There's an Assassin's Creed movie out, but it appears the franchise's biggest event is the relaunch of its comic book series, bringing together the storylines and pasts of the various games and comic books.
Relaunching this February from Titan Comics, the new Assassin's Creed comic book title follows in the wake of the Shroud of Eden catastrophe from the last series as the remaining present-day Assassins regroup and recruit.
Newsarama talked with series writers Alex Paknadel and Dan Watters, along with artist Jose Holder, about the new series, operating in the shadow of the games and the film, and the dynamic continuity of it all.
Newsarama: So Dan, Alex, and Jose, Assassin's Creed is getting a relaunch after issue #14, but not a reboot - right?
Alex Paknadel: I’d describe it as a culmination. This is the series where the storylines established by Fred Van Lente and Dennis Calero in Assassin's Creed: Templars and Anthony Del Col and Conor McCreery's previous Assassin's Creed title are finally combined and folded into the game continuity in a very visible and lasting way. Thanks their hard work we’re finally getting to play with some of Ubisoft’s biggest toys here.
Dan Watters: This is absolutely a new series in that it has its own focus; a new set of characters joining those already established in both comic series and a new major threat to be dealt with that has been lurking beneath the surface during both the games and previous comic series.
As Alex says we're jumping off from all of these, so hopefully our book should be really satisfying for those who've been following those narratives, while remaining an action-packed sci-fi thriller for those jumping on here.
Nrama: You don't have a solo character point of view but rather this is almost like a team book featuring characters such as Black Cross, Galina, and Kiyoshi. Why was it important to feature these characters instead of one sole protagonist this time around?
Paknadel: Well, to begin with I think they’re fantastic characters and we’re really enjoying getting to know them. The scenes between Arend and Kiyoshi are so much fun to write because they’re both extremely dry guys.
When you take established characters who maybe haven’t met or interacted at length then it’s almost like a controlled experiment - even though you’re writing them you aren’t really sure how they’ll interact until you put them in a situation together. It’s a terrible cliché, I know, but when you have strong characters to work with the interactions really do write themselves.
As for this being a team book, Ubisoft and Titan wanted to raise the stakes with this book. Charlotte’s been a point-of-view character for thousands of comic book readers who may have been unfamiliar with the property, but now that everyone’s up to speed it’s time to join the in-game continuity in a major way. A team book is the shortest distance between two points if your objective is to go big, so that’s exactly what we’re doing.
Watters: The size of the team that's been assembled is representative of the threat that is being levelled against both Assassins and Templars- an ordinary Assassin cell isn't going to get the job done here.
The Assassin’s Creed franchise has also been a great opportunity to draw a team from all around the globe. None of our Assassins really come from the same background, and yet they're pushing forward with a common goal, towards what they consider to be the betterment of mankind – and it's really interesting to have so many perspectives to look through their eyes and see exactly what the Assassins and the Templars and this clandestine war mean to them as people. Even those of us on the same side rarely see things in exactly the same way, and a team book really gives us the opportunity to do that.
Jose Holder: The most fun for me with this story, is striking a chord with characters that feels rich and expansive. It’s exciting to explore their team dynamic, how they interact, on the battlefield and off.
Nrama: Will this be tied to the movie in any way? Because it definitely looks like the Phoenix Project is involved...
Paknadel: The story does play along with the movie continuity. The great thing about Ubisoft’s treatment of theAssassin’s Creed universe is that it’s all canon. But you won’t see Callum Lynch or Alan Rikkin cropping up in the book anytime soon.
As for the Phoenix Project, that’s where we’ve really been given the keys to dad’s Corvette, so to speak.
Ubisoft cares about the movies, novels, comics and games equally - it’s one expansive world told in different methods. They told us to really lean into the Phoenix Project for this series, so that’s exactly what we’re doing. This book isn’t off in its own peripheral side-continuity here; this is a major storyline that will tie up a number of loose ends and bring pivotal developments seeded in the games to fruition.
We're closely tied to the last three console games however, and are really excited to be expanding on characters that have been touched on but perhaps not been shown in full action yet.
We also have some major stuff in store that we think is also going to be a big surprise for fans of all the games as a whole - some ghosts from the past thought to be dead and buried are going to come back to haunt the Assassins in a major way.
Nrama: Jose, there has to be a lot of architecture involved with backgrounds, did you do a lot of research about these landscapes to get them just right?
Holder: Location, location, location! On this title research is both a challenge and a necessity. And one of the things that drew me wholeheartedly to this project andAssassin’s Creed is the international potential and diversity.
