Written by: Peter Milligan
Art by: Robert Gill
Colors by: Jose Villarubia
Letters by: Dave Sharpe
I can’t seem to say no to historical, period-era comics. Although Brittania #1 failed to impress, I was hoping that with the second issue a few of the small plot points would be solved. Unfortunately, I again felt as if I wasn’t quite in the story. Something I love about detective narratives is the ability to see all the clues at nearly the same time as the detective and try to solve the mystery alongside them. Brittania doesn’t allow us to do that, throwing in twists from outside forces, giving Antonius too much information beforehand, and generally making the book more about Antonius’ journey to certain locales than a more straightforward detective story.
The tangents that usually occur in hard-boiled gumshoe stories feel a little too random and forced in this book. Maybe it’s the abbreviated length, maybe it’s the lack of strings to pull, but we don’t get to see the end of a thread, just more string. It’s frustrating and feels like the writer only knows as much as we do. This is a problem frequently seen in detective comics, as there is only so much time we can spend on any issue, and I feel is better suited to longer graphic novels or trade book releases.
With Brittania, I’m interested, but I’m not invested. If Antonius doesn’t find the eagles (Maltese Falcon, anyone?) I don’t care about the consequences. If he does, that might present a more interesting dilemma, but I’m more worried about the red herring than interested in how he gets there.
Plot aside, the art in these books is seriously impressive. It’s lush and expansive, and there’s no faking talent when you have to draw multiple characters, vivid backgrounds, and many different cultures in one issue. The one-face-for-every-girl problem is still present, although mitigated by the fact that there are almost no women in these books aside from Rubia and Achilla. Even most of the minor characters Antonius runs into are men. At this point, I’m fine with it, because I won’t have to memorize another specific hair color to differentiate between women.
A small thing of note: the colorist tends to change Achillia’s outfit colors every other page. Whether this is due to clumsy editing or a lack of care is hard to tell, but it’s frustrating combined with the issue of every woman having the same face. This isn’t improved when reading some of the sneak peeks of the script in the back of the issue and Rachel – an aged Jewish woman – is introduced as very old but ‘oddly beautiful.’ Perhaps it’s the artistic direction that drives all the women into a strange framework of Crone or Beauty, with little in between. Another small note, when the evil/amoral/not-roman-seditioner Pharaoh of Egypt is described as “handsome in a feminine way,” you automatically queer code a brown man and fall into a terrible, easily avoided stereotype. Reading this phrase in the last pages of the issue, looking for some more content to give added depth, made me feel disappointed and sad, not excited for the next chapter.
I’m a sucker for Roman stories. I’ll snag issue #3, but unless some surprises and more solid storytelling are in store, I don’t know how much will improve.