Rome, in the age of Emperor Nero, and Antonius Axia (the detectioner) has been hired by the Emperor to recover three Roman Eagles lost by General Verres in Tottenwald Forest. But why is Antonius headed for Alexandria instead of Germany?
Writer: Peter Milligan
Artist: Robert Gill
Colorist: José Villarrubia
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
Publisher: Valiant Entertainment
Cover Price: $3.99
Release Date: August 22, 2018
Previously in Britannia: Lost Eagles of Rome: Antonius Axia was hired by Nero to recover three Eagles lost in battle in a German Forest. Nero has little information beyond the fact that they are lost, and he is desperate to recover them. Antonius teams up with Achillia, a gladiatrix, who will help him. At stake for her is her freedom. But instead of heading for Germany, Antonius has other plans…
A SOLID MYSTERY
Ancient Rome, the setting for Britannia: Lost Eagles of Rome #2, is such an interesting time period. The Roman world was fairly sophisticated, yet the edges of the Empire kept bumping up against other civilizations. This is a rich period for a detective story (such as the novels of Steven Saylor or Lindsey Davis). Our detective, or detectioner as he is called here, is the first of his kind ever. He reminds us of the circumstances of the lost Eagles, and how this is a negative portent for Nero. Yet Antonius and Achillia get set to take a ship to Alexandria so they can speak with General Verres himself. Before they can board, Rubria, Chief Vestal Virgin, approaches and gives Antonius a message for a friend (Rachel) in Alexandria and advises him to talk with her before doing anything else.
The trip is harrowing, and there is a fleeting moment of attraction between our two main characters (not acted upon – Achillia, as a gladiatrix, is a slave, and the detective will not take advantage of her). Then they arrive. We are introduced to the sights and sounds of Alexandria, starting with a man covered in boils, one of the seven plagues of Egypt according to Judean religion. This is said to be a curse, and we meet a young man claiming to be responsible. He also claims to be the reincarnation of Ramesses Twelve and a living Pharaoh. Roman guards overhearing him do nothing, which strikes Antonius as odd. As if life weren’t complicated enough, we briefly go back to Nero, who is now also irate that his detectioner did not go to Germany, and has decided to send assassins after him.
Antonius and Achillia go to the Jewish quarter and find Rachel. Antonius delivers his message and in short order, Roman soldiers attack, thinking the house holds Jewish rebels. No holds are barred here, and it is a fairly bloody fight. Achillia holds her own, which is cool. Before more guards show up, they flee down a tunnel. As we might expect, the Jews are not planning a rebellion; Verres is putting down the imaginary rebellion to increase his standing in the eyes of the Emperor.
Next, Antonius finds a way in to talk to Verres about the Eagles. Verres gives him an elaborate story involving being hugely outnumbered, and confused by fog, and that the forest was full of demons, before declaring the interview over. Antonius and Achillia both know he’s lying; the question is why. Then they observe Verres meeting on friendly terms with the Pharaoh we met earlier. We close at the library of Alexandria, where Antonius researches Ramesses the Great, and then an arsonist sets fire to the library.
I don’t know what specifically it is about the art of Britannia: Lost Eagles of Rome #2, but my first thought was “illustration.” There is plenty of action and expression in it. Perhaps it is because I so enjoyed the depiction of the time period, and of life in that setting. This is first and foremost an investigation, so there are several quiet scenes punctuated by action. There is also great detail here, and the artwork is lovely and interesting to look at. I like the depictions of Rome and of Alexandria, which are different from each other. I did not pick up on any obvious anachronisms. (The trip by boat looks terrifying.)
The characters are distinct and expressive. Again, this is a mystery, so some things are communicated by small changes in facial expressions, which we see clearly. The depictions of clothing is great. The color schemes are somewhat muted, but entirely in keeping with place and time. It goes hand in hand with the story, and both complement each other well.
BOTTOM LINE: GREAT SETTING AND INTERESTING PLOT
If you love mysteries in a historical setting, take a look at Britannia: Lost Eagles of Rome #2. While the story does not appear to be set against an actual historical event, it borrows from actual events that happened around this general time period. I love the concept of someone who is “the first detective,” which gives him the added challenge that the people around him don’t appreciate him or quite understand how he does what he does.