When the first arc of Assassin’s Creed: Assassins concluded at issue #5, we were left wondering about the future of our lead character, Charlotte Da La Cruz, as she rode off into the proverbial sunset with her new Assassin Brotherhood partners after a completed mission.
Even though this had been her first adventure, Char (as she’s called for short) had shown a great deal of talent using the Animus system and linking to her ancestral memories, even while under extreme duress. But the reality of both becoming an assassin and seeing the events of the past firsthand often proved too much for her to accept. As the events of the Trial By Fire arc came to a close, Char was forced to face just how much violence and death she’d experienced just a couple of days since her recruitment, and consider whether this was really the right choice for her.
As the new Setting Sun arc begins, we find ourselves beginning largely from where we left off, albeit in Mexico City instead of San Diego. Our novice Assassin Charlotte and self-proclaimed veteran Galina are at each other’s throats, the team’s tech specialist Kody is clumsily trying to keep the peace between them, and none of them know what to do next in wake of the disasters they just survived. As the violent emotional currents of trust, obligation, faith, and disillusionment waft between the three, Charlotte decides to find her own answers to their current situation despite her enormous lack of experience and the very real danger the trio faces.
Narratively, the Setting Sun story arc is a little bit better than the previous Trial By Fire, in that the past and present storylines carry a few thematic similarities which make the entire story more coherent. In the present-day, Charlotte is facing the burdens of being a woman who previously had no direction and is regretting the path she’s currently chosen; while in the past, her ancestor Quila is proud of the life she leads but resents the fact those around her refuse to acknowledge its merit. Although these two characters literal situations are far from the same, the way they go about resolving them is almost identical.
Char and Quila, upon making their own dangerous discoveries, break ranks to pursue resolutions their own way and to be recognized by their peers. However, since they each underestimate the threats they face and overestimate their ability to overcome them, matters get far worse and numerous bystanders get caught in the growing crossfire.
As these two narratives move along side-by-side, unlike our previous Animus target, Tom Stoddard (who was in every way Charlotte’s opposite, even down to being a white man) ,it’s readily apparent how Quila and Charlotte can be related. Both women struggle with putting their own pride after the importance of their duties, they both get in over their head quickly and require the aid of estranged allies to survive, and both of them harbor a compulsive need to do the right thing when injustice rears its head in front them.
Because of this thematic similarity between the contemporary and Animus stories, there’s more of an overall sense of composure, which is much more enjoyable. Now when Charlotte dives into her genetic past there is more to it than just a scavenger hunt for relevant information.There is also a component of self-discovery which further fleshes out her as a character. (Especially since she gains new abilities in the process.)
Talking comic mechanics, there’s still a feeling like Assassin’s Creed: Assassins is trying to find its feet. However, just like the narrative, great strides have been made since the Trial By Fire arc.
Telling two stories at the same time, the present-day story of Charlotte De La Cruz and then the historical story of her ancestors, is a cool stylistic choice that really works for the comic as a whole. However, from one plot to the next, and issues by issue, there seems to be a bit of an imbalance between in how Assassin’s Creed splits its time and resources. There are often pages and sequences which could have made a bit more sense with just one more panel establishing a character, object, or action. But instead, in what I assume is an effort to have enough space for everything planned, some events are bunched together, some actions are largely implied, and other corners have apparently been cut. This is in addition to my occasional gripes with speech bubble placement and the uneven use of sound effects, which can often drag me out of an otherwise immersive moment.
But, in recognition of the expanding narrative, these problems are largely forgivable if you read the entire story in one go. When enjoyed in one session, from beginning to end, the Setting Sun storyline of Assassin’s Creed:Assassins tells a much more realized tale of Charlotte’s growing adventure, and makes better use of each issue to keep us engaged in the same cluster of events. Where the Trail By Fire arc could be easily partitioned into four or five tenuously related stories with slightly haphazard outcomes, all of Setting Suns parts consistently feel like they are moving in one planned direction and for the same reasons.
One of Setting Suns components that isn’t really good or bad, but perhaps a little curious, is the lack of Charlotte’s commentary whilst peeking in on Quila’s life. During her time with Tom Stoddard in Trial By Fire, Charlotte’s own thoughts often appeared right alongside Stoddard’s, giving us a deeper view of their personal differences and what she thought about the information she acquired because of it. In Setting Sun this is almost entirely absent, and the only times we normally hear Charlotte’s voice while viewing the past is when she is either entering or leaving the Animus dive itself.
Although the absence of Char’s monolog is notable, I don’t exactly consider it problematic, at least in this story. Although it does remove some perspective relating to Charlotte, it also allows us to focus more on Quila’s story and connect with her struggle individually. When you consider the fact that none of Charlotte’s dive targets are promised happy endings and could be killed off in any number of ways, at any moment, Char’s narrative absence makes the tension more real when her ancestors face peril. In Quila’s case, this is particularly true, since she is not a warrior and is living in a time of enormous conflict.
In the end, I feel like the Setting Sun arc of Assassin’s Creed: Assassins is an overall improvement since the Trial By Fire storyline. Although the Charlotte/Stoddard story had a few intriguing supernatural aspects that were absent here (and that I missed), the Charlotte\Quila adventure was more relatable and better complimented each other. Charlotte’s Assassin partners, Kody and Galina, still remain a bit anemic in their development, and will definitely require more attention as the series moves forward if they are to remain relevant instead of becoming distractions.
The art in the books is still great, and the clear, defined, vibrant colors keep everything looking alive. But the overall composition still has small issues with consistency that even a non-critical eye might find bothersome, especially if these books are experienced outside of a binge.
Although it might be a little difficult to follow outside of its truest order, I would recommend a new reader to try their hand at the Setting Sun arc first to really get a feel for this series potential, and then if they enjoy it, to go back to Trial By Fire to fill in the gaps. This series is really a lot of fun, and is bristling with potential it has yet to really tap. Despite its problems here and there, the Setting Sun arc of Assassin’s Creed: Assassins really shows off what the series is capable of and I hope the upcoming The Balancing Act arc cashes in on it.