‘Assassin’s Creed: Templars #1’ - Comic Book Review

Assassin's Creed is a licensed property that gained in popularity back in 2007 with the release of the video game by the same name and available on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. The novelizations, written by Oliver Bowden, followed in 2009; the eighth book in the series was released last November. And, later this year, fans will be treated to an action/adventure film which will expand the existing universe. Templars is the second ongoing comic book series offered by Titan Comics. Written by Fred Van Lente (Marvel Zombies, Iron Man), the first story arc is set in 1927 and features a mysterious Templar going by the name Black Cross. Rounding out the creative team of the first five issues are artist Dennis Calero (Cowboys & Aliens, X-Men Noir) who illustrates and colors the interiors as well as creates two alternate covers and Comicraft's Jimmy Betancourt and Richard Starkings on lettering.

Given the breath of the Assassin's Creed universe, the first issue provides a brief, two-page summary of the Templars and Assassin Brotherhood at the back of the book. If this is the reader's first foray into this IP, then reading the high-level overview is advantageous, but not required. The greed and misappropriation of the reputation of the secret society is introduced in the opening pages and sets up the main protagonist's, Darius Gift, journey to Shanghai. The choice of year, 1927, is an interesting one; Shanghai was the recipient of a massive influx of Jewish refugees fleeing Europe and Russia as well as being elevated to a municipality by China by July of that same year. It is both an intriguing period of time in world affairs as well as an exotic locale that is not often visited in comic books. It lends to the mysteriousness that readers experience in the first issue. Van Lente's set up is efficient and provocative, introducing readers to the secret society and the Templar named Black Cross.

As mentioned above, the art and colors were completed by Calero. The layouts were clean and the panels easy to follow. Calero saves the first full-page spread for the dramatic entrance of Black Cross; the colors have been dulled to sepia, grey, and white, and from the low angle that Calero employs, he accentuates the powerful and menacing presence of Black Cross as he faces down the greedy Thaddeus Gift. Calero uses one two-page spread to introduce the port city of Shanghai, and he utilizes warm oranges and yellows to showcase the blue and pink-colored seagull and a map of the Far East and Asia. Calero also incorporated subtle details, such as the reflection of Black Cross' calling card in Gift's eyes and then the not-so-subtle divine dome above Master Ferris' head in a panel partway through the issue. The one small negative to Calero's art is the sometimes awkward facial features for Thaddeus Gift. In one panel, his eyes are crossed and his mouth appears to have cockeyed teeth. Generally, it seems that he is the one character in the story that troubled Calero, because Darius looked in proportion and similar from one panel to the next.

Lettering should never draw attention to itself. Under the capable skills of Starkings and Betancourt, the location of the speech bubbles, dialogue text, and narrative rectangles are all exceptional. The sound effects text stand out so they're not lost into the background, nor do they glaring say, “Look at me!” Instead, the effects complement the action unfolding in the panel and page. Again, a particularly good page layout is the two-page spread introducing Shanghai. The narratives that cascade along the left-hand side of the page lead the eye down and follow across the outstretched wings of the bird to the right-hand side of the page, where the eye drops down into the inset image and the last narrative text. The foreign language texts are also handled well, just as expected.

The first issue of Templars established the story's foundation, and it remains to be seen what direction Van Lente will take. Other than the bobble of the elder Gift character, the art and colors are concise and lend to the mystery of the tale. The lettering is spot on. For those who are fans of the Assassin's Creed universe or are curious, this is a good place to start, since this is a stand alone series. Of course, having some working knowledge of the IP would enhance the reading experience. 

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