In the year AD 62, the exiled Roman Empress Claudia Octavia was sentenced to death by ritual suicide by her former husband Nero. Brian Mowrey uses that even as the germ of his webcomic The Seven Deaths of the Empress (NSFW), turning Octavia into a mystical figure who must die over and over again in a fantasy realm.
I should warn you first that The Seven Deaths of the Empress is not complete, and I don’t know if Mowrey has plans to finish it. But even as fragment, it’s a beautiful and strange comic about a servant witnessing the violent deaths of a holy woman. Hoping to remarry, the Emperor Nero sentences his exiled wife to death, but it will take seven death, performed according to a specific ritual, to end the empress’s life. The comic isn’t really set in Ancient Rome, at least not the Rome from our reality, and Claudia Octavia isn’t an ordinary person. It quickly becomes clear that Mowrey has tinged his world — which contains so many familiar trappings of the Roman Empire — with science fiction and fantasy.
Mowrey composes the comic’s prose on Twitter, which gives The Seven Deaths a dreamlike quality, even among the explicit scenes of vomit and violence. Our narrator is a melancholy figure without much control over her own destiny, and as the story continues she becomes more and more involved in the empress’s execution — and the hedonistic games played by the emperor’s new mistress. But while her narration is dispassionate, Mowrey offers us enough clues to the narrator’s life to humanize her, however, and to let us see a curious relationship grow between the empress and the servant aiding in her execution. We can only hope he decides to finish the comic.