Monday, September 24, 2012

Aquila: Blood of the Iceni

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Aquila: Blood of the Iceni (Rebellion, 2012).

Seventy years before Christ was born, Spartacus led a rebellion against Rome that did not go well. Six thousand prisoners were sentenced to crucifixion, their bodies lining the road from Capua to Rome. In a new recurring series in the pages of 2000 AD, one of these is a huge man named Aquila who, nailed to that cross, prays to every god and goddess whose name he knows for salvation and vengeance. One of their number blesses - slash - curses him with immortality and great strength, among other powers, taking away his soul while he roams the earth doing her bidding and bringing her more souls.

Aquila debuted with a one-off prologue episode in the annual extra-sized year's end edition of 2000 AD. Written by Gordon Rennie and illustrated by Leigh Gallagher, it actually has its roots not just in two thousand year-old history, but in something more recent. Thirty-odd years ago, there had been another series about a huge, soulless man fighting in Roman times. Black Hawk, written by Gerry Finley-Day and later by Alan Grant, and drawn by several artists, including the great Massimo Bellardinelli, only ran for about a year or so, first in Tornado and later 2000 AD, but it has always been popular among the comic's older fans.

In updating (or revising) Black Hawk, Rennie followed the template established by Pat Mills when he returned to the character of Bill Savage after twenty-something years, and also when he revamped the old MACH One series into Greysuit, but he also put some expected Rennie trademarks into the mix. It is a more adult series, certainly, with darker themes, sex, and more visceral violence, but it is also rich with subplots and the promise of much, much more at work than readers are shown. "Blood of the Iceni," the first continuing adventure for Aquila, sees him allied with Boudica as she continues the Britons' uprising against Rome around the year 60. But the Romans have superpowered allies of their own. This is a world where consulting entrails really can give visions of the future, and Aquila is by no means the only one to make pacts with underworld goddesses.

Aquila is off to a terrific start. The disagreeable practice in 2000 AD these days is to present only about a single story from each of its long list of continuing series each year, but there's just so much promise in Aquila that this simply won't do. This series would benefit, hugely, from a proper residency of six or seven months in the comic. There has not been enough of the series to collect in book form yet, but curious readers can hop on board by clicking the link in the image above and purchasing prog 1792, with part one of "Blood of the Iceni." Then be sure to let the editor know you'd like to see much more of this series.

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