A new Pete Milligan comic is always worth a look because outwith his Marvel or most of his DC work, we’re going to get something interesting, and the blurb for Britannia is intriguing.
On the fringes of civilization, the world’s first detective is about to make an unholy discovery…
Ruled by the Fates. Manipulated by the Gods. Commanded by Caesar. In the year 65 A.D., one’s destiny was not his own. At the height of Nero’s reign, a veteran of Rome’s imperial war machine has been dispatched to the farthest reaches of the colonies to investigate unnatural happenings… In the remote outpost of Britannia, Antonius Axia – the First Detective – will become Rome’s only hope to reassert control over the empire’s most barbaric frontier…and keep the monsters that bridge the line between myth and mystery at bay…
You don’t see many stories of the Roman occupation of Britain, or of Roman detectives! However from the off this doesn’t look like a regular comic as artist Juan Jose Ryp employs full pages to fill in the backstory of the Roman Empires, and how the Vestal Virgins were the only women in the Empire who wielded any sort of real, meaningful power.
The Centurion Antonius is given a task to find a missing virgin who has vanished, as if the Romans couldn’t control their virgins, silly Romans. Anyhow, the virgin is rescued though not before something mysterious, possibly magical happens.
Antonius is dragged into a magical world of words and ideas alien to him as the Vestal Virgins introduce him to the Codex, which collects the history, myths and ideas of the Virgins. Once we find out what happened with Antonius we then see how years later he becomes a detective searching out adulterous senators and the like.
Milligan builds up a lot of background of the machinations of Rome under the then Emperor Nero, before throwing us right in with whatever is happening in Britannia, the Roman name for what is the island of Great Britain today.
Eventually with some coaxing and threats, Antonius is sent to Britannia to get to the bottom of what’s going on and what the Vestal Virgins seem to have been preparing him for over the years.
This is a cracking read. Milligan’s put together an interesting tale of myth, magic and Roman politics to create an adventure story which is wonderfully drawn by Ryp whose European style artwork suits the script perfectly. It looks beautiful in places, even when there’s grotesque stuff happening on the page. This is something quite different, not to mention unexpected as it didn’t once take a path I was expecting so unlike so many first issues these days I’ll gladly return for the second issue.