Any student of military history invariably ends up studying various Roman battles. From the Roman siege of Alesia during the Gallic wars to the disastrous Roman defeat at the Teutoberg Forest by the traitor Arminius; these battles are classic examples of logistics, maneuver and often times politics. To my delight, Britannia – Lost Eagles of Rome, takes that Roman defeat at Teutoberg and uses it as a basis for this four part story tracing the travels of Antonius Axia and Achilla.
The genesis of this story lies in the real world events that happened in Germania in 9CE. An aspiring politician, turned general, named Publius Quinctilius Varus took three Roman legions into Germania to finally bring the barbarians living east of the Rhine River to heel. One of Varus’ closest advisers was a centurion named Arminius. Born a prince of one of the Germanic tribes, Arminius was taken as a hostage by Rome and drafted into the Roman military where he served with distinction. However, as Varus led the 27th, 28th and 29th legions through the Teutoberg forest he did not know that Arminius had conspired with several Germanic tribes and had laid an ambush for the Romans. What followed is one of the saddest and grisliest days in Roman military history. Hemmed in on all sides by the thick forest, the Germans destroyed the Roman legions in a crushing defeat. Lost in the battle were the “aquila”, the eagle battle standards for the three legions defeated in battle. These standard were viewed with mystical reverence by the Roman legions as symbols of Rome’s might. The loss of one brought with it shame and humiliation. So great was this loss at the Battle of Teutoberg, that the three defeated legions were never reformed and never saw service in Rome’s armies again.
This is where our story begins then. Antonius, a detectioner (think Roman Sherlock Holmes), and Achilla, a gladiatrix, have been sent by the Emperor Nero to recover the three lost aquila from the Battle of Teutoberg Forest. In real life the defeated general Varus retired in shame and his family line was ruined as a result. In our story, Varus finds himself in the middle of a treasonous plot to undermine and eventually supplant Nero. Antonius and Axia eventually find themselves in Egypt and brave curses and clever mechanisms to recover the three aquila from the tomb of Ramses the Great. With the traitor Varus still on the loose, Antonio and Achilla are forced to deal with that situation before returning to Rome with the standards in hand. The ever fickle Nero, who had been intent on slaying both Antonio and Achilla for some perceived slight, rewards the two of them instead. Antonio is showered with acclaim and wealth and Achilla is granted her freedom.
The concept of this book is exciting and different. I was thrilled to see the real life events of Teutoberg used as a premise for this original story. With just enough real history thrown in the story takes a radical departure from actual events. This alternate history was entertaining. It was an unexpected delight to read a comic book that featured the ancient Roman world as its focal point. However, the writing can be very formulaic and I found it annoying that these Romans were using modern colloquialisms as they battled Roman soldiers and plumbed the depths of an ancient tomb. The pencil work was tight and on point. Britannia is a wide-ranging book with vastly different locales and an assortment of diverse characters. However, the art team has produced a book that displays those contrasting styles while ensuring that they all look like they live in the same world. I wish that the colors had been bolder and more vibrant as the book felt flat and two-dimensional at times. The inking was inadequate and I do not think it was successful in complementing and enhancing the fine pencil work.
This book is probably not for everyone. If your eyes started glazing over at the first mention of Varus, Germania and the Roman legions then this might be a stretch. However, if you are a fan of ancient history or historical fiction I would recommend giving this a read as an entertaining departure from real world events.
Writing – 3.5 of 5 Stars
Pencil – 4 of 5 Stars
Inking – 2.5 of 5 Stars
Color – 2.5 of 5 Stars
Writer – Peter Milligan
Art – Robert Gill, Juan Castro
Color – Jose Villarrubia
Letterer – Dave Sharpe