By Peter Milligan, Robert Gill, Diego Rodriguez, Jose Villarrubia
Intrigue and political instability mark the return of Rome’s detectioner, Antonius Axia in Britannia: Lost Eagles of Rome #1.
This is the third miniseries in the Peter Milligan-penned Britannia title. Starring the world’s first private detective, Britannia is historical fiction based on the culture and events of Rome during the height of its influence. Each miniseries has seen the abilities of the detectioner grow. Axia has no special powers, but in an era where gods rule every aspect of life, he is an anomaly; a man who uses reasoning and rudimentary psychology to puzzle out his cases.
The previous miniseries took readers to the far reaches of the Roman empire in Britannia and into the colosseums of Rome itself. This time out, Milligan was inspired by the Roman’s Teutoburg disaster and the loss of their eagle totems. The eagle was the standard of Rome and represented its power and prosperity. They were carried into every battle. The loss of the standards held greater impact than the loss of a battle – to the soldiers and the people of Rome, it signified a weakening of the empire. This issue reflects that loss and its effect upon Romans. Readers are also treated to new locales, including the dark forests of Germany. Like the previous miniseries, Lost Eagles has an element of old magic, adding to the unpredictability of Axia’s experiences.
Returning to the story are several important players including Emperor Nero, Vestal Virgin Rubria, and Achillia, the female gladiator who was at the heart of the last storyline. Axia’s knowledge of human psychology was gifted to him via the Vestals, and Rubria, though enigmatic, remains an important source of information. The “mad emperor” Nero is once again the instigator of the story, tasking Axia with a mission that he dare not refuse.
This issue sets up the premise for the story, offering readers a bit of everything: battle, political fallout, intrigue, and cultural insight. That’s quite a bit to accomplish, but Milligan’s story flows smoothly from backstory into current investigation. There’s something enjoyable about watching Axia outwit hostile witnesses and reluctant informers without them knowing. Readers are privy to Axia’s thoughts, thus working the case right alongside him. This helps with the scene transitions and legitimizes his decisions. Milligan sets the stage, and readers will be eager for the next issue.
Artist Robert Gill returns to Valiant with this book. Gill does beautiful storytelling, working well with a story that requires more dialogue than the norm. The story covers a lot of ground, and Gill’s panels convey this without overwhelming the reader. His army scenes, in particular, are powerful, and the opening splash page is stunning. The smaller, more intimate character scenes are effective at portraying the actors’ emotions and personalities. Readers may find themselves attempting to wipe Nero’s anger-fueled spittle off themselves.
Colorists Jose Villarrubia and Diego Rodriguez round out the creative team. The coloring serves the story. From the lush greens of the German forests to the dingy alleys of Rome, their work enhances Gill’s, and frequently adds to the dramatic tension.
Britannia: Lost Eagles of Rome #1 will delight fans of historical fiction and mystery. This strong first issue leaves readers excited to continue the adventure and follow Axia into the unknown.