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Review: Britannia: We Who Are About To Die #1

BRITANNIA2_001_COVER-A_NORDFifty thousand Romans stand on their feet, watching from the rafters of the coliseum with captured breath as Achillia, a gladiator unlike any that Rome has seen before, faces incredible odds – one lone warrior against five of Rome’s greatest. Such is the tradition, when a female gladiator enters the fray. When the carnage is complete, the coliseum roars its approval as Achillia stands victorious. Now, only one match away from winning her freedom, she has begun to gain renown. The women of Rome, suppressed by their husbands and fathers, have noticed. The men of Rome, husbands and fathers to a growing horde of women entertaining ideas of independence, have noticed as well.

On the other side of Rome, a strange mystery swirls through the Palatine Hill. In the dead of night, down winding alleys, Rome’s elite swear that they see visions of a blood-soaked Apollo walking the city…visions that are driving them mad. Even more are becoming sick with weird fever god-dreams. Panic ensues in the city. The Chief Vestal, Rubria, is arrested by Emperor Nero and threatened with crucifixion unless the deadly curse that’s fallen on Rome is lifted. She asks Antonius Axia, hero of Britannia and Rome’s only detective, for help. She offers only one clue…the gladiator Achillia.

The first Britannia series received some mixed feelings from those who read it; some, like myself, thoroughly enjoyed it while others felt that it was at best a good set up for the next story, and not a truly self-contained arc in and of itself. While I can understand where that line of thinking comes from, it didn’t lessen my enjoyment of the first four issues in any way, and I’ve been looking forward to the beginning of the sequel since it was announced.

So does the first issue of We Who Are About To Die take a step forward from the first volume, or a step back?

I’m quite happy to say that not only does it take a good step forward, but if you’ve read the previous series then you’ll have an inkling of what to expect thematically; this isn’t a strictly historical story, as evidenced by the demons appearing last series. The first issue of We Who Are About To Die kicks off a few months after the events of the previous miniseries with another a particularly gruesome scene that will inevitably draw Antonius Axa, the Detectioner, into a web of lies and intrigue – and possibly more demonic influence – this issue reads more like a true crime story set around two thousand years ago than it does anything else.

Although Peter Milligan delivers a really solid story, the highlight of the comic for me is the art of Juan Jose Ryp. His hyper-detailed style fits the period, effortlessly captures the Roman citizens in the civilized brutality that we often associate with the time period (and especially the Colosseum), but the way in which Ryp captures Nero’s facial expressions hints toward a level of madness and paranoia not seen before in the series. As good as Miligan’s story and Ryp’s art are separately, the combination of the two elevates this into a must buy comic, whether you’ve read the first volume or not.

I can’t wait for the second issue.

Story: Peter Milligan  Artist: Juan Jose Ryp Colourist: Frankie D’Armata
Story: 8.25 Art: 9 Overall: 8.75 Recommendation: Buy

Valiant provided Graphic Policy a FREE copy for review, I will be purchasing this comic on my next visit to my LCS.

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