"Britannia #1" Comic Review
Written by James Ferguson
Published by Valiant Entertainment
Written by Peter Milligan
Illustrated by Juan Jose Ryp
Colored by Jordie Bellaire
2016, 40 Pages, $3.99
Comic released on September 21st, 2016
It's the year 65 A.D. and Emperor Nero's reign is in full swing. He's a petty and hot-headed ruler, but he respects the opinion of the Vestal Virgins, a group of women with alleged magical powers tasked with keeping the eternal flame lit. It's clear that Vestal Rubria is pulling all kinds of strings, manipulating events to serve some unknown purpose. This includes sending Antonius Axia to do her bidding, although she presents it in such a way that he doesn't realize that. He rises to the challenge, saving another Vestal from becoming a human sacrifice and eventually, riding off to a foreign land to investigate some strange happenings.
I will admit that I wasn't completely sold on Britannia when I started reading the book. Although there is a ton of bloodshed, the story can be a little dry at times. All of that changes with the final two pages. Artist Juan Jose Ryp delivers a spread that is breathtakingly terrifying. It's Lovecraftian-level horror. Looking at this again I keep finding more and more aspects of it to send shivers down my spine.
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Ryp manages to simultaneously capture some of the most brutal acts of murder and drop dead gorgeous women. With the former, you'll almost want to wash your hands after reading Britannia for fear of getting blood on them. The arterial spray is massive. People are stabbed, skewered, and sliced every which way. On the other end of the spectrum are the Vestal Virgins, shown as these beautiful women in long translucent robes. Although they're not outright showing much skin, there's the faint image of their form underneath that catches your eye.
Jordie Bellaire's colors work well with Ryp's pencils. It's amazing how much the color sets the mood for the book, whether that's a foggy scene of Roman soldiers hunting British terrorists or a bright sequence of Antonius visiting his family. Of course, the blood looks amazing, practically dripping off the page.
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Much of this issue is spent building up Antonius Axia. He's helmed as the First Detective, solving murders and missing persons cases. You grow attached to him as you see what he's gone through and more importantly, what he's given up in service to Rome. He's almost like an Ancient Roman Batman. Antonius doesn't realize the web he's caught in or that Rubria is coaxing his life in such a dangerous direction.
Britannia shows the brutality of Ancient Rome with a supernatural twist. If I learned about this kind of stuff in history class, I would have paid a lot more attention. Of course, if my teachers had taught this, they would all be fired. This book is worth reading for Juan Jose Ryp's artwork alone. It is finely detailed with an energy that is unparalleled in the industry today.