Warmongers are always looking for soldiers that can never die, but what if they found soldiers who could come back, re-incarnated, and re-join the front line? That’s the startling premise of the upcoming August-launching miniseries Welcome Back by Christopher Sebela and Jonathan Brandon Sawyer.
Taking the Groundhog Day out of Edge of Tomorrow, Welcome Back is about soldiers reincarnated over and over again to fight in an endless war without any memory of their past lives. But when one of these soldiers breaks the cycle and remembers her past, she look to change things for herself and those like her.
Sebela and Sawyer promise knives and guns, but the duo also dig into some real-life drama with young adult malaise and the questioning of what's meant for your life.
Newsarama: Chris, what's it like to be a soldier like those in Welcome Back?
Christopher Sebela: It’s a lot like normal life up until the moment you wake up and remember who you are and who you used to be. Then you have to put aside this life you’ve been living and building — all your hopes for the future and what might lie ahead — and pick up a weapon and fight. It’s the worst kind of draft because once you’re tapped, your old life is through and now you just live to kill as many enemies as you can find, ultimately in search of your Target. And even if you win, you still lose, because you have to kill yourself to get reborn and chase that Target into the next life. So, while it has some perks, it ends up being a pretty terrible deal.
Nrama: Why do they fight?
Sebela: To win. Not that anyone really knows what that entails. This war has been going on for thousands of years now, and no one really remembers why it started, why they hate the other side as intensely as they do, but they’ve been doing it so long, there has to be an endgame to this, right? For now, it’s a series of hashmarks on a board, and the goal is to get the most hashmarks, and hope that that unlocks something bigger, something more meaningful.
But I see this war like I see a lot of the wars we learn about in history classes. You can boil it down to one singular conflict, but there’s hundreds of things — the ones we know about and the little things no one notices — that contribute to one side picking up arms against another and waging war on them. Why this war started or where it’s going is part of the mystery we’re exploring in Welcome Back, but it’s a pretty minor one when our characters are focused on just figuring out how to stay alive long enough to win.
Nrama: The solicits tell me two of the main characters are Mali and Tessa. Are they on opposites sides in this long-standing war?
Sebela:Yeah. In the war, every soldier has a Target. This target has been theirs since it all began, since the first time the two met and fought, and the goal is to keep chasing the Target down and take them out. Possibly in the hopes that in the next life, they won’t come back. This is where Mali and Tessa are, they know that they have a Target and that their job is to kill them. But there’s also an element of how long can you hate someone because you’re told to, and does hate transmute into something else after enough time? There’s that old cliché about how absence makes the heart grow fonder, but maybe war does too.
Nrama: What's the world like around them?
Sebela: Everyone in the world is reincarnated. Everyone is a soul that gets reassigned every life to a new body. A lot of times this involves a new location, a new race, a new gender, a new everything, but the soul remains this constant. Each life is this person, but this person gets shaped by the circumstances they’re born into. So while there are Sequels running around killing each other, they make up a sliver of the population on Earth. The rest of us are just fallow, reincarnated souls who have no idea what lives we’ve lived before, whose only goal is to get to the end of this life and be happy with what we’ve done. We get occasional flashes of these lives in the form of dreams and deja vu and other strange phenomena, but we don’t remember anything beyond who we are here and now.
Nrama: You say the Sequels are re-incarnated and back in the fight, but what if they don't want to be? Is there any free will in that regard?
Sebela: There is. There’s always free will. But while a Sequel might have the free will to say no and opt out, there are other Sequels, ones lower on the ladder, who have the free will to come after you and kill you, to earn points for taking you out and help themselves climb the ranks. It’s like if you just stood up on a battlefield and said “No thanks, not for me.” It wouldn’t stop the enemy troops from taking aim at you. If anything, it might inspire your own troops to help them out, to show other deserters what awaits them. War is no place for conscientious objectors, and it’s this fear of your life counting for nothing that keeps Sequels locked into the battle. At least when they die, they died trying to help their side win, to be the ultimate victors in this endless war. They died in the fight, which makes it all a bit easier to swallow.
Nrama: How does someone become a Sequel?
Sebela: Either you were one when you started or you weren’t. There’s no edging your way into Sequeldom. These armies were selected back when everything began. It’s not like you or I would wake up in our next life and suddenly be plunged into this war. We’d have no experience, no past to refer to. There is a hierarchy amongst Sequels, and people who were born to be Canvassers — whose job is to track and monitor Sequels, both the aware ones and the ones who haven’t woken up — or Grunts — who provide support to our Soldiers with supplies and safe houses — and they can move up to becoming Soldiers, but they have to work for it, get their hands dirty. But that’s a lateral move. As for making new Sequels, fresh out of the box, there is a transition of sorts, a leveling up, but not for people. Because our population on this planet just grows and grows, new souls have to be generated from somewhere, but that’s a thing we want to explore in subsequent arcs of the book. The nuts and bolts of how this all works. For now it remains a bit of a mystery.
Nrama: What character do you most identify with in Welcome Back, Chris?
Sebela: Mali. Her genesis was very much borne from my memories of being someone in his 20s, just out of college and having no idea what I was going to do with my life. I had a degree I wasn’t interested in, a lifestyle that didn’t require a lot of money or work to maintain and a suspicion that the world was only gonna get worse from here on out. So I was very much about trying to figure out my place in all this. That’s where Mali is at when we begin. She’s had all this bleak stuff following her around, some she’s responsible for, some that’s completely out of her hands, and she’s at a point where she feels like she’s created a new life for herself: moved to a new town, picked out a new name for herself, created a new family out of friends and lovers. But she’s still herself, no matter how much distance she tries to put between her now and her of the past. I feel like a lot of my life was spent trying to figure all that garbage out. I dunno if I even have figured any of it out yet, so that Mali-ness is still very easy for me to tap into when I’m writing.
Nrama: And what is the big draw for readers of this to be interested in?
Sebela: Well, I think the hugest draw is Jonathan Brandon Sawyer’s artwork. He’s doing some amazing stuff in this book, two page spreads that make me swear out loud when I see them, panels that break my heart and delight me to no end. And he’s a co-creator in all senses of the word. Without Jonathan’s take on the characters or the ideas he’s brought up, Welcome Back wouldn’t be the book it is right now. I wouldn’t be as excited as I am to write this for as long as I possibly can and work with Jonathan for as long as I can fool him into sticking around. If you aren't already a big fan of Jonathan's, I think this book will make you one.
Content-wise? I think it’s for anyone who is or has had that feeling of what the hell is this stupid life crap all about? There are people in this life who seem to know right out of the box what they want and how to get it, but I feel like there’s way more of us who have to stumble around and feel our way into a life that feels right for us. This is a lot about that, only with a lot more guns and knives in the mix. It’s a war story, a supernatural story, it’s kind of a romance story, it’s about being an aimless loser and making peace with that as much as it’s about being the king of the mountain and learning how to step away from that to find out what really makes you you. Also there’s a dog who wears a cape. So it’s a huge draw for people who love dogs in capes.