Inglorious Angels: Charge of the ‘Light Brigade’


If, like me, you’re caught up in all this killin’ natzee bidness, allow me to recommend some further inglorious carnage. Let’s dip into the vault with 2004’s Light Brigade from Peters Tomasi and Snejbjerg. 

It’s the second World War. Chris Stavros and the rest of his American platoon are spending the days before Christmas huddled in snowy Belgian ditches. They’ve taken to salivating over rabbit meat and using comic book pages to wipe their frostbitten hineys. Particularly miserable is Chris, who’s silently staring at the photographs he’s pinned to the dirt. Someone lobs a baseball into his foxhole. He picks it up. Scrawled on its hide is a friendly message from one of the boys: “You okay?”

Chris is not okay. He’s just learned, by telegram, that his wife was killed in a car accident. Since Chris is an ocean away waiting to collect German slugs, his son is now a ward of the state. Somewhere, Hitler soaks in a warm bath. So it goes. 

What Chris or the platoon or even Hitler don’t know is that things are falling out of Heaven, hurtling towards the Belgian countryside. Of course, there are a handful of people who do know about such things, but they’re not American soldiers or Nazis. Even if they’re dressed just like them. And they’re headed this way. What follows is one of the more thoughtful stories to involve either Nazis or zombies you’re likely to find in comics. It’s also one of the few WWII occult romps that Hitler doesn’t actually have anything to do with. He’s just pruning away in that bath, thinking his evil thoughts, completely unaware that a band of nephilim are trying to storm the gates of Heaven in his team’s uniforms.

This is the best kind of Raiders of the Lost Ark/Band of Brothers mashup. Chris and the boys have just enough faith to get by. This isn’t so much a holy crusade as a cosmic campaign. You don’t need to be well-versed in your verses to know that a blitz on Heaven isn’t gonna end well for anybody. So that means forging iron bullets, getting some miraculous super powers, and guarding all that is good and sacred from an army of angry angels. Simon, the platoon’s resident comic book fan even makes some Light Brigade t-shirts.

There’s a lot of ground for Chris and his company to cover in this four issue mini (which feels like six issues and could’ve been a welcome 12 issues). When it comes to fallen angels and spears of destiny, exposition can get a little unwieldy, but there’s a pretty nice balance struck here. The backstory can get a little stiff, but it is crispy, crinkly scripture after all.

Where Tomasi–a true unsung hero of DC comics–really shines is the interaction between the men of the platoon.Whether setting your story in a prison or a battlefield, you’re practically bound to stumble upon terrific character moments and relationships. It almost writes itself. But it’s evident that Tomasi poured a lot of heart and soul into this ragtag battalion. It’s actually pretty amazing what he was able to accomplish in just four issues. I can only imagine how high the human stakes could have been raised if he’d had more real estate to explore the backgrounds of these individual characters. As it is, I still give a damn. Enlist for the zombie shootouts, but stay on for the soldier stories.

That doesn’t mean that the balls at no time touch the wall. We get the best of both genres here. Great character, but not at the expense of total bombast. Snejbjerg pulls no punches. Once the grizzly reapers gets mowing, all bets are off. These battles, both the small skirmishes and full-scale sieges, are brutal affairs. Visceral in every sense of the word. We’re talking hamburger ballet and ticker-tape evisceration. And it escalates. I was reminded of Richard Corbin, perhaps my favorite horror artist. Eyes go wide like saucers. Those peepers are important. A lot of artists can handle scary, but not everybody can do scared. This is a story about angels with dirty faces, and the art carries the appropriate weight. Besides the incredible flare for action, Tomasi and Snejbjerg have a strong grip on tone. Pacing and mood lighting, respectively. Light plays a big role in Light Brigade, both in its presence and absence. There are some truly Mignola level instances of dramatic light and shadow here. I’m a big fan.


It kind of pains me that Light Brigade is a cult–rather than occult–classic. I came to the table late and only discovered it in an attempt to read more from Tomasi. It really does deserve more attention. If you want a great war story, a genuinely thrilling action romp, or a wrestling match between angels nasty and nice, this is an easy recommendation.


Paul Montgomery was once an altar boy but has thankfully never had occasion to lob the holy hand grenade. Find him on Twitter or contact him at paul@ifanboy.com

Comments

  1. I read it when it came out at the time. A friend lent it to me. I had no idea this was Tomasi. (I like him a lot. Especially having met him.) I really enjoyed the book. A good WWII romp. Good review.

  2. I am in the mood for more ‘killin natzee’s’ since I saw the film last night.

    I’ll go give this a try. Thanks for the recommendation!

  3. Who put this out? Is it in trade?

  4. …oh. Hyperlinks. Gotcha.

  5. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    Yep, it’s DC. Not Vertigo though, which is sort of odd. There are several mentions (and visuals) of period DC comics like All-Star, Adventure Comics, Green Lantern. 

  6. I was completely unaware of the existence of this book. Thank you, Paul, for enlightening me.  I will add this to my wishlist and grab a copy at Dragon*Con next weekend if at all possible.

    P.S. Please stop winking at me. 

  7. Snejbjerg’s art looks glorious.  This sounds really great.  Thanks for the heads up Paul.

  8. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    @Neb – I can’t stress just how much I like this art. Snejbjerg is drop-your-ice-cream-cone good. 

  9.  Tomasi always goes hard this is what turned me onto him, if you dig this check out the Mighty.

  10. I remember reading this a few years ago and enjoying it.  I knew Snejbjerg from STARMAN, which is why I read it.  It helped make me a fan of Tomasi.  Good call on this, Paul.

    Between the highlight here and the mention of this book on a recent Around Comics, I hope more people pick this up.

  11. I read this awhile aback and remembered liking the art but being unimpressed by the overall story, though I can’t quite remember why.  Based on your review will definitely do a re-read.

  12. great read!  when i read it i remember thinking,  this is so garth ennis, but not really…  still difficult to understand that

  13. Used the iFanboy link to buy through amazon. Will wait for it to arrive. WIN!

  14. I’m not surprised that the 4 issue mini felt like more given that these were some fat ass issues at 50 or so pages a issue.

  15. Sold out at Amazon.  Foiled again! 

    I don’t think I can ever get enough of the "Greatest Generation".  Mad Men, the Basterds, Band of Brothers, is there anything they can’t do?

  16. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    @ato220 – Use the link in the article. That goes (through the iFanboy portal) to an edition currently in stock. Amazon defaults to an out of print version I think.