2000 AD‘s monthly digital release schedule continues with the immortal gladiator who’s on a quest to release him from his curse, a quest that takes him all the way to the shores of hell here in Aquila – The Burning Fields.
“He was one of the rebellious gladiator-slaves crucified by the Romans for being part of Spartacus’s uprising, and in his dying moments he called out to the gods for vengeance. Something heard him, and brought him back from the dead in exchange for his soul. He is Aquila, and he is now the unstoppable instrument of Ammit the Devourer, who hungers for the souls of evil men – and Aquila will keep feeding her until his debt has been paid!”
That’s the set-up with Aquila, a brutal and bloody series that’s been running in 2000 AD for several years now. A strip very similar to the old Black Hawk strip, from Tornado and early 2000 AD, another Roman slave, turned gladiator, who likewise lost his soul and began a quest to recover it – Rennie recycling a good idea and running with it really well to give us plenty of thrilling quest adventures with Aquila getting bloody on a regular basis.
But where Black Hawk was a short-lived thing, Aquila’s co-creators, Gordon Rennie and Leigh Gallagher set about crafting a story of legend, one that opens here with a perfect introductory chapter, ‘Mors Venetiae’ by Rennie and new artist, Paul Davidson.
It’s a clever little opener, using the much-used trope of the mythology that grows up around characters to tell tales of possible deaths of Aquila, where maybe even one of them could yet be true. Here in 14th Century Venice, a collector wants to get his hands on the sword of the legendary Aquila, but he’s not the only one on the hunt… and that gives us one more possibility for the future of Aquila, that his legend may well live on many centuries after his exploits in Roman times.
Once that fun and informative little interlude is over, we’re into the action properly, always driven by Aquila’s desire to free himself from the curse of immortality.
Each storyline is full of bloody violence, a little back and forth between Aquila and Felix, the Ukko to Aquila’s Slaine, and a load of exposition and questing, each chapter taking Aquila just that little closer to his goal.
The comparison to Slaine is obvious, as Aquila’s storyline mixes a classic quest for peace in a warrior’s soul with all the blood, guts, and bawdiness you could want, but there’s also plenty of classical Roman moments fed into the story, something capturing the spirit of the times, the mythology of the Gods, but never forgetting that it’s all about the basic concept – Roman slave turned gladiator turned immortal swinging sword through sinew and bone – a lot.
In the first main story,’ Charon’s Mercy’, it’s Aquila up against a necromancer, fond of reanimating corpses and playing at Frankenstein, including spending a little time partially dissecting the hero of the tale. It also sets up the future of the series, where Aquila will venture into Hades in search of Nero.
Following this, the second main tale, The Burning Fields, features Patrick Goddard on art, establishing a beautifully solid Aquila with Goddard’s always great artwork. Taking place in the shadows of Vesuvius, 79AD, a blinded Aquila looks back 10 years, hunting the road to Hades, sent into battle in the first Roman-Jewish War, looking for the secret name of the God of the Jews.
It’s Aquila’s lot to be sent off on these little side-quests, each new lead he discovers coming at a price. Here, it’s to be blinded, waiting a decade for the next stage of his quest to become clear, regaining sight through unexpected means (and frankly bizarre surgery).
All in all, Aquila’s not going to change the comics world, but I don’t imagine it was ever intended to. It’s a solid, fast-paced, highly enjoyable slash and sorcery thing, with some wonderfully over the top moments and two very fine artists doing great work.
Aquila Book 2 – The Burning Fields
Written by Gordon Rennie, art by Paul Davidson and Patrick Goddard, colours by Len O’Grady, Pippa Bowland, Gary Caldwell, letters by Ellie De Ville, Jim Campbell, Simon Bowland. Cover by Liam Sharp.
Published on 7th July on digital.
So… how about a little preview of the three tales here?
‘Mors Venetiae’ – by Gordon Rennie and Paul Davidson, colours by Gary Caldwell, letters by Simon Bowland – originally published in 2000 AD 2011
‘Charon’s Mercy’ – by Gordon Rennie and Paul Davidson, colours by Len O’Grady, letters by Ellie De Ville – originally published in 2000 AD Progs 1973-1978
‘The Burning Fields’ – by Gordon Rennie and Patrick Goddard, colours by Pippa Mather, letters by Jim Campbell – originally published in 2000 AD Progs 2174-2181