Britannia: We Who Are About To Die #1
By Peter Milligan, Juan Jose Ryp, Frankie D’Armata
Mystery and history collide in this grisly but intriguing story.
Antonius Axia, the world’s first detective, is back at it again. This time the horror is in his own backyard – Rome.
Axia is a former soldier who survived a life-altering brush with a demon. Since then, he has been both helped by and used by the Vestals, who gifted Axia with the understanding of human psychology. Now known as a “detector”, Axia works in Rome to solve cases.
The original Britannia mini-series told Axia’s origin story and propelled the next phase of his life. This new miniseries picks up not long after that tale, but a thorough introduction makes it easy for new readers to jump onboard.
Writer Peter Milligan has moved his hero’s locale from a mission in the wilds of Britannia to his home turf of Rome. The familiarity of home will provide no comfort to Axia as a routine investigation descends into horrific murders. While most of his cases involve business dealings or crime, there appears to be something much more ominous at work. Someone or something is killing the high-born sons of Rome and driving the daughters into madness. Axia must discover the motivation behind the murders to uncover who – or what – is responsible and put a stop to it. Axia’s Rome is a political and violent society of monstrous appetites. There is much at stake, and the ramifications of this case threaten the safety of not just the aristocrats, but of Axia and the Vestals as well.
The interweaving of history with fiction makes this supernatural mystery more interesting. The setting does not limit the story or vice-versa. The plot could happen at any point, even current day. The embellishment of the story within the rich tapestry of ancient Rome gives it a unique flavor, and Milligan uses the hallmarks of the time to add dimension to the tale.
Milligan weaves the suspense amidst the timely topic of the treatment of women and women’s rights. He does this carefully, not forcing the subject but allowing it to fit in naturally as part of the cultural attitude. Expect this to be an ongoing theme. The introduction of a dynamic new female character is borne out of this behavior. She will be at the center of this tale, and from what we’re shown of her thus far, she is a force to be reckoned with. For while her origin is mired in tragedy, Milligan wisely depicts her not as a victim or survivor, but as a champion.
Artist Juan Jose Ryp brings the tale to life with fine storytelling. Ryp is adept at portraying both physically attractive characters and those who take on more grotesque characteristics. There is a palpable sense of tension and dread in his horror scenes, and he does not shy away from the macabre. That he does this so well while focusing the reader’s attention onto the action makes it easy to overlook his detail work, which is exceptional. For instance, the intricate design inlayed into Nero’s floor alongside marbled tile, or the lines in statuary that depict the hewn stone staged in front of a hallway with a receding arch pattern. All of these elements add to the richness to the story by making the setting seem real. The reader doesn’t need to imagine Roman hallways or coliseums. Ryp weaves mosaics and finery into each scene to the extent that the reader subconsciously accepts this as a norm, overlooking the highly detailed backgrounds and scenery. While the more violent aspects of the story are hard to look at – which in itself is a testament to Ryp’s ability – this is good looking book, undoubtedly aided by the work of colorist Frankie D’Armata. D’Armata uses an earthy palette of warm colors that add a sense of realism to Ryp’s depictions. Readers can feel the heat of the battle through the hues, and his work on the murder scenes gives the viscosity of the gore greater impact.
Britannia: We Who Are about To Die #1 debuts on April 26th. Fans of mystery and horror will find much to enjoy about this well-done book and will be clamoring for more.