‘Britannia: We Who are About to Die’ started off with a bang with a crazed Nero and the elite of Rome in a state of terror because their offspring are being gruesomely killed off. Worse yet, a woman has empowered the female population through her prowess as a gladiator. Writer Peter Milligan has created a tale that subverts the patriarchy with ancient Rome as its back drop. At the end of issue two historical context is given to the positions of women in society. On paper they could own property, and have a say in their own lives. The reality though is that was rarely the case. Still, it doesn’t quite explain Achillia or how she could be able to be strong enough to become a fighter.
Antonius Axia is once again the Vestal Virgins and Nero’s detectioner, a man imbued with the abilities to read the codex. This doesn’t help him as it seems the gods have turned their backs on Rome. Magic may be at play here and through the artwork of Juan Jose Ryp et al you see in the rolling clouds a set of angry faces. Are these the gods who are showing their displeasure or are the readers complicit in the citizens of Rome’s delirium? Whatever the case the tension within this comic is so thick you’ll find yourself physically unable to breathe. Don’t get attached to anyone, not even the children. At any moment any character may meet their end. After all this series isn’t called Antonius. But it won’t stop you from rooting for him.
In the ancient Greek play Medea the titular character takes revenge upon her husband Jason by slitting the throat of their sons and keeping him from burying their remains. For Medea a foreigner, and worse yet a woman to hold a considerable amount of power was a ballsy and defiant act on the playwright Euripides part. She controlled her destiny and regained control over her body in a language the dominant society understood. By being as violent as any man, Medea laid waste to any avenue Jason could take to move up in his station. She not only murdered her children, she also massacred the royal family through poison. At the end of his life Jason was left to be a leper who people crossed the street to avoid. The very thing he did not want happening to him did. Some have argued that it was because Jason broke his oath to the gods. This meant that Medea is able to get away with her heinous behavior. Centuries later, even though she is a fictional character, Medea has been looked at from nearly every angle and has had a disorder named after her. No matter what you may say about this character, she is a survivor and uses her intelligence and the predictability of her enemies to get the better of them. She also has an escape plan by way of a flying chariot.
But somehow things seem quite real in Milligan’s tale. And in trying to find out the mystery of the killings amidst a feminist uprising puts Antonius and his family in the kind of danger where he might not see a third issue. There doesn’t seem to be a Deux es Machina for our hero. Still you root for him to figure out what’s going on and just how a female gladiator fits into this drama.