Before Peter Tomasi was a regular writer on superhero books, like his current acclaimed run on Batman and Robin, critics were already well aware of his abilities thanks to a hidden gem called Light Brigade.
Featuring art by Peter Snejbjerg, the comic is being released as a hardcover in March by Dark Horse. And for people who love Light Brigade — and a simple Google search shows just how beloved this book is — the release of a hardcover is long overdue.
Light Brigade, which was originally released in 2004 by DC, features a story that kicks off when a platoon of soldiers in World War II are tasked with joining the fight for heaven itself. Hailed by critics for its character-focused story and well-researched references to history, Light Brigade mixes action, horror and human drama in a story that adds a few unique twists to the supernatural genre while exploring some much deeper questions regarding faith.
With the release of Light Brigade in hardcover coming in a few weeks, Newsarama talked to Tomasi to find out more about the story and the new hardcover.
Newsarama: Peter, what's the story behind this new release of Light Brigade?
Peter Tomasi: Well, Vaneta, the rights of the book reverted back to me, and since I've always been hugely proud of the book, I was hoping I could get it back on the shelves and into readers' hands to rediscover.
I thought Dark Horse Comics would make a great fit for the book, and I was lucky enough that Scott Allie, the Editor-in-Chief, steered me over to one of his editors by the name of Daniel Chabon, who was a real pro and a pleasure to work with.
Nrama: How would you describe the premise of the story — and the characters at the center of it?
Tomasi: At it's a core, pure and simple, it's a mission story, Vaneta. A mission story that hinges on faith and the willingness to go above and beyond the call of duty against insurmountable odds! The quick pitch is Paradise Lost meets Saving Private Ryan, as we meet Chris Stavros, an American soldier who's got one goal: getting home safely to care for his son after learning his wife has died. But in the midst of battle and trying to stay alive, he finds the stakes raised, as heavenly warriors emerge from the skies — and an impossible task is given to Stavros's platoon: recover the lost Sword of God before a troop of arcane, unkillable German soldiers locate it and storm heaven's gate! These American soldiers, this "Light Brigade," will begin a supernatural crusade that will determine the fate of the world...one bullet and one soul at a time!
Nrama: The story is filled with action and thrills, yet it also touched upon some much deeper questions regarding faith. What themes were you exploring with the book?
Tomasi: Faith was really the only overarching theme and I used all the characters and the trials and tribulations that they were placed in to voice my own questions about God and religion when your back is against the wall and you've got certain death looking you back in the face day in and day out in a war zone. But don't me wrong — as much as I explore faith, this is first and foremost a book with crazy-ass action that's puts its characters through a real meat grinder!
Nrama: This book was critically acclaimed when it was originally released. What do you think made it such a stand-out?
Tomasi: It did get a lot of great reviews. I mean hell, Publishers Weekly called it the best mainstream comic of the year, which was awesome. And I think readers enjoyed it because, as much as it was action packed, all the feedback I heard was about how much they cared for and were invested in not just the main characters, but even the supporting ones, and that means a lot to a writer like me who puts a lot of thought into building characters you want to go along with the ride for.
But truthfully, I think it kind of flew under the radar generally and didn't get enough eyeballs on it the first time it was released, so that's why I'm really thankful that Dark Horse got behind it for a second go-around and allow new readers to check it out and see the amazing art by Peter Snejbjerg and the phenomenal color of Bjarne Hansen!
Nrama: How did you come up with the story?
Tomasi: I'm a history buff, partial to American history and military history and a big Twilight Zone, EC Comics and DC Weird War Tales nut. The initial idea for Light Brigade came to me one day around 1989 when I was reading through this beautiful old book I have about World War I cemeteries that was printed before World War II, and it showed a makeshift graveyard of some fallen men in an area that was later to be a part of a World War II battle. So I imagined what it would be like if U.S. Army soldiers had to dig foxholes for cover amidst the graves of American dead from the Great War while German troops attacked them.
Over the years I kept a separate notebook for this story, always jotting down notes, thinking about what if the Great War dead came to life around their World War II counterparts and helped beat back the German offensive.
Then of course I realized it would be waaaay cooler if it was the Germans who were undead and then me being the old altar boy started thinking about adding some religious elements, specifically the Spear of Destiny, which kinda then ballooned into a whole cache of interesting artifacts that really helped me explore this examination of faith in a wartime scenario.
And I'd be remiss not to mention the great Twilight Zone episode with Warren Oates where a U.S. tank crew on maneuvers in the mid-west somehow goes back in time to find themselves at the Battle of Little Big Horn. Freakin' great episode that got me thinking about soldiers from different eras facing each other.
Nrama: It's interesting that you mention Weird War Tales. I remember that, when I was a kid, there were tons of war comics around — and many of them dealt with the supernatural. So that's one of the influences here?
Tomasi: Absolutely, a book like Weird War Tales was able to push my buttons month in and month out and never seemed to run out of cool stories. I loved the fact that you could mix a wartime situation with something otherworldly and it still feel dramatic and intense without being silly. Comics like Weird War and Haunted Tank and Sgt. Rock were big influences growing up, along with movies like Dirty Dozen, Sand Pebbles, Kelly's Heroes, Battleground, Hell is for Heroes, Attack, Patton, etc.
Nrama: Now you're making me want to re-watch all those great old movies. But with this re-release of Light Brigade, what kind of extras are in there?
Tomasi: The first extra is an actual hardcover edition, for one! It only got the softcover treatment the last time around and didn't have any extras. In this edition, we've got a whole bunch of supplemental stuff in a section called "Behind the Light," where we compare my script pages and Peter Snejbjerg's rough breakdowns along with a whole bunch of drawings from of covers and assorted other goodies — with a running commentary by Snjejberg on his visual approach to the book. In other words a lot of cool stuff for only $19.99!
Nrama: Then to finish up, is there anything else you want to tell fans about the new release of Light Brigade?
Tomasi: When DC Comics originally gave me the chance to do this series, it was a dream come true, Vaneta, and seeing it brought to life with such artistry by Snejbjerg and Hansen was amazing.
I'm sure anybody picking up this book who like their genres shaken and baking is going to enjoy it, and I think that being a done-in-one book is also appealing to graphic novel readers who don't want to go looking for any other book to match up continuity. The story begins and ends inside this great looking new edition from Dark Horse Comics, and I'm thrilled and so looking forward to meeting new fans of the book at upcoming conventions. Light Brigade hits your comic shop, book store and digital world on March 26!!!