We here at the Court have been anxiously awaiting 'Britannia' from Valiant since its initial press release - you see "Peter Milligan," "Ancient Rome," and "Supernatural" in the same sentence and you get pumped, y'know? And now, after months of waiting, I finally got to crack this big ol' bad boy open (it's a prestige format!) and drink it all in.
It was everything I hoped it would be.
Cary Nord provides a cover that is startlingly great - the gothic bust is terrifying, setting the mood before the reader even takes in a word. The introduction, illustrated by Raul Allen, is as informative on the customs of the Roman Empire as it is beautiful. The reader learns about the Vestal Virgins, their customs, and their influence, and then we're tossed right into an extremely tense scenario where a centurion (hand-picked by Cheif Vestal Rubria) must ride off to rescue a virgin who was kidnapped by cultists. Of course, this upsets the current emperor, Nero.
This kicks off a series of events which are brutal, graphic, and gives the reader a good sense of what civilization was like when superstition was as strong as nationalism, and where civilization walked a razor's edge from chaos. Take the rescue scene, for instance. The centurion and lead protagonist, Antonius Axia, takes his troops and charges directly into the cultists' ceremony with all the grace of a thresher.
This is how the book goes - we are in the middle of a story told with all the grime of its era, and it's wonderful. When Axia suffers a breakdown from the rescue we get a front-row seat of his intense recovery by the hands of the Vestals. We see how visiting his son sends him spiraling out of control at the nearest pub. We see the brutality of combat and the cavalier nature of sex. Juan Jose Ryp is masterful in encapsulating these scenes, using exquisite detail to convey the characters and environments.
His etheric depiction of Britannia is haunting and leaves the reader feeling as terrified as the soldiers treading on its soil. Hell, the last two pages were terrifying as Ryp creates a moment that will sear itself into the reader's mind. And what else can we possibly say about Jordie Bellaire, who just so happens to color not just provide a provocative aesthetic in this book, but in seemingly all of our favorite current comics? She's a peach and she's wonderful, and if you don't like her I will fight you in your dumb face.
And Peter Milligan is operating with all cylinders firing: he provides just enough information with each character to leave you questioning their motives, wondering what agenda every main character has and how it will further impact this venture into an unknown and ancient culture. We even get general overviews of the Vestals' codex, which helps transform Axia into the ancient world's first detective, but not any real example of what it says or where it came from or why it so thoroughly envelops Axia's attention.
Also, Milligan creates Bran, Axia's friend/employed slave, who plays very well off Antonius' cynicism to give a dry, Alfred-esque humor to their interactions. The comedic timing in Bran scenes are razor-sharp and incredibly enjoyable, and now that Bran has followed his master to Britannia I get to harbor an intense anxiety that Milligan will kill him. Wonderful...
This is a terrific issue to capture the attention of unsuspecting readers. This is a beautiful, horrible thriller that takes HBO's 'Rome,' throws in a dash of Clive Owen's 'King Arthur,' adds a pinch of '300,' and mixes it all together with a blood-soaked toga. Milligan, Ryp, and company are weaving something totally unlike anything on the shelves today, and we're lucky the wait is finally over for issue one. Issue two, on the other hand, is too far away...