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Britannia #1

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By Peter Milligan, Juan Jose Ryp, Jordie Bellaire

Fans of Valiant’s darker, grittier stories are sure to enjoy Britannia #1.

Set during the rule of Nero in the Roman Empire, Britannia’s decidedly adult-themed content weaves a grim but intriguing tale.  Embracing history, mysticism, mystery, and horror, the story cannot be pigeonholed into a particular genre.

Britannia gives readers many a shock. Billed as a story of the world’s first detective, writer Peter Milligan uses psychology to craft the tale. He plays on the intrinsic fears and desires of humans, allowing these truths to ignite dramatic scenes while layering deception into the plot. This creates a palpable tension and a realistic fear of death, whether dealing with the supernatural or with the machinations of the political machine of Roman life.

It is a time when men feared the darkness, believing in gods and magicks. Milligan’s hero, Antonius Axia, uses psychology as a tool, learning the reasons behind behavior and exploiting this to reveal truths. Many layers are at work here. There is both the larger supernatural threat that Axia is investigating and the potential threat within his own circle. The key for Antonius and the reader will be psychological: figuring out why.

The content and innuendos of this book make it for adults only. Violence, sex, and horror are in play but are not done for salacious reasons. They are woven into the story and depict what life was like for many people in that era. The wealth of the high-born versus the squalor of the underclass and the slaves. The tyranny of powerful men and the mistreatment of women. The lust for power and the political maneuvering. The horrors in this tale aren’t all supernatural.

The story has substance and feels much longer than it is. We’re given an illuminating look into Axia’s world and relevant past. This sets up the final bit of the story, where our hero is thrust into danger, leaving us on a cliffhanger. It’s an interesting story on its own, and the adventure is just ramping up.

Artist Juan Jose Ryp does brilliant work, defining the book’s flavor and mood. Roman lifestyle is rife with adornments, and the detail work of his scenes reflect the ornate trappings of their society. His character work is outstanding. Nuanced facial expressions and body language tell much of the story. His depiction of Nero perfectly captures the priggishness of the character. Ryp’s portrayal of violence and horror is guttural, with the blood having viscosity. The depiction of the various locations is done well. For instance, one can almost feel the isolation in the wilder north and smell the oppressive stench of his monster.

Colorist Jordie Bellaire sets the tone for the scenes, tying it all together. The golden light of gilded Rome, the dampness and cold haze of the misty northern landscape, the unearthly glow of the supernatural are all made more real by her work. Red is the common thread – the red of blood, the red of garments. Bellaire and Ryp make a great team.

Britannia #1 is a unique and engrossing tale. Readers will be clamoring for the rest of the story, and they just might need a stiff drink and a smoke afterwards. This should be your first read on new comic book day.

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