without it feeling forced.
As per the games, the story also manages to weave in a significant historical figure as the villain of the piece – Reverend Samuel Parris, the infamous Puritan minister central to the witch trials, who much like other successful figures woven into the AC tapestry, you can totally buy being part of the Templar Order’s devilish schemes. The writers even manage to get numerous references and allusions to Dante’s Inferno into the piece, further selling the underlying historical fears of God and the Devil, which help to lend credence and grounding to the historical time period. Salem may not be evocative for an open world game, but it has enough historical resonance to make for a strong story.
On the whole, Trial by Fire is a solid five issue beginning for Assassin’s Creed under Titan, and very much worth embracing and enjoying in one protracted sitting as a fun, engaging read. Crucially, you can enter the AC world and enjoy it even if you know little about the franchise or have never played the games, and should you be interested in global conspiracy, arcane history and action, it’s a great series to become invested in, with a huge, rippling, fascinating mythology underpinning it. With vibrant, clean, often beautiful artwork and enjoyable–if at times cliched–writing and characterisation, Trial by Fire is well worth picking up and starting the journey with Charlotte de la Cruz.
Tony Black is a freelance film/TV writer & podcaster & would love you to follow him on Twitter.