Review: Britannia #1

BRITANNIA_001_COVER-B_LAROSAIn Nero’s Rome in the first century, battle-scarred centurion Antonius Axia finds himself restored to health by the mysterious cult of the Vestal Virgins and imbued with the secrets of human psychology – making him the one truly sane man in an insane world governed by gods, fates, and superstitions. Now, as the world’s first detective, he will find himself dispatched to the remote Roman colony of Britannia to investigate strange attacks on the legions guarding the frontier… But what he finds there will lead him to question everything he thought he knew about the true order of our world…and the monsters that lurk just beyond its bounds.

Valiant have been pushing their new awkwardly titled (especially for this sentence) initiative The Future Of Valiant quite heavily over the past month or two, and the next release is the first issue of the prestige format miniseries Britannia #1. Written by Peter Milligan, with art provided by Raul Allen and Patricia Martin (introduction), Juan Jose Ryp (the rest of the comic) and colours by the prolific Jordie Bellaire

We’ll get to the story in a moment, but before we do that, let’s talk about the art.

The introduction to Britannia #1 has a very mythologically ancient feel to it. By having a different artistic team produce those first three pages, it separates Juan Jose Ryp‘s distinctive hyper detailed style from the more classical art style of Raul Allen Patricia Martin‘s opening pages. Ryp‘s detailed line work is able to convey the casual brutality of life two thousand years ago (if you’ve seen the Spartacus TV series, you’ll have an idea as to what I’m referring too), just as effortlessly as he does the romanticized version of ancient Rome. Bellaire‘s colours shift the comic from the green jungles in the opening to the dryer climate of Rome with a varied, yet consistent palate.

When there is violence within the pages of this comic it’s visceral; Ryp doesn’t shy away from the horror of bladed combat, and with Bellaire‘s expert colouring  to compliment his work, I’m reminded why these two are some of the best in their fields.

briannia-1-pg-5-scan

Taking place just after the turn of the last century, in 60 A.D. to be exact, Britannia‘s lead character, Antonius Axia is in many ways a man out of time. His understanding of psychology and the motivations of people wouldn’t be out of place in a more modern tale, and it’s this mentality that isolates him (at least in part) from his fellow Romans, but also allows the reader to find a sympathetic point of view for our more modern sensibilities in a character from 60 A.D.; there are other humanizing and character building moment that allow us to get a feel for Axia as a man of logic and understanding in a superstitious world. 

As this is only slated for a four issue series, Milligan’s plot moves along at a brisk pace, but the comic doesn’t feel rushed – there are some scenes that are clearly used to show Nero‘s lack of compassion or empathy for his slaves which is quite to the contrary when one looks at Antonius‘ relationship with his slave (I’m sure this is done to indicate the moral differences between the two men, but I may be reading too far between the lines), which resembles something more akin to that of friends or brothers in arms.

For a comic that’s achieved a significant amount of hype over the past few months, even going so far as to sell out of the first printing at the distributor level, you’d be forgiven for expecting the comic to fail to meet the buzz that’s been building around it – but that’s not the case here; Valiant‘s prestige format miniseries supposedly features a better quality of printed comic, which was certainly the case with Divinity II, but the review pdf that I have access to obviously doesn’t allow me to judge that side of things (I’ll update the review once I’ve picked up the physical copy my comic shop has for me).

What I can judge, however, is bloody fantastic.

Story: Peter Milligan
Art: Raul Allen & Patricia Martin (introduction) Juan Jose Ryp
Colours: Jordie Bellaire
Story: 9 Art: 9 Overall: 8.75 Recommendation: Buy

Valiant provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review.

3 comments

  • Physical artifact is lovely. Nice cardstock covers with a beautiful semi-matte finish, just like they used for the Bloodshot Reborn-Analog Man sequence. All comics ought to have this production quality: if Valiant seem to be able to stay in business charging $4 a copy, why is everyone else printing their books on toilet paper?

    • That’s good to know! I haven’t had a chance to pick mine up yet, but it sounds like it’s on par with the Divinity II comics.

      as to your question? It’s probably a matter of cost. Even Valiant’s regular series are on the standard paper… I’m wondering if they printed Britannia and Divinity II that way because there’s a higher sales expectation?

      • Thanks for your reply! I suspect it is a matter of profit, for the other publishers, rather than cost. Even the best-selling Valiant books don’t come close to the Big Two’s sales, and Valiant reputedly pay among the best standard work-for-hire rates to boot (I read that somewhere a while ago, so it may no longer be true). Seems to me that Valiant simply like putting out really nice books, from time to time, and will take a hit to their margins to do so. Which is awesome! I hope they set an example which others will follow. Titan’s productions standards are quite nice: Johnny Red and Samurai spring to mind. Some
        Image books are better put together too, but given their business model I don’t know if that is a decision taken by the creators, which takes pennies from their pockets, or at the publisher level. I’m not optimistic that we’ll ever get premium comics at a standard price point from DC or Marvel. Look at the excitement a few months ago when Marvel supposedly improved their cover stock… to very slightly less flimsy tissue! Cheers!