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The Light Brigade #1
writer: Peter Tomasi
artist: Peter Snejbjerg

They say there are no atheists in foxholes.

Certainly during World War II, when the Nazis seemed to be doing the work of the devil himself, that had to be true. So why not take it a step further, and let some Nazis be the devil themselves?

In The Light Brigade, a platoon of American soldiers encounter German soldiers who aren't, actually, Germans. Instead, they call themselves The Grigori (and a subset, The Nephillim), a race of fallen angels that have seized the opportunity afforded by World War II to destroy faith, overrun the Earth and conquer heaven. You know, the usual.

But first, smartly, Peter Tomasi takes pains to set up a regular war story. After an opening page of angels struggling in the celestial spheres, the writer establishes his regular American joes, dug in to a cemetery in Belgium. Private Chris Stavros stews in his own pain, having received a telegram informing him of his wife's death and his son's crippling in a car accident. While he gives over to numb nihilism, the stakes in his war are about to get much, much higher than anyone could have dreamed.

It's become a lot more common in comics to dip into vague Old Testament references to heaven's host as story fodder. As such, Tomasi isn't treading a lot of new ground; Garth Ennis certainly has been here before with his runs on Hellblazer, Preacher and possibly even Vampirella. But it's still a cool concept, one that has to keep a grip on human imagination. Just what does the Bible mean by there being "giants in the Earth in those days?"

Beyond an intriguing if worn premise, Tomasi has an awful lot of exposition to get through in this first issue, and he's a little out of balance. One of the soldiers immediately recognizes The Grigori for what they are; though it turns out that he fulfills a role called Centurion, his true nature remains a mystery. The narrative careens around the battlefield, and it feels like a couple of key scenes are missing (unless DC sent a preview copy with missing pages, which is possible).

Though Snejbjerg's art is cool, it doesn't help the problem. His layouts, especially in the first confrontation with The Grigori, are a bit chaotic. Maybe the mistake is in setting the battle in a cemetery - it's hard to distinguish between regular corpses and the walking unstoppable kind. However, the artist's character work shines, especially with Stavros and a comic book obsessed young doughboy named Simon.

Preaching to the choir, perhaps, Tomasi uses Simon to make a point about comics' role in supporting morality. At least, once upon a time, when things were simpler. Simon considers his unit to be like the Justice Society, even crudely customizing shirts for his fellows. Luckily for Simon, their war is about to get even more clear-cut than any issue of All-Star Comics could portray.

It's off to a decent start, and The Light Brigade could turn out to be a pretty moving piece of work.

Rating:

Derek McCaw

 

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