"Britannia #3" Comic Review
Written by James Ferguson
Published by Valiant Entertainment
Written by Peter Milligan
Illustrated by Juan Jose Ryp
Colored by Jordie Bellaire
2016, 36 Pages, $3.99
Comic released on November 16th, 2016
Antonius Axia is a smart albeit arrogant Centurion. Sent to solve the mystery of who – or what – is killing Roman soldiers in Britannia, he's come across sketchy soldiers and black magic. Now he's pushed to his limit as he gets closer to finding the truth. Reality warps around him, forcing him to question what he sees with his own eyes.
Britannia dives into my favorite kind of horror where a character can't trust his surroundings. Forget slashers or demons. The real scares come when you can't trust your own mind. For example, when Antonius raises his hand to hit a suspect, he finds his arm has been turned into a plant. Roots spring up through his shirt sleeves, spiraling out in all directions. Then, suddenly, his arm is back to normal, but a stark pain is left as if he felt his flesh turn into flora. He flees in terror, clutching his arm.
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This was a humbling moment for Antonius, who is otherwise a bit of an arrogant dick. He's used to being the smartest person in the room. As the world's first detective, Antonius notices everything about the people he comes in contact with, picking up on minute details that allow him to gain the upper hand. When the issue opens, he's facing a brute of a man ready to pound his head in. Time slows as he sees the blow coming and figures out how to dodge it. This is shown expertly by artist Juan Jose Ryp in a series of close-up panels on the enemy's arm, each one a little closer than the one before it. Ryp also delivers some incredible gore in this scene and the one in the opening pages in the form of severed heads and harsh sword slashes.
Ryp also brings Britannia some Evil Dead-level plant life with the Wyrd Woman named Bodwell. She works some magic in the forest, creating a tree avatar to call out to Antonius. It's creepy how the roots grow in no particular order, like it's spun out of control now that it's free from the earth. Bodwell's design also plays to Ryp's strengths, as she is absolutely stunning. There is so much detail in every panel, you can practically see each individual strand of hair on her head.
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Although Antonius walks the line between condescending and charming, we get a glimpse of his past and the atrocities he’s been through, especially dealing with the death of his wife. This provides some layer of humanity to him knowing that he's lost or given up everything else in his service to Rome and now he's about to lose his mind too. Despite this, there's some joy to be taken as you see him going deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole of this mystery, delving into otherworldly forces that are far beyond his level of understanding. You just know that things are going to end poorly for everyone involved. There's no bright shiny ending coming down the line.
Britannia carries a constant feeling of dread as Antonius Axia heads down the path of madness. He may find out who's killing these Roman soldiers, but he'll be driven insane as a result. This book is worth reading for Juan Jose Ryp's artwork alone. He's one of the best in the business and way too underrated right now.