Written by Peter Milligan
Art by Juan Jose Ryp, Jordie Bellaire, Raul Allen, and Patricia Martin
Lettering by Dave Sharpe
Published by Valiant Entertainment
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
Noir, religion, and horror collide in the first installment of Valiant Entertainment’s Britannia. Presented in the same prestige format as Divinity, the new tale transports readers back to the superstitious reign of Nero and follows the Roman Empire’s first and only “Detectioner” Antonious Axia as he is sent on a fact=finding mission to the darkest parts of the Empire.
Writer Peter Milligan, no stranger to the supernatural, delivers an appropriately pulpy first installment that makes entertaining use of the trappings of sword and sandal epics, detective stories, and weird fiction, culminating in a blazingly original work. Wrath of the Eternal Warrior artist Juan Jose Ryp and in-demand colorist Jordie Bellaire join Milligan in his quest to give the title the rough hewn design and moody color scheme that a story like this both demands and benefits from. Unconnected from the larger Valiant Universe and well versed in a myriad of genres, Britannia #1 is poised to deliver another original hit series for Valiant Entertainment.
Opening with a moodily informative history lesson on the vestal virgins and the Roman religious climate from Milligan and artists Raul Allen and Patricia Martin, Britannia sets its mood very early on. Just in terms of format, the comparisons to Divinity and its sequel cannot be ignored, but while those stories had a very clear thematic through line, firmly keeping in tone with interpersonal drama and space opera fare, Peter Milligan throws a lot of genres into a blender and then pours them onto the page.
After the Roman pottery inspired opening, readers are taken to the outpost of the Italian First Legion and introduced to some of our leads, Antonious and Chief Vestral Rubria. Framed like a scene of a confident moll imploring to the better nature of a stubborn gumshoe, Milligan effortlessly melds the high language of Roman epics with the format of dime story noir to great effect and his mixing and matching doesn’t stop there. One of Rubria’s charges has gone missing, kidnaped by a blasphemous Etruscan sect to be sacrificed to one of their dark gods, and Rubria is tasking Antonious with rescuing her, which he does with extreme prejudice and at the cost of his sanity. It is with this rescue that Milligan melds the gory action of films like Gladiator with the unspeakable horrors of something out of a Clive Barker story, giving this debut a whole arsenal of narrative weapons at its disposal.
Soon we are back in Rome and six years into the future where Antonious has recovered at the hands of the Virgins and given the knowledge to become the Empire’s “Dectectioner," rooting out corruption where he can find it. Here Milligan starts to play with the court intrigue that plagued Nero’s reign only to go full tilt horror in the issue’s climax as Antonious and his legion arrive in foggy Britannia and face down the creature that broke him all those years ago in Italy. If all this sounds like too much, too soon, I assure it, it isn’t. Peter Milligan does an impressive job spinning all these disparate tones and formats and makes them all blend into one story that hops from horror to noir and back with compelling character to support his narrative juggling.
While Peter Milligan leaps from genre to genre, artist Juan Jose Ryp and colorist Jordie Bellaire provide Britannia #1 with a grubby, sketchy, and moody set of pages that suit the title’s tone and script very well. Ryp, a steady hand at melee violence thanks to Valiant’s Eternal Warrior, renders all the ugliness of the late period Roman Empire beautifully and with plenty of well blocked and bloody action sequences and expressive characters to balance out the sex and violence. Colorist Jordie Bellaire also revels in the decadence with plenty of ghostly greens, hazy grays, and shining whites, shifting to the mood just as effortlessly as Milligan does.
By keeping one foot in classically inspired Roman epics and the other in more pulpy genre affairs, Britannia #1 stands as an wildly entertaining mix of high and low culture. Peter Milligan heaps mood, monsters, history, and blood onto the readers plates and after this sizable first helping, you will be begging for more. Juan Jose Ryp, Jordie Bellaire, Raul Allen and Patricia Martin also go for the gusto with culturally inspired art and a more tactile and focused take on the main pages, keeping very much in line with the high and lowbrow scripting. They say you can’t be all things to all people at once, but Britannia #1 makes a valiant attempt at being precisely that.