While readers may know his work from hyper-violent genre comics like the legendary religious-themed supernatural western "Preacher" and the superhero satire "The Boys," writer Garth Ennis gets his biggest kicks out of crafting another kind of tale, stories defined by that ubiquitous acronym: WW2. This October, as part of what Dynamite Entertainment is calling Garth Ennis Month, the fan-favorite writer dives into the real life backdrop that winds his clocks with the first issue of a three-story, nine-part limited series titled "Garth Ennis' Battlefields."
"I can't deny war stories are my favorite genre, and I do get a huge kick out of writing them -- probably because even now, my opportunities to do so are few and far between," Ennis told CBR News. "I do them whenever I can, but in the last ten years you're talking about the two 'War Story' series --which 'Battlefields' is a pretty direct thematic sequel too, by the way -- 'Battler Britton' and 'Enemy Ace.' So when I do get the chance to write them, I give them everything I've got. As far as I'm concerned, 'Battlefields' represents my absolute A-game right now."
Although the first three-issue arc under the "Battlefields" umbrella -- "The Night Witches," drawn by Russ Braun -- will spin an aerial tale of German and Russian fighters in the summer of 1942, Ennis noted that he wrote the arc concurrently with the follow-up stories which zero-in on a different front from the expansive landscape of the second World War. "There's nothing unique about it, really, it's the way I write everything -- the first third of this year more or less went Boys-Punisher-Crossed-Streets Of Glory-Dan Dare each month, repeating every five weeks until each story was replaced by another," he said. "So I'm pretty comfortable switching from story to story. With 'Battlefields,' it's given me a pleasant couple of months where I've spent 60-80% of my time writing war stories, immersed in the lore and technical details of WW2."
But with "The Night Witches" hitting the streets before the subsequent "Dear Billy" and "The Tankies" three-part arcs, it's pages of rough and tumble dog fighting as drawn by recent "Hellstorm: Son of Satan" penciler Braun that will assault readers first, and Ennis, unsurprisingly, seemed excited at the results he'd seen from his hand-picked collaborator. "Russ is doing a fantastic job. Where he's really surpassed himself in the first issue, I think, is on a couple of double-page spreads -- first with a German infantry platoon meeting a Soviet one at horribly close quarters, then with the Russian women aviators of the title running smack into the enemy defenses, getting their first actual taste of combat. He's really caught the horror and immediacy of the moment in both scenes; I found myself looking at the pages and thinking, 'Yes, this is it. This is why I write war stories.'
"It's also nice seeing his attention to detail with characters, watching the people I've written come alive -- 'There's Anna, there's Zoya, that'll be Kurt, there's Kosher and Gloomy. That must be Scholz, yes, he's really caught the bastard. Ah, and there's Aleks, so that's what he looks like!' Russ has a slightly understated, unfussy style that allows him to concentrate on storytelling in all its aspects, to focus on narrative in a way that fewer and fewer artists seem to. It's something he shares with both Peter Snejbjerg and Carlos Ezquerra, I believe, a dedication to story that relies on substance rather than flash."
If all his "Battlefields" artists share an easily identifiable approach to comics making, the stories themselves aren't quite so easy to pin down in a thematic sense. "If there is an element that unites the three stories -- this is something I like to leave up to the reader, so I'll keep it vague -- it might be a look at various ways of approaching conflict, depending on who you are, where you come from, what you're up against," Ennis said. "How the Russians fought the Germans was not quite like how the British fought them, for instance, and how the British in turn fought the Japanese was different again."
And although all historical fiction runs the risk of letting the minutia of real life dates and descriptions drag down the thrust of the story, Ennis believes his practice with the form will allow him to marry the fiction and reality into an entertaining whole. Explained the writer, "I try and set the situation up as quickly as possible -- here's where we are and how we got there -- and then dive into the story, introduce the characters, get things moving. Further details can be filled in as we go. Sometimes I'll leave the broader picture 'til later, as in the second story, 'Dear Billy,' which is a much more intimate, disturbing character piece.
"That said, I think there's an amazing opportunity here to inform as well as entertain," Ennis continued. "World War Two was the single most important event of the last century -- possibly even the last millennium, in terms of the number of lives it directly affected and the changes it wrought on humanity as a whole. It defined the world we all grew up in, certainly. And beyond that, the stories I've run across in my research, the personal accounts of people who've gone to war -- out on what I always think must be the most extreme edge of human behavior -- are simply stupendous. You really can't make this stuff up.
"If nothing else, the stories in Battlefields highlight the courage of people whose time has almost passed and whose stories are fading. 'The Night Witches,' for instance: young women in their teens and early twenties, flying obsolete biplanes at night against the most lethal military machine in the world, facing potentially catastrophic consequences should they be captured alive. Or 'The Tankies,' men going into battle against heavy odds, knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that the enemy has them outmatched and outgunned on every level, but doing it anyway. That, to me, is heroism, and that deserves to be acknowledged."
For Ennis' view on the so-called "superheroism" that defines the genre to which many comics fans dedicate their reading time, check back with CBR later this week for Ennis and artist Darick Robertson's thoughts on the next arc of their superhero send-up series, "The Boys."