Publisher: Valiant Entertainment
Writer: Peter Milligan
Artwork: Robert Gill
Colours: Jose Villarrubia, Diego Rodriguez
Lettering: Dave Sharpe
Release Date: 25th July 2018
Back in 2016, the first Britannia series unveiled a version of Ancient Rome that was shrouded in magic and intrigue. LOST EAGLES OF ROME, a new series set in this same world, sees the return of fan-favourite Antonius Axia, the world’s first detective, as he tries to track down some missing Roman standards that have mysteriously disappeared following an ambush by savages in the woods of Germany.
My knowledge of the Valiant Universe, with the exception of Faith, is admittedly fairly limited, so this series appealed to me by virtue of its (relatively) stand-alone nature. And while I’ll also freely admit that I hadn’t picked up any of the previous Britannia books before this one, I can happily confirm that this new series serves as a perfect jumping-on point for new readers into this fascinating, magic-tinged slice of alternative history.
I love a good procedural, and the idea of setting one in Ancient Rome actually works rather well. Axia’s restrained, matter-of-fact deductions bear more than a passing resemblance to a certain deerstalker-wearing detective, and inserting Nero himself as the blustering buffoon Antonius is forced to report to is a stroke of genius. Series writer Peter Milligan does a great job of (re)introducing and establishing his key characters here, and of presenting a tantalising mystery just begging to be unwrapped.
It’s worth pointing out that this is very much a detective story through and through, which means that – with the exception of the first couple of pages and a brief sparring session midway through the issue – the focus is squarely on dialogue and story as opposed to any sort of action. It flows well though, and while there’s a lot of dialogue, Milligan manages to deliver the required exposition in a fairly unobtrusive way as Antonius questions some key witnesses.
Robert Gill does a cracking job with the artwork, delivering a suitably polished style that works well to convey the emotions of the characters. The layouts flow smoothly, and while there’s a lot of characters standing around talking to one another, there’s still enough fluidity in the “camera” angles and layouts to keep things visually appealing throughout. Jose Villarrubia and Diego Rodriguez tag-team the colours here, delivering an impressive – if perhaps a little too “clean” at times – version of Ancient Rome.
Interestingly, in spite of the intriguing nature of the case, it’s the simmering flirtation between Antonius and gladiatrix Achillia, who is assigned as his bodyguard, which provides the real highlight of the issue for me. Milligan’s dialogue sizzles during their exchanges, and Antonius’s inner monologue conveys his true, almost embarrassed feelings about the attractive, powerful slave girl. Their relationship – which already seemingly blossomed in the “We Who Are About To Die” miniseries – adds some welcome nuance to the investigation, and the way Nero tries to leverage her against Axia makes for compelling reading.
At the end of the day, LOST EAGLES OF ROME delivers a strong premise, but there’s definitely a feeling that things are still only just ramping up, and as such, the story is moving fairly slowly for the time being. That said, there’s definitely some real meat to this story, and while this is very much a set-up issue, there’s still more than enough here to make sure I come back next month to see how this particular case unfolds. Well worth a look.