Sunday, December 07, 2008

Haunted Tank #1

"Shock and Awesome"
Writer: Frank Marraffino
Artist: Henry Flint
Colourist: Lee Loughridge
Letterer: Travis Lanham
Editor: Brandon Montclare

Vertigo are raiding the DC back catalogue again, with a five-issue miniseries reviving Haunted Tank.

This is an old sixties concept which had a surprisingly long run - 26 years, long after most non-superhero books died out - based on the gimmick of a World War II tank commander watched over by the ghost of his ancestor, Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart. It's a weird idea, and I have trouble believing there was quite that much mileage in it, but you can certainly see the potential.

The Vertigo imprint has always enjoyed dusting off dormant DC properties for adult-oriented arrival, and evidently the Haunted Tank has now slipped to the level of obscurity where it's deemed suitable for that treatment. Of course, the challenge with these Vertigo revivals is that the concepts weren't designed for adult storytelling. The trick is to find ones with untapped potential.

In theory, Haunted Tank sounds like it should be ideal. It's a military story, and the military's very topical at the moment. It's a basically real-world story with a single fantastic element; that works well for Vertigo. And it's got the subtext of modern America coming to terms its past, especially since Stuart was a Confederate general. There ought to be a good miniseries in this idea.

Which makes Frank Marraffino and Henry Flint's take on the concept something of a disappointment. It's Iraq in 2003, and General Stuart pops up to defend another tank crewed by another of his descendents. But he's a Confederate, and this crew is multi-racial - with hilarious consequences!

Or maybe not. It's a parade of thinly-drawn stereotypes, and I'm not just talking about the locals (though they do get dialogue like "Imperialist Satan!" and "Come, my Syrian brothers!"). The general is a collection of nineteenth-century cliches. The tank crew consists of one generic Angry Black Man and three other guys whose main function is to make predominantly crass jokes.

The art's good. Flint has fun with a ghost driving a tank, and plays up some of the comedy moments well. And I'll grant that the themes of this series are probably more interesting to Americans than they will be to me. But the bottom line is that it's about as subtle as a brick to the temple, and by the end of the issue, I was mainly hoping the tank would just roll over the cast and be done with it.

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