Valiant is currently exploring the future in the 4001 A.D. event series, but in September they're going back in time to 65 A.D. with what they call "the world's first detective."
Launching September 21, the ongoing series Britannia by Peter Milligan and Juan Jose Ryp brings methodical detective work to Ancient Rome. More Philip Marlowe than Sherlock Holmes, Britannia's Antonius Axia has been called in by Emperor Nero to investigate the true nature of the then-unknown land of Britannia - modern-day England.
Newsarama spoke with Milligan about this new take on a period piece detective story.
Newsarama: Peter, what is Britannia about?
Peter Milligan: On the northern border of the mighty Roman Empire, Roman soldiers are dying. There is talk of a terrible creature, a demon, a devil. All of which is bad for morale in Rome.
This is a story full of violence, sex, dark magic. It's the story of one's man's logic coming up against ancient pagan power, as Antonius risks life, sanity and several broken hearts to uncover the truth about what's happening in that far-flung border land called Britannia.
Nrama: Valiant describes Antonius as 'the world's first detective.' Tell us about that, and how being a detective in Ancient Rome works.
Milligan: Antonius was once a soldier. Saved and restored by the Vestal Virgins after a mental breakdown, he now has a remarkable way of thinking about the world. Whereas most men pray to the gods for guidance, Antonius looks for clues. He looks for evidence. Skills that have earned him the title "the detectioner.’ Like an ancient world Philip Marlowe, many of Anotonius' cases revolve around sex, or jealousy, or murder. But when he's called to Nero's palace, all that is about to change...
Nrama: So what is Antonius Axia's first case?
Milligan: Antonius is in the middle of investigating the disappearance of Crassus, the brutal husband of Livilla. But all that's forgotten when Antonius is summoned to Nero's palace.
Nero needs to send someone to discover just what's going on in Britannia. And, advised by the manipulative head of the Vestal Virgins, he knows who to send - Antonius Axia, the "detectioner." Antonius doesn't want to leave Rome. His beloved son lives here. He likes the wine, the culture, the women. But it's a brave - or foolish - man who argues with Nero.
Nrama: Did you base Antonius in part on any historical figures? Or any other characters in the series, for that matter?
Milligan: Not really. The point of him is he's a man whose way of thinking is a bit out of time. But Claudius felt like that in the Robert Graves' novels. Emperor Nero is based on the emperor of that name. There was a chief Vestal Virgin in Nero's time, but I haven't based Rubria - our chief Vestal - on her.
Nrama: This seems like a very ripe concept, but also something people might misconstrue. What should be not look for in this?
Milligan: Though Antonius calls himself a "detectioner" there is in this Roman world no such thing as "detectives" so a lot of people - in the story - aren't sure how to take him. In fact, his working methods - like inspecting a dead body for clues - can be misconstrued, in a society that puts great store in not "polluting" corpses. So don't look for a straight Sherlock Holmes in a toga.
Nrama: Working with you on this is Juan Jose Ryp, who has one of the most unique but honed styles out there. Did you study much of his work before writing the script?
Milligan: I didn't study it before - I was aware of it - but I've been really bowled over but what he's been producing. The detail, the intensity, the way he immerses himself in this world. Also, how he gets character. Character is key to a story like this and Juan really delivers.
Nrama: Valiant says Britannia will be a self-contained series, but could we see some allusions to other Valiant characters or concepts at all in this?
Milligan: There are no allusions to other Valiant characters in this first series.
Nrama: Big picture, want do you want readers to think and feel when they read Britannia?
Milligan: That they've entered a world that's both surprising and believable. That, though taking place many centuries ago, the story says something about today, the continual clash between the rational and the supernatural, and what it is to be a man - and a woman - in an often hostile society.