Written by Peter Milligan
Art by Juan Jose Ryp, Frankie D’Armata
Published by Valiant Comics
Release Date: April 26, 2017

“We who are about to die…” is the famous salute that most will equate with the deadly gladiatorial games of ancient Rome. The reference it calls to mind is not only what happens in Britannia: We Who Are About To Die but is also an accurate description of the tone of this first issue: death and debauchery. In this issue we follow the Antonius Axia, the world’s first detective, in Rome as he is caught up in a case of murder and madness. It’s an ugly depiction of Roman times that some may feel is a mirror image of our world today.

Milligan gives us a good solid story that is paced very well. At times it can be a little heavy on the dialogue but this is necessary for getting the reader up to speed on past and current events. At no time, however, does this slow the plot down as it moves at a quick pace. Milligan provides us with a number of callbacks to previous events which allows us to enter into this world without having to read the first one. Axia’s story sounds so intriguing, though, that you will want to go back and read Britannia if you haven’t already. We are given a couple of different plot lines that Milligan successfully weaves in with the main plot.  Though Rome’s society is morally decayed it is tempered by the steady mind of Axia who gives the reader a fixed point to anchor to. The story ends solidly with a predictable reveal but still satisfy nonetheless.

Ryp’s art sinks the reader in a very visceral and stomach turning look at the life of the top 1% of Rome. Their lives were as gluttonous as the extremely gory way they are portray having died. They are rendered talking so fervently that we see spittle flying from their mouths and when they are cut down their insides explode onto the page. It’s as if the nastiness inside of them can’t wait to get out. All the artwork is drawn with great care and nicely detailed.  The backgrounds especially are wonderful and show the beauty of Roman architecture and artwork. Tile work, stone pathways and tree leaves are all equally wonderful and work as a stark contrast to ugliness of the Roman people and their lives. Equally beautiful are the costumes that look like they have been researched and drawn correctly. Ryp’s character work is nicely done and looks like Roman statuary that has come to life. Notice that Ryp draws his characters with their mouths always open, always in action, and though it may not always look pretty it fits the Romans. Facial expressions are drawn in an over exaggerated manner which fittingly mirrors their gluttony.

The reader will enjoy this combination of horror, gladiator, and detective story all rolled into one. It aptly conveys Rome at it’s most sickening and the reader may discover parallels with our own society. If you are a fan of ancient Rome and it’s mythology or love the beauty of it’s architecture then you may enjoy this book if gore doesn’t scare you away. It’s a good balance, though, and more than worth sticking it through. There is great potential for a deeper story and message here in future issues.

The Verdict 9.0/10

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