Tie-in literature gets a bad rap, which is a shame because, at its best, it can be a comforting portal back into your favorite worlds. While sometimes tie-ins completely miss the mark, this is certainly not the case for Assassin’s Creed Valhalla: Blood Brothers. This manga by Feng Zi Su, published in the U.S. by Tokyopop and translated by Tay Weiling, is a prequel of sorts to Assassin’s Creed Valhalla following two brothers as they journey to England several years before Eivor to join the sons of Ragnar in pillaging the country.
Björn and Ulf, our main characters, are not particularly interesting, which is a shame because this is a single-volume series. The story begins by showing off their hunting and fighting prowess but gives little in the way of character. As more folks come into the picture, like their mentor Blueshield and eventually Halfdan Ragnarsson and Ivarr the Boneless, it becomes rather difficult to even distinguish them from one another.
Björn, Ulf, and Blueshield arrive in England and join the Ragnarssons in their Great Heathen Army, sacking Saxon kingdoms and flaying their kings. It’s a plot that the video game illudes to as you meet and befriend some of the characters and, if you’ve played the game or know your history, it ends rather poorly for the Norse.
While the story and characters don’t shine for most of the volume, this book is definitely for you if you’re a fan of gory action sequences. Beheadings, spearings, flaying, and splitting one guy clear in half are what make up a plurality of the manga’s panels, and it’s for the better. If the plot is going to be thin and the characters boring, it is best to have the action be the highlight. These panels are drawn with significantly greater detail than any other part of the book, with glorious bloodbaths and terrible physical distress. Even in these scenes, the otherwise stagnant characters like Björn and Ulf are drawn with great emotion.
While the script is very uneven—sometimes rather strong and other times entirely flat—the translator does a great job reworking the English text into the speech bubbles. There are a number of occasions where the text is resized to fit into smaller bubbles and styled in a way that helps clarify the emotion meant to be conveyed. The SFX throughout the book, sometimes even more common than dialogue, is excellent both in text and font. They especially help the action sequences feel more alive.
While the story and characters are largely uneven for most of the story, the final chapter takes a very different turn. The unhappy ending of Ivarr’s Great Heathen Army is on full display here, with tragedy and humility abound. Unexpectedly, this final act serves as a solid prequel for Assassin’s Creed Valhalla as the game’s mortal enemy Alfred makes a brief appearance and piques curiosity in how the Vikings may have their revenge.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla: Blood Brothers also contains interviews with the mangaka and an Ubisoft creative. They add a lot of background to how the manga came to be, why this story was important to tell, and how it was personally meaningful for them.
While not groundbreaking, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla: Blood Brothers is a decent prequel to the most recent Assassin’s Creed game. The story and characters are weak, despite a potentially very interesting time period, but the action is strong as well as the lettering. Its final act, however, makes it a worthy prequel.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla: Blood Brothers is available wherever manga is sold.
Assassin's Creed Valhalla: Blood Brothers
While not groundbreaking, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla: Blood Brothers is a decent prequel to this year’s Assassin’s Creed game. The story and characters are weak, despite a potentially very interesting time period, but the action is strong as well as the lettering. Its final act, however, makes it a worthy prequel.