I've been a fan of Dan Brereton since I discovered his Nocturnals, a monster-mash of Doc Savage. I was mostly pleased with his pulp pastiche Thrillkillers, an elseworld with Batgirl and Robin, and I enjoyed his DC miniseries Giantkiller. I had my doubts about The Last Battle. When I saw it, it made me scratch my head and wonder exactly how does Brereton choose his rare forays outside of his own creations.
His out-of-print Black Terror with Chuck Dixon for Eclipse I could kind of grasp, but this? First, The Last Battle is set in a period I wouldn't have guessed was Brereton's forte. Nocturnals frequently alluded to the '30s and '30s. Thrillkillers functioned in the sixties. Second, the cast was practically all male. Brereton is a master of curvy femme form by way of Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! Kill!
Third, unlike every one of his previous works, The Last Battle didn't really exhibit any fantastic elements, apart from a dream sequence and a really tough warrior.
Actually, it turns out that Dan Brereton's presence was an absolute must. Tito Faraci's story is quite wonderful, but as a comic book, it could have so very easily be visually excessive or boring. Brereton's artwork precludes such potential faults, and Brereton in the sketchbook section admits to researching furiously to accurately depict a time when Rome warred against the Celts. That's what you want from an artist. His art isn't gritty but bronzen, lit by flickering flame or orange sunlight. His techniques suit the mood and atmosphere of the period piece.
Brereton is a master of the understated, and histrionics is something you wouldn't want for this tale. Because at its heart, Faraci's story is all about the slyness of brinkmanship.
Caesar calls upon General Caius Rodius to rid him of a threat. The barbarian hordes that bind together to resist the Roman machine are at the moment leaderless, but Caesar fears Cassius the boy Rodius raised as a son will unite the factions and succeed in stopping his thirst for conquest. This instigates instantaneous personal conflict.
Rodius is torn between his loyalty to Rome and his love for Cassius. He also harbors a dread secret that he doesn't wish his son–now a man — to know. The warriors of Rome honor and respect Rodius, and that's fine but not at the expense of their sworn fealty to Caesar. These factors will complicate the story further.
Initially, Last Battle opens like a somewhat sentimental men's adventure. Rodius picks the five men he trusts the most to accompany him on this mission. Faraci describes them elegantly and in character as "the fist ready to strike."
Faraci juxtaposes Rodius' journey with Cassius preparing to meet Rome head on. Faraci presents Cassius as young but charismatic. A natural leader, he uses Rodius' training to rise in power, and he quickly makes friends and enemies among his fellow Celts. One of those friends is Vorna, a warrior woman. Her presence offers a respite from all the testosterone.
Vorna, an idea from Brereton, gives true women warriors such as Boudica representation and generates a less repetitive dynamic. Rodius plays off of his five male friends. Cassius maintains a dialogue with this female warrior. It just wouldn't be all that interesting for a direct parallel.
Thanks to Brereton's illustration and Faraci's literate writing, Last Battle is less Gladiator and more I, Claudius, with several judicious explosions of violence. One intense scene occurring in a rare moment of unlit night involves a warrior that seemingly cannot be stopped.
The tale offers more than purely visceral twists. Faraci and Brereton place treachery in plain sight, and you find yourself wondering whether father and son will survive the betrayals and their own duties to their countrymen.
Ray Tate's first online work appeared in 1994 for Knotted. He has had a short story, "Spider Without a Web," published in 1995 for the magazine evernight and earned a degree in Biology from the University of Pittsburgh. Since 1995, Ray self-published The Pick of the Brown Bag on various usenet groups, where he reviewed comic books, Doctor Who novels, movies and occasionally music. Circa 2000, he contributed his reviews to Silver Bullet Comic Books (later Comics Bulletin) and became its senior reviewer. Ray Tate would like to think that he's young at heart. Of course, we all know better.