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Haunted Tank #1
posted December 9, 2008


Creators: Frank Marraffino, Henry Flint, Joe Kubert
Publishing Information: DC Comics/Vertigo, comic book, 32 pages, December 2008, $2.99
Ordering Numbers:

Sometimes I wonder at what point the rehabilitation of old comic book characters into models of modern HBO-style adult entertainment became a foregone conclusion. I'm betting that if there had been an Internet as a constant platform for making jokes about such practices back when this one started, one of the examples that would have been bandied about as a fount for humor is Haunted Tank. Not that the idea of a Haunted Tank for more sophisticated funnybook readers is a hilarious thing in and of itself. Its combination of war story (tank combat) paired with a supernatural element (the ghost of JEB Stuart assists a descendant, a tank commander) sounds like it would make a halfway decent movie pitch. It's just that I can't imagine anyone picking up the current Haunted Tank on the stands the way older fans did two decades ago with other projects and think, "Finally, Haunted Tank the way it always should have been." Maybe I'm wrong.

The new series opens in Iraq in March 2003, the beginning days of the second US/Iraq war which you may recall was the full-on military deployment stage. (I remember the conflict began the same day as the NCAA basketball tournament that year. I was in Las Vegas, and folks in the Rio sports book were cheering on the NC State Wolfpack and the bombing of Iraq on dueling TVs.) The first issue introduces us to the tank, the broadly-drawn guys in the tank, the ghost that comes to haunt the tank and the specific individual in the tank that’s a descendant of the ghost. He's black, which I can't imagine anyone halfway steeped on American history as filtered through mass entertainment not guessing to be The Big Twist. There's a firefight, a full-on tank battle I had problems figuring out and what scanned to me as highly unrealistic dialogue -- all of which is okay, really. I mean, it's crafted with some care and I would think reasonably entertaining on the level for which it aims. It feels like it was created by adults that know what they're doing on some level. If I were to find it on my TV I wouldn't watch it for more than a few minutes, but I would likely find it of a quality that I'd be certain someone was watching it. On balance, it's hard to hate anything called "Shock and Awesome" for not being sophisticated enough to hold my attention.

Unfortunately, it doesn't seem anything enough. It's just kind of there, and with this particular property you have to wonder how much "there" is going to appeal to people. As is the case with greater frequency these days, not enough happens of significance in this single issue for me to know exactly where things are headed. The set-up presents some interesting possibilities. I don't know a ton about Stuart, but I recall he wasn't always the most responsible of Robert E. Lee's generals. He was a bit of a dandy and field-of-battle improviser; Marraffino plays the ghost as enough of those two things that we might get other qualities, too. I could have sworn Stuart died younger than the age he's pictured here, but people looked older back then and maybe dead people look older, too. I could also see the creators having fun with the setting. To find combat in even this first issue, the creators had to push their Haunted Tank away from all the others. This makes me think that we might see Stuart adjusting to the extra-military realities facing his descendant in this particular theatre of war. No matter what direction they go, I wish the creators and their creation well on their respective missions. I'm in no way convinced to join them.