Writer: Peter Milligan
Artist: Robert Gill
Colorist: Jose Villarrubia and Diego Rodriguez
Lettering: Dave Sharpe
Cover: Cary Nord
Publisher: Valiant Comics
Britannia: Lost Eagles of Rome #1 is a modest setup for what appears to be a modest mystery comic. One part supernatural and two parts Sherlock Holmes, this story involves the continuing adventures of Antonius Axia, the world’s first detectioner. As a Roman soldier, he works cases for the mad emperor Nero that often stray into paranormal territory. In Britannia: Lost Eagles of Rome, Antonius is tasked with recovering the eagle standards, symbols of Roman military power that have gone missing after a suspicious defeat in the wilderness of Britannia. Aiding Antonius is the ever feisty female gladiator Achillia.
Honestly, I’m of two minds on this one. On the one hand, it’s refreshing for a comic book series to be as self contained as Britannia is. Each four-issue arc is its own self contained mystery, meaning that new readers will not find themselves lost in a sea of continuity even while longtime fans will find themselves rewarded. Also making this series stand out is how it operates as a cozy mystery, a rarity in a comic book world so obsessed with action. It is clear that writer Peter Milligan is a fan of Sherlock, as one will quickly see by Antonius’s deductive skills.
On the other hand, this particular mystery does not, so far, have that much of a hook to draw in readers. The most important task for a mystery is to draw in readers and make them need to keep reading. In Sherlock Holmes stories, this was accomplished by making a puzzle so perplexing that you felt obligated to finish reading to find the solution. In previous installments of Britannia, a supernatural twist would be hinted at that would make the story engaging. In Lost Eagles, all we really get from this first issue is that the forest is scary and someone in the army is probably involved. Reading this comic, I couldn’t help but feel that I was simply reading a pitch for a television show; and this is where the chosen genre of cozy mystery works against the book. Comics is a visual medium, and simply re-creating what people see on TV every night is not utilizing the medium to its potential.
Since we’re talking about visuals, I’ll say that the artwork here also does not seem to hook me in that much either. Robert Gill’s pencils, while serviceable enough, do not seem very striking. Something feels lacking, especially in the faces, which I find to be a tad ugly if I’m being honest. And aside from a cool looking battle scene at the beginning of the issue, there’s just not much to look at in the whole comic. Characters just seem to be milling about Rome, and nothing very exciting happens.
My other gripe from the story is a small one, but am I the only one who thinks it is radically out of place for anyone to directly defy Emperor Nero to his face? I would think such an action would result in being instantly crucified, yet our strong independent gladiator woman basically screams at him. It’s a small detail; but detective fiction is all about getting your reader to pay attention to details, so this one stands out.
Readers of Antonius Axia’s previous exploits will likely find reason to pick this one up, but newcomers to the series may find little to hold their interest. Hopefully, the case will heat up quickly as I do firmly believe that we need more mystery books in the industry.
Pros-Self contained mystery story, fun setting, paranormal touches are interesting.
Cons-Feels like evening TV, not much to hook readers in (yet), artwork is missing something, woman yells at crazy Roman emperor with no consequences.