Comic Picks By The Glick

Batman: Arkham City/Assassin’s Creed: The Fall

July 22, 2012

It’s a well-known fact that most videogame adaptations, or tie-in comics are not worth the paper that they’re printed on.  Either they’re hamstrung by the lack of input from the people who are making the game, or they wind up being created by whoever the company producing them could get ahold of on a moment’s notice.  A lot of them may sell really well, but there haven’t been any truly memorable works that I would recommend to people outside the fanbase of the games they’re based on.  These two titles don’t break that trend, but they represent a quality of work uncommon to their origin and actual input from the people responsible for the games.

“Arkham City” has the most direct link to the games it was based on as it was written by Paul Dini.  Best known to fans for his work on “Batman:  The Animated Series,” he has also written a number of “Batman” comics as well as the stories for the “Arkham Asylum” and “Arkham City” games.  This particular story acts as a bridge between the two, showing us in detail what happened to the Joker, Harley Quinn, Warden Sharp, and Batman after the climax of the first game.  It’s all about shuffling the pieces on the chessboard around until they’re in the proper position, but it does provide some useful context in showing how Arkham City came to be.

Probably the most useful bit of info is showing us just what Batman was up to during its construction and implementation.  Where a lot of us, myself included, probably just took the founding of a giant prison in a walled-off section of Gotham in stride -- compared to everything else the city has suffered through in the comics, this is relatively mild -- but Dini shows us what our hero was doing in the meantime to stop it and uncover the real force behind it in his costumed and civilian identities.  Even if the stories that convey this information are a little on the predictable side, their portrayals of the characters involved are so dead-on that they’re never less than entertaining.

The story also benefits tremendously from Carlos D’Anda’s artwork.  Not so much because he was involved with the design work for the games, but because his irresistably exaggerated style fits this particular version of Batman to a “T”.  This isn’t a down-to-earth, street-level interpretation of the character, “Arkham City” is filled to the brim with the most colorful and distinctive of his rogues gallery on top of a plot that practically begs to be played up to its fullest extreme.  D’Anda does just that and the result is glorious.  The end result isn’t something that I’d recommend to all “Batman” fans, but if you liked the games, this is certainly worth picking up (either now in hardcover, or in softcover in a couple months).

“The Fall” doesn’t have the direct involvement of anyone responsible for the “Assassin’s Creed” games.  As brand story director Corey May tells us in his introduction, writers/artists Karl Kerschl and Cameron Stewart came to him with their pitch.  Much to his surprise, and mine, their pitch and subsequent story fit quite well within the confines of the game’s universe and even illuminate a key part of the backstory.

Our protagonist here is Daniel, a real scum-of-the-earth type who we first meet discussing the “visions” he sees with his court-appointed psychiatrist.  These visions involve a Russian Assassin named Nikolai from the late 19th Century who is currently expecting his first child with his wife.  Nikolai’s exploits take him from an assassination attempt on the current tsar, to the infamous “Tunguska Incident,” and the Russian Revolution at the end of WWI.  This all plays out like you’d expect an “Assasin’s Creed” game to, but the real meat of the story lies in Daniel’s journey.

We get to see his transformation from mentally ill criminal, to confused Assassin recruit, and then to true believer on a quest to find the organization’s Mentor.  He gradually becomes a sympathetic character, and one we want to see succeed.  This makes the incident near the end of the story all the more heartbreaking as it’s a tragedy in the truest sense.  That said, it also explains why the games give you the feeling that the Assassins are constantly on the ropes in their present day struggles against the Templars.

Kerschl and Stewart are best known for their art (see the former’s “Flash” story for “Wednesday Comics” or any of the latter’s collaborations with Grant Morrison for examples of them at their best) but they prove to be able writers as well.  Their characterization of Daniel is particularly effective as making a character as initially unlikeable as him, sympathetic in the space of three issues is no small achievement.  The art won’t appeal to fans of “grim and gritty” but I found it to be refreshing in its simplicity and expressiveness.  It’s easy to become absorbed in the clearness of its storytelling, and even the more experimental moments don’t come off as indulgent or hard to follow.

This collection is billed as a “Deluxe Edition” because in addition to the three-issue mini-series it collects, there’s also a ten-page epilogue from Kerschl and Stewart showcasing Daniel’s further fate and teasing a follow-up called “The Call.”  There’s also a wealth of supplemental material about the Russian era and characters featured here, and a preview of the “Assassin’s Creed” encyclopedia.  All of this is a cut above the usual “extras” featured in most comics collections.  Though this will be of very little interest to someone not familiar with the franchise, those that are will find a story that does its source justice.  After this, you can bet that I’ll be picking up the sequel before I find it in the bargain bins.

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