Terror is probably one of the most subjective of reading experiences. If an audience member fails to suspend their disbelief, then the strongest reaction that a horror comic can hope to do is unsettle, upset or disgust the reader. Novels and movies both provide more immersive narrative experiences than comics, in terms of description, pacing, or the manner in which they engrose the audience within the narrative. Comics just cannot match the intensity of gut-wrenching fear; but Salvador Sanz's nightmarish one-shot Legion comes very very close.
Within it's 48 pages span, Legion tells the outlandish tale of how the world is going to end, with an invasion of hellish beings centering upon Buenos Aires. At the surface level, body-horror armageddon is a familiar concept, a path well travelled by masters of scary cinema like David Cronenberg, Clive Barker and particularly Dario Argento. Sanz brings a chillingly original concept to this tale though; his End of Days is triggered by an unnatural confluence of breakthroughs in the human creative consciousness. An artist paints a new colour that should never have been seen, an architect designs a new structure that should never have been built, and a musician plays a new note that should never have been heard. It's a combination of forbidden fruits which strike a bizarre resonance, and the mystery which enshrouds the ungodly invaders and their apocalyptic massacre remains largely unexplained. It's almost as if each reader is forced look into themselves to divine what crimes the human race has carried out to warrant this ghastly punishment.
The plot of Legion follows a small group of survivors who are struggling to escape the city, but who find their surroundings descend further and further into Hell; as the art-deco architectures of the Argentine capital morph into dark structures of organic horror, the likes of which would give HR Geiger restless sleep. In it's final act, a series of vicious set-pieces whip the pace into a frenzy so that when the maddening denoument unfolds, the reader is firmly within it's grip.
This is a hugely ambitious storyline to tell, particularly within such a brief page-span. Sanz is a master visual story-teller though; his background in creating animated short movies (El inivisor and Gorgonas) giving him a fantastic grasp of how to employ lighting, colour and PoV's to create an atmosphere and pace the story. I can't be sure, but it looks like Sanz has used felt-tip pens to colour the artwork, rather than applying colour digitally. This is only particularly noticeable in the more monochrome scenes, and although it's slightly distracting, the effect does add an eery texture to some of the shading. The design of Sanz's human characters, and particularly their eyes, can come across as slightly cartoonish also, in a manner similar to fantasy painter Richard Corben. But this allows an emphasis to be placed on their exaggerated reactions to the horrors unfolding around them. In fact the art comes across as a storyboard for a multi-million blockbuster movie, albeit a storyboard with exquisitely inked linework and an uncanny use of colour and shadow.
The comic was released by IDW with impeccable production values in late 2007. But apart from a couple of the Salvador Sanz's videos on Youtube, it's near impossible to find any further news on either Legion or it's author. Like the memory of a bad dream in the morning, he seems to have disappeared.
This story from 2004 is a real diamond in the rough; a guts n' glory WWII war comic, embellished with horror themes and fantastical action. The Light Brigade must have made for a very colourful pitching session, as a cross between the movies Saving Private Ryan and The Omen. The fact is that the four issue limited series surpasses it's pulp premise to become an enthralling, spectacular, and by the end of it's fourth and final issue/chapter, quite moving reading experience.
The story follows the exploits of a troupe of GI's, stranded behind enemy lines in occupied Belgium during the dying days of WWII, who have been singled out by heavenly forces to carry out a divine mission. Their opponents are not simply Nazi's, but immortal fallen angels (the Grigori), leading zombie-like angel-human hybrids (the Nephilim), and their defeat may result in Armageddon. It's to the credit of the creators that you never stop to think about how preposterous it all sounds.
The artwork by Peter Snejberg is great. The designs capture all the period details, increasing the realism of the story, whilst being stylised enough to maintain a timeless quality. The storytelling is cinematic, and the dark inks are used to tremendous effect with the muted colours to convey the sense of sustained horror, both wartime and unholy. The real star of the show, though, is Peter Tomasi's plot and script.
I'd be hard pushed to think of a plot for a self-contained limited series which is paced quite as well as this. From the introduction of the characters, through their initial adventures, to their final battle (which occupies the entire final quarter of the tale), the plot never stops racing forward. Time is given to build a cast of compelling and sympathetic characters, to include some knock-out action sequences and to drive the epic storyline. The theme of religeous faith challenged during wartime is played out to great effect through the struggles of the main protagonist, Private Chris Stavros. Thankfully though, the religeous symbolism is not forced down the readers' throats, and Tomasi instead focuses on peppering authentic historical character vignettes, to enrich the setting and further heighten the realism. The writer is clearly a bit of a history nut, which is made clear in this interview with him here.
Working against the series, unfortunately, is comparison to Preacher, a Vertigo title which for 6 years dominated the genre of contemporary religeous-themed horror. The Light Brigade was published only 3 years after Preacher wrapped, and I think that many readers may have been suffering a fatigue for this sort of story. No sequels have been made, and neither the writer nor artist returned to the concept. Which, in a way, is a good thing; the series is largely self-contained, with a satisfying amount of closure to it's climax, and an epilogue which makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up each time I read it. Above all else, it's the humanity in the characterisation which makes this a story which readers will want to revisit again and again. Collected and published by DC comics, it's a book which I'd heartily recommend comics fans and non-comics fans alike to root out.