Book Review: Assassin’s Creed: Book Four: Hawk

Assassin’s Creed: Book Four: Hawk
Publisher: Titan Books
Cost: $9.99 (MSRP)/$5.99 (Amazon.com)
Page Count: 48 Pages
Release Date: 11/12/13
Get it Here: Amazon.com

So, now that the Assassin’s Creed comic series has cast off the shackles of the video game continuity, it’s time to see what the creators of the comic series can do. While the original trilogy showed that the writers could create some interesting moments, the overall package had continuity errors and couldn’t get anything going plot-wise because of how beholden it was to the core product. By detaching itself from the core series and focusing on a new character in new adventures, the logic goes, the comics could, in theory, tell a story that’s a lot more interesting overall. Well, that’s the direction we’re going in with Book Four: Hawk, as we’ve changed over from franchise protagonist Desmond Miles to comic exclusive Jonathan Hawk, and the first tale the comics aim to tell is of an Assassin in Egypt, “El Cakr” (literally, “The Hawk”), and his quest to acquire the Scepter of Aset, a Piece of Eden that does… something. No one’s really sure what it does, but it’s a Piece of Eden, so of course everyone wants it, and it falls to Hawk to dive into his ancestor’s memories and, hopefully, figure out what it does and where it might be hidden.

The story here is actually telling five separate stories at once, though it does something of a better job than the prior books. Jonathan Hawk’s story is equal parts about his work as an Assassin, digging into his ancestor’s memories while managing a neurological condition revolving around his damaged and now missing eye, which makes him unable to effectively spend more than twenty minutes in the Animus at one time, lest he stroke out. El Cakr’s tale revolves around his efforts to recover the stolen Scepter of Aset, using a combination of wits and pure Assassin physical force. The Templars are also attempting to get their hands on the Scepter, using a combination of their own resources and a spy within the Assassins who is very close to Hawk and his group. Hawk’s own Assassin group is attempting to work around Hawk’s physical issues and assemble their own information, in hopes of finding the Scepter before the Templars (who they may or may not know are even interested in it). Finally, there’s Vernon Hest, a Templar agent who has stolen Hawk’s eye (presumably to allow the Templars to go ancestor diving in Hawk’s place) and who has been called in to oppose the Assassin’s in some fashion that has yet to be revealed. We also get some cameos from the characters from the game, as we get a brief recap of Hawk’s interactions with the team from the third chapter here, though this is more for establishing of motive and function than anything else, and it’s clearly Hawk’s show from start to finish.

This book’s major focus is in setting the stage for the next few books, as there’s a lot of moving pieces into play going on here and a lot of questions are left open for later stories. That’s honestly a good thing, though, since we don’t have the backdrop of the core games to work with to establish basic questions, so anything the writers can do to create their own little mystery is worthwhile at this stage. Additionally, the book manages to establish basic characters for all of the major players here without the story feeling as cluttered as those in the previous trilogy, because it has far less to deal with overall. Since the book can assume the reader has a rough idea who the Assassins and Templars are, we instead get to focus on Hawk and El Cakr, while adding in some important details on Hest and the organizations, without having to spend pages and pages on establishing backstory and history, which gives the book a more focused presentation overall. We also don’t have to deal with the messy continuity problems the prior story had because Hawk isn’t actually a character in the games, and since we know there are other Assassin cells in the world, focusing on one of them instead makes things a lot easier for the reader and the creators.

Artistically, the book is as high quality as its predecessors, featuring well drawn character art and vibrant color work all around. The Egyptian style here comes across very well, and since we haven’t seen Egypt in the Assassin’s Creed series as of yet, this actually gives the book a unique feel that it lacked in the prior stories, even with the tale of Aquilus as the backdrop. Hawk and El Cakr are also interesting protagonists, and while Hawk is dressed in a fashion that actually feels somewhat silly in context (he looks like a greying Adam Jensen basically), he comes off as likable and flawed enough that we as the readers can like him and root for him without his success being guaranteed. Also, the plot actually does something with the dangling thread of “this Piece of Eden is lost at the bottom of the ocean” bit from the last story, by explaining that no, it wasn’t after all, so we’re not left feeling like that storyline was a complete wash. Finally, one gets the distinct impression that something interesting is going to come of the Hest/Hawk buildup that might amount to more than a lot of talking and Animus diving, perhaps involving an actual physical confrontation between a modern Assassin and a modern Templar, in a way that isn’t just raising the Apple and making everyone kill themselves. One gets the impression that, unshackled from the plot of the games, the writers are trying to make something worth reading on its own merits, and so far, they’re not doing a bad job.

On the downside, the plot could’ve done a little more to keep some of its cards closer to its chest. We’re told who the mole in the Assassin order is in the very first issue instead of letting that be drawn out a bit like it was in the second chapter, but it would work far better here since we have no idea who any of these characters are and, thus, have no reason to trust them. Building up a few characters and making one of them the traitor would have been more effective than telling us who the traitor is in the first chapter, and would’ve made a nice mystery to work with. Also, the theft of Hawk’s eye isn’t a particularly surprising thing if you’ve played Assassin’s Creed IV, as it basically means the Templars will be able to exploit it to go Animus diving into El Cakr’s history on their own. The fact that they’ve established that its means of transmission is unsecure implies that more might be done with that thread, and we certainly have some mysteries to work with to be sure, but giving us less to work with might have done more good than telling us as much as we know, since the only significant mystery that’s left to chance at the end of the chapter isn’t a big one unless it’s going to be a very short series.

In a lot of respects, Book Four: Hawk is a marked improvement over The Ankh of Isis Trilogy. While the artwork is as excellent as ever, the book does a much better job of telling a clean, understandable story, and the characters are given more room to grow and exist when unshackled from the plot of the series. Hawk is a likable enough protagonist to work with, and the Hawk and Hest undercurrent that implies an eventual confrontation is neat to see, since it means that the plot is (hopefully) building to something interesting. The El Cakr storyline is also interesting and brings some much needed variance and originality to the comics, and feels like a breath of fresh air in comparison to the comic stories that preceded it. Hawk looks a bit too much like a live action video game character to be believable, mind you, and the plot would have done better to have kept some of its mysteries to itself for another issue or two, but overall, what’s here works pretty well, and it’s easy enough to recommend the book to more casual fans of the series instead of the diehards only. Even at the full retail price Assassin’s Creed: Book Four: Hawk isn’t a bad acquisition, and if you can find it at a discount it’s almost certainly worth checking out. If the rest of this series can keep up with this first chapter, it’ll likely be a worthwhile addition to the series narrative, and if nothing else, give Ubisoft more to work with overall as they develop the franchise narrative.

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