Collects issues 1-4 of the series. Writer: Peter Milligan. Artist: Juan Jose Ryp. Color artist: Jordie Bellaire. Letterer: Dave Sharpe. Cover Artist: Cary Nord. Introduction art for issue one: Raul Allen and Patricia Martin. Published by Valiant.
This epic tale is full of history, violence, horror, mystery, a little sex, and so much more. The first detective, Antonius Axia must travel from Rome to the far outpost of Britannia to investigate what kind of monsters, real or imaginary, plague the land.
I was raised Catholic and went to Catholic school so there’s a lot of Roman history still in my head, but this was delightfully unexpected. Antonius is chosen to become one with ancient knowledge and uses that skill to deduct the truths from many scheming leaders. He is not a perfect man by any means. Maybe the first hard boiled detective. But he gets the job done just as well as any who come after him. Axia has his women, he has his muscle, he has his drink, he has issues with other authority figures. While the setting may be unique for these types of stories, all of the classic detective tropes are there.
Plus all of the ancient beliefs and superstitions, many of which are the motivation for the more grisly acts. Is the monster real or imaginary? If it can hurt Antonius, then the answer doesn’t really matter. The preservation of life becomes of most importance. Not only Axia’s life, but the respect or lack of it given to other lives. Every rising station looks down upon the ones below. Lives are only prolonged to serve other plans or desires. Antonius becomes more aware that he has been manipulated into this mission, but has an overpowering sense of duty. He knows he’s the only one that can solve this mystery because no one else is even aware of what that word means.
While the mystery with evil both human and “other” resonates to a point in which I’m debating rereading the entire book after I write this post, there is so much more. Whether in light or darkness, rain, fog, blood, or ectoplasm – everything and every person is crystal clear, distinctive and recognizable. This story could have easily become a muddy mess of who is who and where are they? Nothing about this setting should be familiar yet this story flows seamlessly and never once confuses the reader. Panel construction, coloring, and proper placement of word balloons are overlooked by fans but it takes the skills of all these creators combined to make the worlds of Rome and Britannia come alive.
If I have any complaint about the book, it’s a small one. Four issues was not enough. This is an epic story that should have been given more space to breathe and really let some of the life or death situations Antonius finds himself in play out more. I loved the story, I loved the twist and turns, but I wish there were more pages to build up the tension a bit. I know he’s going to get out of this, but give me a bit more time to doubt it.
All in all a great new concept and I’m excited to see the last page promoting a follow up series.