When I initially saw the cover for Britannia–written by Peter Milligan and illustrated by Juan José Ryp–I knew that I absolutely had to read this trade paperback graphic novel. It screamed “Imperial Rome,” which is a subject that I’m immensely fascinated by. It’s actually pretty hard not to be intrigued by something that explores the Roman invasion of the Isle of Britannia with a mash-up of the majestic Gods and Goddesses, the primal power of nature that’s known as Druidism, and tons of blood to be worthy of a Roman tale. However, it saddens me to say that the execution of this title was less than desirable.
Britannia revolves around the legionnaire, Antonius Axia, and how he becomes the first detective of Rome. Convinced by the head of the Vestal Virgins to save one of their own from a ritual sacrifice, Axia is shanghaied into a very bloody and slightly disturbing situation. The story then flashes forward about five years where he is established as the First Detective. An event from his past arises, and he sets off to Britannia to conquer a Devil long-forgotten.
The very first thing that I noticed about the comic was the art-style. It brilliantly captures the brutality of the time period and the visceral nature that Ancient Rome is famous for. The contrasting panels between Imperial Rome and the primitive nature of Britannia are stunningly encomiastic to the overall setting and atmosphere for the story. With each issue’s finale, the reader is provided with a small blurb regarding some historical information that offers more insight into the lore that creates the foundation for the tale of Britannia.
Fantastic artwork is a wonderful thing, but in the end it’s nothing more than just eye-porn if you don’t have the writing to back it up, which is the case for Britannia. The story ended up feeling horribly rushed, unevenly paced, and quite forced. There were moments where I honestly felt as if Milligan tossed a bunch of facets from the Ancient world into a blender and the resulting hot-mess became our primary plot. With such intelligent artwork and the compelling notion, I expected far more. It deserved plenty of attention to detail and more fleshed out storytelling.
If you’re a fan of Roman history, or Druid mythos, then you may want to take a look at this comic (mostly for the artwork). Aside from the drawings, there really isn’t much here to hold your attention, or provide you with any sort of cohesive reading experience.
2 virgins outta 5!