From aerial dogfights in the first World War to reinventing The Punisher's origin by way of Vietnam, writer Garth Ennis has been one of the few creators in comics consistently carrying forward the legacy of war comics into the 21st Century. Come this October, he'll continue his work with the 9-issue, three arc World War II series "Battlefields" from Dynamite Entertainment, and to hear Ennis tell it, he's been studying up for a series like this for a long while.
"I have the books. I don't have any of the lunatic reenactment stuff that people are into, and I don't have a lot of the weird Nazi memorabilia that a lot of these people have, but I do have a lot of books," laughed the writer on his extensive knowledge of World War II. "I read avidly on the subject, can't really get enough of it. I think it really comes from the war comics I read as a kid, the British war comics which probably would be unknown to an American audience, but it's sort of darker, more hard-hitting stuff than your Sergeant Rock and Sergeant Fury stuff."
And while the "Battlefields" series will be published by the same company that puts out Ennis and Darick Robertson's ultra-violent "The Boys" the darker, hard-hitting edge inherent in Ennis' favorite war comics and in his own work wasn't the selling point when the project was pitched earlier this year. "Battlefields" started with the simple request for Ennis to write what he wanted, said Dynamite Publisher Nick Barucci. "He came back to us stating that the thing that really gets his creative juices flowing is war stories. More than anything else, he wants to do war stories, and he stated that that is one of the most enjoyable creative outlets he had. And we literally said, 'Done.' He picked the format. He picked the length. He picked the artists he's working with."
The format that Ennis chose is that of three, three-issue arcs each focusing on a different elements to the second World War. The first story, entitled "The Night Witches," tells of a conflict between Soviet women fighter pilots and their ongoing battles with a particular German platoon which will be drawn by Russ Braun ("Jack of Fables"). The second Peter Snejbjerg-illustrated ("The Boys," "Starman") installment is called "Dear Billy" and is described by Ennis as "a strange one."
"It's about a British nurse who runs foul of the Japanese in the retreat from Singapore in 1942 and her subsequent attempts at revenge, which are somewhat ill-conceived. Like I said, it's a strange story, kind of a dark one."
The third and final tale is titled "The Tankies" and will be drawn by "Judge Dredd" co-creator Carlos Ezquerra focusing on "tank warfare in the bocage country in Normandy after the D-Day invasion."
The series will feature covers by John Cassaday with alternate covers on the first issue of each arc by Gary Leach.
"I don't mind doing old DC and Marvel war characters. They're fine. I can dig them up and kind of reinvent them to suit my purpose like Phantom Eagle and Enemy Ace, but really I'm most comfortable doing my own characters with 'Battlefields' with the first 'War Stories' that I did a few years ago. Starting from scratch, doing my own thing is always what makes me happiest," said Ennis.
Beyond the basic story points, Ennis did expand upon the kinds of stories readers will get with "Battlefields" which as one would guess, aren't the happy tales of heroic daring do. "Unless you're writing an outright farce, which I have in 'The Rifle Brigade,' I think there's a responsibility when you're writing about war and military situations to show just how extreme things can get," he said. "My objection to some of the stuff I've seen in war comics like Sergeant Rock is that the characters really just seem like a team of superheroes that just happen to be in uniform. They're pretty much immune to harm. They go through some of the most savage battles of the second world war, and yet they're always intact at the end of it. That, I think, paints a bit of a false picture. Some of the stories I read as a kid would have a similar set up where you'd have a tough sergeant and his little squad of guys, and by the end of the story there's be two or three of them left alive and the rest would be gone. It gives you a sort of slightly harsher perspective on it."
And Ennis' harsh perspective swings wide in his latest war comic, touching on multiple fronts, themes and settings which will keep each three-issue story it's own unique experience rather than crafting one giant epic. "I think it's an approach very like I took on the Vertigo 'War Stories' I did a few years ago - self-contained tales each looking at a different aspect of the war. So 'The Night Witches' looks at these female bomber pilots, which is something that I don't think most people are aware of. The second one looks at the Japanese invasion of the Far East and the British retreat and then the subsequent advance again through Burma. The third one is tank warfare in Normandy. Each has its own theme and its own, I guess, areas of importance that I want to explore. There's not one theme that unites them all."
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