Nrama: All of you have a certain history with creator-owned projects like Dan, you and Limbo from Image; Alex you and Arcadia; and Jose, you worked on RPM back in the day from 12 Gauge, so what was the appeal for you guys to do something likeAssassin's Creed?
Paknadel: Well, I was desperate to cut my teeth on a licensed book after doing two creator-owned books for BOOM! Studios. You’re always standing on the shoulders of giants when you sit down to write anything, but writing licensed material really throws that principle into sharp relief. There are fan expectations to consider first and foremost, but then you have to discuss what’s desirable and possible with the licensor. Ubisoft has been frighteningly accommodating to Dan and I, often urging us to push our most off-the-wall ideas even further. That said, the Assassin’s Creed universe is so established that it has its own rules and arcane bylaws.
One cutscene from a game from the last decade can contradict and/or derail your story entirely, but that detective work is all part of the fun. Dan and I get a real kick out of working with established characters because it means we can cold open a lot more, you know? Hiding exposition is by far and away the most challenging aspect of storytelling, but with this book the foundations have already been laid. Dan and I can hit the ground at a sprint for the first time, which is really freeing.
Watters: There's something exciting about being a link in an ever-expanding world, to build on-top of a rich mythos and put our own mark on it. Alex and I see a lot of value in the - oh so stabby - dialogue between the Assassins and Templars that has been built by so many writers before us, so to be able to approach that with our own ideas is a great opportunity, and such a very different challenge to creating a world from the ground up.
With Limbo, the entire world we were creating was intended to serve the story that we were telling, and there's a certain terror to that level of freedom- some issues went through 12 drafts, some of which bent off in entirely different directions. Assassin's Creed is a chance to flex an entirely different set of creative muscles, to get right down into the nitty gritty and comment on already extant structures.
Holder: I’d say it’s the gargantuan task of wanting to please Assassin’s Creed’s wildly passionate fan base. As a fan, drawing the things I’d love to see makes the experience even cooler!
Nrama: Can you talk about the first arc and where you're going with it? There's mentioning of a new world order.
Paknadel: We can’t give too much away, obviously, but I can say that Otso Berg’s search for the Koh-i-Noor is going to bring him into uncomfortably close quarters with Charlotte’s new Assassin cell. The Assassins and the Templars’ visions of utopia are totally incompatible, but they’re both sincere in their commitment to the betterment of humanity. The big question is what happens when a new (very old) player joins the game who doesn’t necessarily share their high regard for the human race?
Watters: Our first arc is primarily set in the modern day, with limited trips in the Animus, when we do use it, I think it's in a pretty unique way. Though we have some serious twists and turns planned, I think people will really see the approach we're going for when they read the first issue. We're very much starting on a statement of intent.
Nrama: How will these characters interact with one another this time around? Especially since the Shroud of Eden event didn't go so great.
Paknadel: A lot of grudges are ripe for exploration, certainly. Arend and Galina both have considerable scores to settle with Otso Berg, so we’ll be doubling down on that when the time is right. We’re also having a lot of fun establishing a relationship between Charlotte and new recruit My’shell. We’ve jumped forward in time here, so Charlotte’s a bit more jaded and battle-weary than she was in Anthony and Conor’s series.
Ubisoft have always resisted the simple “Assassins good, Templars bad” reading of this ancient conflict, and with good reason: we little people live in the grey area between control and freedom. We instinctively gravitate towards freedom because it gets all the good press, but total freedom isn’t always desirable. If we give free rein to our darkest impulses then suddenly the world becomes a very frightening place. Against this chaotic background, Charlotte begins to see the flaws in the Creed and she’s not going to bite her tongue when she thinks something’s rotten.
Watters: Accountability is a major theme throughout our whole series. There are wrongs to be righted and reckonings on the horizon. Both Assassins and Templars are organizations that have operated throughout history from the shadows – and that means that there has been no-one but themselves keeping them in check or on track. Bringing in an exterior threat is a chance to make members on both sides question everything that they presumed they already knew about their organizations and their own personal ideologies – you can imagine the conflict this situation will present itself.
Nrama: Lastly. what are you excited for readers to experience with this new Assassin’s Creed title?
Holder: Dan and Alex have me in the trenches drawing some pulse-pounding pages! Can’t wait to share the results with you guys in 2017!
Paknadel: Jumping. Stabbing. Exploding. Thinking. In that order.