Trouble brews in the northernmost expansions of the Roman Empire. At the behest of the Vestal Virgins, Antonius Axia has been sent to investigate. Is it good?
Britannia #1 (Valiant Entertainment)
The atmospheric introduction of Britannia #1 is brought to life by Raul Allen and Patricia Martin. The illustration evokes the marble used in Roman art and architecture, while the coloring, with its small splashes of red, sets the tone for the rest of the issue and hints at the supernatural elements that emerge later. Writer Peter Milligan also uses this opening to help set up the political hierarchy of the Roman Empire. Letterer Dave Sharpe works well with the artists to make sure that the captions have an ethereal flow and rhythm, drawing the reader into the world rather than feeling like a dry history lesson. Once there, the characters take over.
Antonius Axia makes for an engaging protagonist, starting Britannia #1 as a hardened centurion for the Roman Empire. An encounter with the Great Vestal Rubria leads him on a dangerous rescue mission that alters his life forever. The plot here is fairly straightforward, as the Grand Vestal Rubria manipulates both Antonius and Nero into doing her bidding, namely having Antonius journey to Britannia to investigate some of the rumblings in the region. Her true objective is not quite clear, but the horrors that greet Antonius show that there is far more at stake than the expansion of the empire. Milligan’s script is packed with characters, and some readers may find it a bit overbearing and lose focus of the story near the middle of the issue. Britannia #1 is able to counter this by allowing readers to learn about the characters through their actions as much as they do their words.
Whether it’s Nero’s penchant for cruel violence, Rubria’s menacing glares, or the way Antonius takes a knee to tenderly interact with his son, artist Juan José Ryp does a fantastic job bringing the characters to life and giving them a physical presence on the page. Ryp’s detailed artwork fills the page with small flecks that give the world a weathered look that not only conveys the hardness of the characters, but also makes Britannia #1 feel set in the past.
Color artist Jordie Bellaire does stunning work here, particularly with the lighting in her colors. Considering both the time period and the cultural focus on the Vestal virgins, fire plays a huge role, being the only man-made source of light available. Reflecting this, Bellaire utilizes an array of reds and oranges to depict firelight, and grades the light outward in a natural way across rooms. This also helps set the scenes in Rome apart from those in Britannia, where the dense fog is rendered in some chilling blues and greys. This helps set up Britannia as a truly foreboding place, allowing the comic to more easily transition from historical drama to supernatural horror.
The last few pages of the issue are given over to Dr. Karen Klaiber Hersch of Temple University, who describes the historical Vestals of Rome. The issue is quite informative and helps to better establish the socio-political status of the Vestals as well as the overall setting of the comic. It adds another layer to Britannia #1 and is well worth the read.
Is It Good?
The craftsmanship behind Britannia #1 makes it a truly enjoyable read. Peter Milligan’s script works incredibly well with Juan José Ryp’s artwork so that neither the dialogue nor the visuals are redundant. When combined with Jordie Bellaire’s stellar color artwork, Britannia #1 comes together as a jam-packed debut well worth the investment. Some may find it a tad overwhelming, but it’s nice to see a series get so much accomplished in the first issue.