Review by Jamie McNeil
After the slave revolt led by Spartacus ends in defeat, the Roman legions crucify six thousand rebels along the Via Appia. Former slave and gladiator Aquila is among them. Young and strong, he survives longer than his fallen brothers, bu in agony, he cries out to any gods from any land who might hear and grant him vengeance. One answers – Ammit the Devourer, who feeds on the souls of the wicked in the afterlife. In exchange for his soul, Ammit gifts Aquila with four blessings. Age or death will not take him, he can bear wounds normal men can’t, he can see the evil in men, and no binds or fetters will hold him longer than he wishes. For over a century Aquila travels the known world harvesting evil souls for the Devourer. In Brittania he encounters Boudicca and her Iceni warriors. Through her, he learns there are others like him and perhaps a way to break free of Ammit’s debt. His quest for freedom will lead him to Rome, where chaos ensues in the street and innocents are murdered en masse. To find the answers he is looking for, he has to kill a king that would be ruler of the gods – Nero, the Roman Emperor.
Gordon Rennie’s plot for Aquila: Blood of the Iceni is very simple. Take a juggernaut with a grudge, point him at something and ramp up the body count. Throw in lashings of gory violence and set it in a tumultuous period of history. Add the supernatural with gods of every creed and every nation. Finally, toss in a shifty yet resourceful sidekick for comedy effect with an intelligent companion inspired by Lindsey Davis’s literary Roman detective Falco. Have we mentioned violence? History 101 this is not, but it has an edgy charm. Aquila is a straightforward character, executing vengeance with diligence. He’s not completely without heart, though whether those he gives aid to agree is anyone’s guess. It’s by filling in the blanks of the historical timeline between 71 BC and 69 AD that Rennie generates the most interesting fun. He supplies plenty of monsters and religious folklore blended in for an entertaining if very predictable plot.
Aquila’s backstory beyond the basics is jettisoned for action, while any character depth comes from elsewhere. While Felix Fortunatus and Triscus the Diviner add some depth, they are deviants, and some characters look promising but are written out early. Co-creator Lee Gallagher doesn’t start well, then improves over the course of the book. His violence is visceral, blood spewing and limbs flying, but the best art is by Patrick Goddard on ‘Where All Roads Lead’. He uses a fine line, adding sumptuous detail to the environment. By contrast, Gallagher often eschews background for emphasis on his cast. The result is some imaginative and macabre creatures with epic battles, but neglecting the environment lessens the tension. Rennie and Gallagher have left room for further Aquila stories, but this hoovers up all episodes that appeared in 2000AD to date.
If you’re looking for predictable, loosely historical entertainment requiring very little effort, this is it. Aquila: Blood of the Iceni is bloody, violent and – more often than not – darkly humorous. If you like Roman period stories like Spartacus or Rome, give this a whirl.