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Britannia #4

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By Peter Milligan, Juan Jose Ryp, Jordie Bellaire

Britannia #4 closes the case on detectioner Antonius Axia and the dark menace that has been plaguing the Roman outpost in Britannia. Britannia has been an outstanding mini-series. Introducing new characters into the Valiant universe, the Peter Milligan-helmed title is an unusual and captivating storyline that meshes the psychology of human behavior with the supernatural. Featuring evocative art by Juan Jose Ryp and colorist Jordie Bellaire, the story is a visual treat as well.

Antonius Axia, a former Legionnaire and war hero, survived a previous encounter with evil that left his mind broken. Rehabilitated by Rome’s mystical guardians, the Vestals, Axia uses the behavioral knowledge learned from the Vestal’s Codex to investigate crimes. His great success earns him notoriety and the name “detectioner”.

The previous issues give an accounting of Axia’s history and demonstrate his abilities. Readers are shown the tapestry of political maneuverings within Rome and the realities of life for the different classes. Emperor Nero then throws our hero into an undesirable situation far from the comforts of Rome, investigating rumors of murder and devils at a Roman outpost in the wilds of Britannia. Milligan introduces a host of logical and potential suspects, from the greedy prefect to the rebellious natives. A rational man, Axia believes this to be a normal case of corruption until he meets up with a monster from his past.

Milligan keeps the plot moving quickly, growing the sense of danger and urgency as the story builds to the final climatic battle. All is eventually revealed, but the story is never rushed. The elements of horror and the supernatural add another texture to the plot, making this more than an “evils of men” story, yet still allows readers to suspend disbelief. Valiant fans will appreciate how Milligan ties these characters and their experience into the larger Valiant universe.

To keep this as spoiler-free as possible, let’s not discuss the ultimate ending, so it will have to suffice to say that there is a strong sense of closure. Milligan leaves no loose threads. The story has all the makings of a great novel: strong sense of placement and history, intriguing and imaginative plot, and substantial characters who evolve along with the tale.

The artistic team of illustrator Juan Jose Ryp and colorist Jordie Bellaire do a fantastic job of bringing the wilds and the wyrd of Britannia to life. Ryp‘s characters are expressive actors, their physicality adding emotional support to Milligan’s script. His imaginative and unsettling take on the supernatural along with his textured, almost gritty illustrations give this book a unique look that matches the tone of the story. Colorist Bellaire complements Ryp’s work, creating a believably earthy palette reflecting the cold and wet environment of Britannia. Her work heightens the drama in key scenes, casting ghastly glows and painting visceral, heated battle scenes that strengthen the impact of the imagery.

Britannia #4 goes out with a bang, concluding this historical thriller. A compelling tale reinforced by evocative art, this book and the mini-series as whole will resonate with readers. Britannia is a distinctive title, but may be described to laymen as a Roman version of the X-Files. Fans will want to believe that we haven’t heard the last from the detectioner.

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