‘Light Brigade:’ Advance Hardcover Review

Light Brigade is a bravado piece of storytelling.  Created by writer Peter J. Tomasi and artist Peter Snejbjerg, it packs a wallop of classic, good-old-fashioned adventure, while also delving into the reasons men go to war and the effects of war on their psyches, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually.  Here’s the simple story, as solid and entertaining as the best of “small-band-of heroes/antiheroes against all odds” military movies go, but with a spectacular supernatural twist: An American infantry division in Europe during World War II becomes tasked with helping the forces of Heaven stop the forces of Hell from taking dominion over Heaven and Earth by acquiring the Sword of God.  That is the premise at its most boiled down, but Light Brigade is equal parts supernatural action adventure and human drama, and Tomasi packs so much introspection and emotion into his tale of soldiers struggling with ideas of faith, fate, duty, and honor that you find yourself not only reveling in the battle against the forces of evil, largely made up of undead Nazi soldiers, but also contemplating the meaning and importance of sacrifice, and of life itself.

From the outset I knew this story was special.  It instantly brought to mind military movie classics such as The Dirty Dozen, Kelly’s Heroes, and Saving Private Ryan, movies with square-jawed, no-nonsense soldiers who did what needed to be done to complete the mission but also existed as a type of family with their fellow soldiers, complete with likes and dislikes, differences and similarities, sharing a bond that can only be forged in the fires of war.  Tomasi does a stellar job in introducing us to his characters, showing, rather than telling, us their individual nuances and idiosyncrasies, personal struggles, pasts, hopes, dreams, interests, and the type of men and soldiers they are, while Snejbjerg’s art brings an uniqueness to each of them that helps to make them stand out as individuals visually.  This is a feat in and of itself when all of your characters are dressed almost identically and all are of relatively similar body type, but he pulls it off with shape and style of their faces, and sometimes their hair, and with their expressions and body language.

Together, Tomasi and Snejbjerg craft a diverse group of men that we grow to care deeply about, and their emotions and opinions unspool throughout the entire story, so new, surprising, and emotional character developments occur naturally, instead of being unloaded mechanically merely as plot points or at all once, just to get them out in the open.  The way spiritual themes and ideas are weaved throughout the story, both as philosophical discussions and as important plot elements, is spectacular.  These challenge the soldiers to come to grips with what they truly believe and with themselves.  It is because of this deep level of emotion, of contemplation on spiritual and mortal matters, that the soldiers are the heart of the story, and that we find ourselves identifying with them so strongly.  In their position, what choices would we make?  Adding to this is the fact that in Snejbjerg’s soldiers, we can easily see ourselves, just regular people brought into extraordinary circumstances.  They look haggard and scared, happy and excited, just like we do, and so we empathize with them, for they are us, and, therefore, they are real.

Snejbjerg’s art works perfectly with Tomasi’s rousing story and intriguing characters, and he brings a strong, almost pulp-style quality to Light Brigade, with realistic characters that play to our nostalgic ideas of World War II soldiers without embellishing to the point of visual caricature.  The art is always exciting and alive, and Snejbjerg captures the battle scenes with a visceral energy, entertaining in their pure power and over-the-top excess.  That excess is pitch perfect and used at the right times, too.  In a story that involves angels, demons, and American soldiers battling for the fate of Heaven and Earth, to have no exquisite action set pieces would be to feel cheated, and the climax of Light Brigade, epic in its scope, destruction, and personal sacrifice, brings down the house.  The colors by Bajarne Hansen are bright and bold and recreate the look and feel of 1940s adventure comics, without losing the finesse that has come with more modern comics.  Ken Lopez and Rob Leigh’s lettering flows smoothly throughout the story, the dialogue working in tandem with the visuals, and their sound effects add a kick and level of intensity to the action scenes that make you feel the explosions and gunfire.

Dark Horse’s reprinting of Light Brigade, originally released by DC Comics in 2004 and 2005, comes in hardcover and contains all of Snejbjerg’s original covers, as well as script pages and their corresponding original artwork pages, and numerous design ideas and different steps to developing the covers.  The whole book displays unparalleled heart, creativity, entertainment, and emotion and weaves a fantastical tale that grips you from beginning to end.  All aspects of writing and art merge seamlessly in Light Brigade to create pulp adventure, philosophical and spiritual introspection, and human drama, and like the American G.I.s that are the story’s beating, brave heart, you find yourself drawn into this war that has been waging since the beginning of the world, and you realize there is no turning back until the mission is completed.

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