by Angela Cainen
You might recall that there’s a TV series called Britannia (I didn’t until I was researching this). This comic book is… not that. Although it does touch upon Druids, Romans, death and magic because, well, if you set a story in the days of the Roman invasion of Britain there are going to be some things that are universal no matter what the medium.
We don’t actually open in Britannia but in Etrusca. Where’s that? well it is that bit of Italy opposite Corsica. And it too is filled with supernatural issues…
It is here that our hero Roman Centurion Antonius Axia is asked by the head of the Vestal Virgins (those women who wear white, keep and worship the eternal flame of Vesta and become non-virginal at their peril) to seek out one of their number who has been kidnapped by Etruscans to provide a sacrifice to an evil demonic entity.
Antonius is reluctant to rescue the girl but his objections are mainly due to dereliction of duty and not, you know… demonic entities. He does it anyway but mentally breaks in the process. Which, spoiler alert, was part of the plan all along.
To misquote The Six Million Dollar Man – we can rebuild him! We have the ancient texts and a big fire. Yes, the Vestals take in the broken Antonius and put him back together through such caring acts as bathing him in blood and dangling him over a fire. He is restored with an added bonus, he is now ready to absorb the codex, an ancient text that enables him to be a bit like Sherlock Holmes.
So imbued with knowledge, Antonius goes forth and solves crime, all over Rome! He is given the title of Detectioner as he… detects things. In this role he works for the Emperor Nero (who is the worst) but behind the scenes head Vestal Rubia has her own agenda and will manipulate men of power as a result.
But back to the title, yes, he does get to Britannia and there he finds horrors both man-made and of a more supernatural nature. He’s a sort of combination between Mulder and Scully (if either of them were handy with a sword) as he unravels some mysteries and realises the true nature of others.
He doesn’t have many allies among the soldiers of the empire, but he does have his loyal slave and trusty sidekick Bran, a native of Britannia with a wit that is wasted on Antonius.
Britannia has some weird folk too such as the wyrd woman Bodmall, who may provide the information Antonius needs to unravel what’s happening in this far flung place.
Peter Milligan writes well keeping the plot wavering between the rational detectioner and the horror of the supernatural threats bursting forth from lands so savage the Romans can never fully tame them. He makes sure you are never quite sure what is real, what is imagined or if both are true at the same time.
The art is suitably gory, and a warning there is a lot of gore in this. If you are upset by men literally being reduced to a pile of meaty pummelled flesh this probably is not the book for you. Moreover, the character’s faces are real and ugly, reflecting the ugliness of the world. Juan José Ryp does an excellent job with the brutal scenes of men and dark forces literally tearing each other apart. But also exercises a nice subtler touch for the quieter moments, capturing the contrast between the civilisation of Rome and the murky world of Britannia. Also, demons never looked so… vomit inducing.
The colouring is by Jordie Bellaire and if you read my review of Redlands you’ll know that, when it comes to horror colouring, Jordie Bellaire is bound to do a good job and is not afraid to get the red paint out.
If you like ancient historical horror (possibly a bit niche) or have an interest in the Roman occupation of Britain – if Britain had Druid priests calling upon ancient evil to destroy the Roman occupying their land – then you’ll enjoy this.
If you ever thought – hey, what if Sherlock Holmes was a Roman who went through some weird spiritual stuff, gained powers of detection and had to face off against the supernatural forces? – then this is the book for you too.
Britannia is not a book to read whilst you are eating, but despite that it has a strong central character, strong supporting characters and a mystery that may make you question where the line between human evil and demonic evil lies.
If you wish to detect a copy for yourself, you can find Britannia in the following locations:
On ComiXology (hey there’s a sale on!)
Or head over to your local Travelling Man store! (several branches based in Britannia)