There aren’t terribly many historical comics taking place in ancient Rome. The ones that do exist seem to thematically echo. They usually take place on the outskirts of the Roman Empire, on the frontier of the colonies. That setting lets the creative team dabble in European folk-horror imagery, since a lot of that horror came from Christian stories about their pagan ancestors. “Dead Romans” follows the formula to the letter, but I challenge you to find a comic that looks better this month.
Illustrated by Nick Marinkovich
MINISERIES PREMIERE Arminius, a Germanic prince raised in Rome, has sworn vengeance against the Empire that butchers his people. He wants to make a queen of the woman he loves, Honoria, a fellow slave. Now, fifty thousand Romans will die to give her a throne she never asked for…or wanted.Lush, beautiful illustrations bring to life a brutal tale of love and war from the birth of the Roman Empire.
“Dead Romans” opens in the deep dark forests of Germania. Most of the issue takes place in a Roman Legion camp, but none of the story actually goes to Rome. By the end of the issue, we’ve also been introduced to an ensemble of German characters, and its clear that they will be driving a lot of the story going forward. Our central protagonist is Honoria, a slave with a secret special destiny that sure makes it look like she’s some sort of mythical lost princess. As far as straight history goes, it’s maybe a little fairy tale. But as far as genre comics go, it’s pretty rad.
The German setting lets the issue mix up its ancient imagery. So you get all the totemic Roman props- you know, your eagles, and helmets, and neat symmetrical lines of tents. But then you also get proto-viking Germanic stuff like runes and blonde guys with crazy asymmetrical hairstyle. And that ends up being a real treat because the real power player is “Dead Romans” is illustrator Nick Marinkovich, who is the sole credited artist on the issue, working with just the writer and editor. And that’s incredible.
You can see layers of technique on every page of “Dead Romans.” There are the neat, clear lines of tradition pencil work, but then there are also uneven, chaotic colors that look closer to water colors than ink. The lines and chaff texturing every page looks like a digital post effect. The entire book was probably drawn in digital, but the artwork drew me in to consider every panel. I don’t think I’ve ever read a Nick Marinkovich comic before; it looks like he’s done a lot of work with the <i>Underworld</i> franchise. He says on his Deviant Art page that his favorite artist is Bill Sienkiewicz, and that really comes across. But I also see a lot of Jock in his work. I can’t wait to see a million more things from this guy.
Some people are going to go into a comic like this looking for historical accuracy. I’m sure someone looking to nitpick could find something. But in the very least, “Dead Romans” has verisimilitude and has the attention to detail you see when a writer really enjoys doing research. But “Dead Romans” is very much a genre piece, and that’s probably for the better. Nothing explicitly supernatural happens, but the whole issue has a mythic quality to it. This isn’t a totally literal and grounded depiction of ancient times. It’s more abstract and emotional. The sky and the treeline is almost always present and seems to roil. And conversations often happen at odd close ups, isolating characters in their frame. Less than the characters, just their mouth, their hand, their eye.
You can see all this technique come together in an early sex scene, which has all that digital lighting and emotional abstraction. The dark tent is filled with little circles which I guess kind of evokes lens flair, but is definitely setting the mood for the scene. Those interlocked golden circles are telling us about happiness, safety, ecstasy. I don’t know why all ancient Rome comics are so reliably sensual. I guess people were just wearing less clothes in those days, and they were more prone to fall off?Continued below
If you’re something of an ancient Rome nut, like I am, you should probably be pretty excited for “Dead Romans.” Especially if you are reading this review on this site, you clearly have an interest with comics and as I said, Rome comics aren’t something that come out every week. But even if none of that Rome stuff sounds appealing to you, you probably have some interest in comic book art. And the artwork is absolutely the most appealing part of “Dead Romans.” If this is your first exposure to Nick Marinkovich like it was for me, you’ve got to give this first issue a go.
Final Verdict: 8.6 – A familiar story in an underserved genre is enhanced by spectacular art.