Peter Milligan and Juan José Ryp continue to up the ante as they pit their Roman detective up against gods and monsters, both of the human and mystical kinds. As with the previous Britannia series, Antonius Axia must separate the magical threats from the mundane ones in order to find answers and return sanity. This time the danger is bigger than a distant province at the edge of the empire, now he must save the very heart of Rome from a long brewing threat.
Axia is well aware of the distrust that all women who wield power in Rome engender. Luckily, he has learned to respect the abilities of women and treats them the equal of men. It is his experiences with powerful women and those a front line soldier that allow him to escape from the trap of the gladiatorial arena and start putting together the final clues of how a former slave woman is turning the young men of Rome against their families in the name of the gods.
Milligan (The Mummy: Palimpsest, Shade, the Changing Man) is smartly balancing the magic elements with more rational explanations. It makes sense that Elissa would be using psychotropic drugs to boost the mystical power of her spells to control people. He also makes smart choices in choosing women who are slaves descended from Roman’s greatest enemies as their source of this menace. It is a smart way to strengthen the resolve of people so disenfranchised from freedom that they have no other way to strike out.
While it is easy to make slavery and sexism the root cause of the problem, Milligan handles this in a subtle way. He allows the modern reader to see these as evil and how they corrupt their societies, while they remain blind spots for the characters in that civilization. They are so normal that people then and there would never expect things to be different.
Ryp’s (X-O Manowar, Lady Death) art continues to be amazing throughout this series. Although there are one or two places where his tendency to draw dead eyes was distracting. It is a minor quibble, but when you are getting such solid art everything else in the book, the details become so much more important. And Ryp usually excels at the details. (If you don’t like blood and guts in your comics, this series is not for you.) From the battles and sacrifices to the quieter scenes in the senator’s garden, he doesn’t lose track of the details, like the placement of wounds or the senator’s bald spot.
Frankie D’Armata’s (Captain America, Nick Fury) color work is a great compliment for Ryp’s art. He has full control of the color palette for each environment that is distinct and makes sense. His choices provide much of the sense of menace projected through the series.
There is only one more issue to go after this one. Now that Axia has solved most of the mysteries, can he save his beloved Rome from the threat that it has brought upon itself?
Writer: Peter Milligan
Art: Juan José Ryp
Colors: Frankie D’Armata
Publisher: Valiant Entertainment