Britannia: We Who Are About to Die #2
Writer: Peter Milligan
Artist: Juan Jose’ Ryp
Colors: Frankie D’Armata
Letters: Dave Sharpe
Review by PeteR
Britannia: We Who Are About to Die
“During Nero’s reign in Rome, Antonio Axia rose to fame as hero at the battle of Tigranocerta, saving the lives of fellow Legionnaires. Brave, loyal – all that a soldier should be – he was called by the Vestal Virgins to become the World’s first Detectioner.”
I have to make a confession. I had not heard of the Britannia: We Who Are About to Die series or its previous series Britannia until the other day. I started to read issue #2 of Britannia: We Who Are About to Die and realized, even with the introduction page, that I had no idea what was going on. But hoo-boy, was I intrigued! I went and got a hold of the first issue of the series only to find out there was a previous Britannia series. I was so fascinated with this epic that I went and bought those four comics so that I could start at the actual beginning of the saga and work my way forward. I am mighty glad I did.
In Britannia: We Who Are About to Die, Peter Milligan (Electra, Shade the Changing Man, X-Force and Justice League Dark) weaves an intricate tale of discontentment in society. The Vestal Virgins are trying to maintain their theological influence over Roman society as Nero and the Senate conspire to diminish and ultimately disband (kill) them. The men are struggling to keep the women “in their place”. The old Gods of Rome are competing with the New Gods imported from foreign lands. The slaves and the lower classes resent the upper echelon. The empire battles to maintain its dominion on the outlying provinces while trying to conquer new lands. All this while Rome is being ruled by an emperor who is sinking lower and lower into the morass of paranoia and madness with each passing day.
The lead character of Britannia: We Who Are About to Die is Antonio Axia, a soldier of Rome. Previously, he had been dispatched by Rubia, the leader of the Vestal Virgins, to save one of her acolytes who had been kidnapped. In the course of the rescue, Antonio’s mind was “broken”. The Vestal Virgins healed him and, in doing so, expanded his mind by having him read the ancient texts of the Codex, “The sacred writings and symbols handed down by the ancestors.”
The mixture of the herbs and other curatives employed by the Vestal Virgins, and reading the Codex while mentally and emotionally wrecked, fundamentally changes Antonio Axia. Instead of viewing all events as the will of the Gods, he now knows that mankind is mostly responsible for their own fates. Blessed with the power of logic and an awareness of how the universe works, Axia becomes the world’s first Detectioner.
There are a couple of downsides to these cognitive abilities. The Emperor of Rome has ultimate authority of Rome and all her citizens, but the Vestal Virgins are the conduit of the Gods so they are the only authority over the Emperor, something Nero cannot stand. The fact that the Vestal Virgins are women in a society where women are viewed as possessions and inferior to men doesn’t help their cause (or survival). Antonio is caught in the middle of these two forces. Although he works for Emperor Nero, solving mysteries and crimes, he is also resented by the Emperor because of the occultist powers bestowed upon him by the Vestal Virgins. He is continuously forced to confront members of the higher classes, which in their minds diminish them. Oh, and Axia is concerned that he might be going insane because the Gods occasionally talk to him.
The artwork by Spanish artist Juan Jose’ Ryp (Vengeance of the Moon Knight, Punisher Max, No Hero and Wolverine) converges perfectly with the story. He is able to convey the details of the glory of ancient Rome, the murkiness of the vaporous, mysterious lands of Britannia, and the grittiness of the arena in the Coliseum with equal verisimilitude. The two page spread at the end of issue two alone makes the comic worth buying.
Why you should buy this book? The tag line, “Talking murderous Gods, cult-crazy youngsters, a beautiful she-warrior; and it’s someone’s job to find the connection.” says it all.
Britannia: We Who Are About to Die is absorbing in its intricateness. The reader is transported to an ancient time and immersed in both the political and social intrigue that was Rome. As Rubria of the Vestal Virgins stated, “In Rome, everyone needs some kind of protection.”
If you enjoyed the movie Gladiator, if you have read the Emperor series by Conn Iggulden, if you watched the Spartacus series on Starz, if you endured even one class of ancient civilizations in school, then Britannia: We Who Are About to Die is a series you will enjoy immensely.
On Sale May 17, 2017