By Peter Milligan, Juan Jose Ryp with Ryan Lee, Roberto De La Torre, Frankie D’Armata
Britannia: We Who Are About To Die #4 closes the book on Antonius Axia’s latest case. A thriller from beginning to end, this book hits all the right notes as our hero frantically races to save his son from a maniacal sorceress determined to destroy Rome and anyone who stands in her way.
The mini-series started as a mystery entwining Roman gods and gladiators. As the shock value and severity of crimes increased, so did the stakes for Antonius Axia and his benefactors, the Vestal Virgins. Over the course of the story, Axia unraveled the enigma of the unconventional crimes, discovering who was the perpetrator – and why. From there it turned into a cat and mouse game as he struggled to catch the killer before she struck again.
Writer Peter Milligan gives readers an intriguing plot plus a unique protagonist in Axia. The world’s first detective, Axia is a “detectioner” who learned the art of reason and psychology from the Vestals. Despite his reliance on reason, the element of magic plays a role in Axia’s own abilities and is integral to the plot. Magic is one of the threads that ties this historical piece to the larger Valiant universe.
The historical setting of Rome is a perfect backdrop for the political machinations that frequently inform Milligan’s story. These lead to the topical themes of racism and sexism, both of which were important elements in the plot. The character of Achillia is central to the book’s commentary on sexism and a great example of Valiant’s commitment to offering full-fledged female characters. Achillia’s inner strength, depth of character, and physical prowess makes her a welcome addition to the Valiant lineup.
The majority of the book is illustrated by Juan Jose Ryp, who has defined the look of Britannia over the course of the two mini-series. This time out, artists Ryan Lee and Roberto De La Torre (of the Doctor Mirage miniseries) contribute several pages as well.
It’s not unusual for Valiant to have more than one illustrator within a book, but in this case, what is unusual is the circumstances. Valiant tends to limit artist change-ups to flashback or fantasy scenes. Such is the case for De La Torre’s contribution, a flashback scene that looks especially haunting given his dramatic style. Lee’s pages appear within an ongoing scene. Despite Lee’s excellent work, the effect is disruptive for the reader. That aside, this is a good-looking book that delivers a flowing story, detailed panels, and emotive actors that draw the reader in. Ryp’s work has a tangibility to it that immerses the reader in the scene. He has a flair for depicting action and physicality both naturally and in an exciting manner. Fans may recall Lee’s excellent Britannia and Rai covers, as well as his sci-fi work in A&A. It’s great to see Lee doing interiors for Valiant. Hopefully next time we will see more of his work, and under better circumstances. Colorist Frankie D’Armata gives the book a cohesive look, using warm, earthy tones that enhance the story’s locales, such as an earthen cave. Gleaming swords and bracelets, glistening sweat, and highlighted hair are examples of how his detail work adds much depth to the scenes.
This final chapter in the We Who Are About To Die mini-series gives readers a satisfying conclusion. This has been an enjoyable series, and one that fans of mystery should not miss. The end is the beginning is the end – while this particular case is closed, Milligan sets the stage for a new partnership and leaves us with the possibility that Rome may need Axia again.