Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Britannia Review (Peter Milligan, Juan Jose Ryp)

During the reign of Nero the Roman Empire stretched across Europe with its northernmost border in the foggy and dark island of Britannia. There the local savages have been acting up, attacking a Roman outpost with reports of demonic powers aiding them. On the advice of the mystical Vestal Virgins, Nero sends out Centurion Antonius Axia, the first detective, to investigate. But Axia is about to discover that monsters take many forms… 

Where the hell did this come from?? Valiant usually publish superhero comics and I’m pretty sure Roman horror/detective comics aren’t something they’ve done before but whoever commissioned this deserves a bonus because Britannia is fan-bloody-tastic - an inspired divergence from their regular catalogue! 

Peter Milligan’s ambitious storyline takes us from the seat of power in Rome to the wilds of Northern England, weaving an intricate plot involving two warring sides and the struggles within them and on a supernatural plane also. We hit the ground running as Axia and three legionaries mount a rescue mission against cultists for one of the Virgins, before we meet the bloodthirsty Nero and his mad court, and the story jumps ahead six years to Axia’s mission to Britannia. 

Like all of Valiant’s books, Britannia is strictly limited to four issues so it’s impressive that Milligan managed to cram in such a complex story within that space. Though some scenes feel rushed as a result, particularly the ending, and they don’t have room to breathe - this is a demanding read inasmuch as you have to pay attention all the time otherwise you’ll easily lose the thread of things. And while the presence of the devilish villain makes sense from the Brits’ standpoint, its motivation is disappointingly weak - it wants chaos and power, like (yawn) every other bad guy ever. 

I’ve been a huge fan of Juan Jose Ryp’s artwork since his Avatar books with Warren Ellis, No Hero and Black Summer, and his art on Britannia remains outstanding. He’s obviously done his homework depicting the Ancient World as accurately as possible. I’d like to say Britain isn’t as dank and miserable as it appears here but… (peers out of window at gloomy fog-laden garden)! Ryp does gore so well and this is a very graphically violent comic. He’s gone super-detailed with the imaginative monster design and his Nero is a bit different from how he’s usually depicted as a fat, dark-haired man - here he’s thin(ish) with brown hair with more of a childish/brattish air to his twisted features. And Jordie Bellaire’s colours are magnificent, beautifully vivid and exciting to look at. 

I didn’t know what to expect with this one and it certainly wasn’t on my radar until recently but I’m glad I gave it a shot! Britannia is a compelling historical horror detective story that’s not just Peter Milligan’s best book in years but one of Valiant’s best of 2016 – great reading!

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