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BRITANNIA: WE WHO ARE ABOUT TO DIE #1

by Thegreatmagnet on April 29, 2017

Writer:  Peter Milligan
Art: Juan Jose Ryp
Colors:  Frankie D’Armata
Letters: Dave Sharpe
Publisher: Valiant Comics

Britannia is a book that made a splash last fall with multiple sold-out printings, so it was not surprising when Valiant announced the sequel in the final issue of the first mini-series. While the majority of Valiant's titles are very closely connected, Britannia is set in the first century Roman Empire and there are essentially no discernable ties to the rest of the Valiant line. This makes the series very attractive to new readers, requiring no previous knowledge of the continuity, but it creates an obstacle for some longtime Valiant fans, who crave tight interconnectivity between books. I personally don't mind, because I have faith that the company has long-term plans to connect things, which will reveal themselves over time. But more importantly, this series offers a compelling mix of horror, mystery, fantasy and historical fiction, for which I can't think of any comparison.
 
I love Antonius Axia as a character. He’s been programmed to think logically, and it allows him amazing insight into the invisible workings of the world. It also leads him to reject the superstition and religious doctrine of the time, in spite of his obvious exposure to the supernatural. Hell, he was essentially resurrected by a sorceress, and yet he still panics at exposure to unexplained phenomenon. He is the ancient Roman Dana Scully, always searching for the Occum’s razor but eventually stumbling onto mysteries that defy his worldview. In my opinion, I think that the Vestal Virgins may have exposed him to the codex to inoculate him against the supernatural in service of his mission, but also to obscure their own hidden magical abilities and perhaps their motivations. For instance, one might question why Axia agrees to investigate at Rubria’s request, given she had previously sent him on a suicide mission – granted, she kind of included a threat about him and his family needing protection.
 
I will say this issue is a little tame in comparison to other Britannia issues (less mutilated bodies, monsters and mostly-naked ladies). I’m sure it’s a bit of a set-up issue, introducing the turmoil of Rome, the strange events unfolding amongst the nobility, and a growing fascination with a savage female gladiator. Milligan is building a mystery, and the wheels are turning in Axia’s head as he searches for a connection. I’m not sure what the intrigues of gender and class politics have to do with the seemingly real supernatural forces at work in the temples…could the gods really be angry? I will venture a guess that the female gladiator is the slave woman that we see in the very beginning of the issue slitting her rapist master’s throat. I would also wager that the Vestal Virgins are hiding some magical power, which may be related to the holy fire of Vesta.
 
The art is this issue is phenomenal, as always. Juan Jose Ryp is perhaps my favorite artist from Valiant’s ridiculously talented roster. His style is cartoony, but hyper-detailed, and he really excels at fine details and textures…and gore. Ryp’s work is gorgeous in this issue, just as it was for the run of the original mini-series. In fact, I think he is getting better as he goes. Hopefully the coming issues will bring some terrifying monsters and grisly disembowelings for Juan Jose to really sink his teeth into. Also high marks to Frankie D’Armata for the colors. The interior scenes and night scenes lit by torches are moody and striking, and he tackles a slew of other lighting environments with equal grace. The colors are rich and earthy, and there are a lot of bright reds and scarlets throughout (perhaps a hint of things to come).
 
Overall, I think this was a great first issue. It’s introduced a lot of elements to build the intrigue, and we can only guess how they are connected. So far the magical elements have been fairly minimal, but hopefully they will ratchet things up in the next issue. The first series teased at a lot of ideas, including the connection between Druid magic and Roman magic, so I’m excited to see how this series builds on the ideas and hints laid down in the previous mini. Lots here for the Valiant reader and non-Valiant reader alike.
 

Our Score:

8/10

A Look Inside