After introducing us to de la Cruz in its first issue—showing the upending of her world as she is introduced to the multigenerational conflict between the Brotherhood of Assassins and the Templars, as staged in aerial double backflips, hyper-exaggerated parkour, and VR trips into genetic memory because why not?—Assassin’s Creed #2 gives the reader quality time with de la Cruz’s ancestor Tom Stoddard, a man who looks a lot like Wolverine with a ponytail and who is apparently a good guy because he’s an Assassin rather than a Templar even if he doesn’t seem to care much about protecting innocents, or children, or fellow Assassins, or, well, anything.
In de la Cruz’s place, Assassin’s Creed #2 casts Jennifer Querry, an Assassin on her first mission for the Brotherhood—like de la Cruz, natch—and ancestor of Joseph, an Assassin who may or may not have betrayed the Brotherhood to the Templars and may or may not know the location of a McGuffin called The Piece of Eden.
Querry seems intended to operate, much like de la Cruz, as a point of entry into the convoluted Assassin’s Creed world, and as a way to push back against the stylized amoral violence that Stoddard embodies. There is, I believe, intended to be dramatic tension found in the fact that de la Cruz is forced to inhabit Stoddard, a man whose attitudes and actions she finds reprehensible rather than the more sympathetic Querry (who herself is the ancestor of a man in the present day who may—or may not—have more in common with Stoddard).
And I find myself with the suspicion that tension would operate much more clearly were Del Col and McCreery telling de la Cruz and Stoddard’s story through a videogame rather than a comic book. That is to say that the story framework and tools that the Assassin’s Creed comic works to adapt are perfectly at home in the broader (videogame) Assassin’s Creed universe, but the comic book medium strips the story of the illusion of agency that gameplay provides.
Charlotte de la Cruz’s lack of influence over her ancestor’s actions is par for the course for most action videogames, which task the player with performing a role in a certain fashion—mostly through killing enemies or navigating obstacles in space—in order to advance the story. In large part, this participation productively obscures a lack of agency within the story. Completing a difficult level is accomplishment enough, and in exchange for that progress, we tacitly agree to ignore the hard edges of the world.
Within the equivalent of this framework, we can assume that de la Cruz is “playing” Stoddard, directing him through the motions using whatever system the Brotherhood’s VR offers in the same fashion we direct our onscreen Assassin avatars with our keyboards and controllers. Except that viewing de la Cruz/Stoddard through a static page rather than a dynamic (if constrained) digital environment reduces the reader (and through association and functional experience, de la Cruz) to a spectator rather than a player.
In practice, I’m not sure that there’s an easy solution to this problem—after all this sort of difficulty in adaptation points to a tension between storytelling and agency that already exists in the videogame. But a solid step would be to allow de la Cruz to step out of the VR chair and take action again on her own. We’ll get there, I’m sure. Sooner would be better than later.
ASSASSIN’S CREED #2
Written by Anthony Del Col and Conor McCreery
Art by Neil Edwards
Colors by Ivan Nunes
30 pp. Titan Comics. $3.99