Writer: Peter Milligan
Artist: Juan José Ryp
Colourist: Frankie D’Armata
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
Cover: Cary Nord
Publisher: Valiant Entertainment
Buoyed by the success of 2016’s Britannia, Valiant Comics take us back to Rome for another four-issue series in “Britannia: We Who Are About To Die”. Printed as part of Valiant’s prestige range, the first two instalments are now available. Below are a few lines of synopsis:
“…….Fifty thousand Romans stand on their feet, watching from the stands of the coliseum with captured breath as Achillia, a gladiator unlike any seen before, faces incredible odds as one lone warrior against five of the empire’s greatest.
On the other side of the city, a strange mystery swirls through the Palatine Hill. In the dead of night, down winding alleys, the elite swear that they see visions of a blood-soaked Apollo walking the city…visions that are driving them mad……”
We quickly learn in Issue #1 that our hero, Antonius Axia, must resolve this newest threat to Rome. As the city’s only detective, he’s caught between the Chief Vestal, Rubria, who gave him his powers, and the Emperor Nero, whose faculties continue to deteriorate. Nero blames everyone but himself for the wrath of the Gods. He warns Rubria and the other Vestal Virgins that if they cannot bring order to Rome, they’ll join the long crucifixion list of those who disappointed him. Rubria has no choice but to ask Antonius for help. But she has only one clue: the curse surrounds the gladiator Achillia.
Peter Milligan (Shade, The Changing Man) hauls his protagonist from the far-flung borders of Britannia to the heart of Rome itself in this new series. He opens the plot with a first glimpse at a new character, Achillia, years before current events. Milligan then leaps back to the present, where Antonius discovers the first of the noble bodies. The scene, wrapped in shadow, flame, and blood, highlights the talents that both artist Juan José Ryp and colourist Frankie D’Armata bring to the team.
The same scene also gives us the elements that mark the Britannia world apart from other sword-and-sandal epics: sharp dialogue, a close-up CSI approach, and an appreciation of the history fostering the story. The latter is so strong, that several pages of both issues #1 & 2 are dedicated to essays discussing the various aspects of Roman culture. Packed with information ranging from civil rights to the colosseum itself, the tag-on pieces actually offer readers the chance to become more immersed in the Britannia world.
By the time issue #2 rolls around, however, the setting takes its rightful place in the background and the characters (most notably Antonius and Achillia) emerge to centre-stage. The issue experiments with action sequences, POV changes, and large poster-like panels to great effect, so that the plot almost reaches right out of the page to grip firm. When these style choices are blended with the supernatural tone and the Machiavellian cast, you almost have to blink to make sure Cersei Lannister, Percy Jackson and Russell Crowe’s “Maximus” aren’t all there.
Instead, the issue draws to a close with our heroes surrounded on all sides by spear-points and shields. We’ll have to wait until issue #3 to see can they fight their way free!