Monday, December 22, 2008

Haunted Tank #1

Outside of Sgt. Rock, DC has never had a longer running combat series than the original Haunted Tank. Usually found within the pages of the old G.I. Combat series, the ghostly panzer was seemingly abandoned with that series' cancellation in the late '80s. But alas! So long as there exist creators with sharp memories and editors with space to fill, no character shall remain unpublished for long.

In this fresh interpretation, the Haunted Tank has abandoned its old digs in WW2-era North Africa in favor of a new station inside present-day Iraq. It's familiar scenery, warfare against the backdrop of blackened sand, only modernized in both setting and opposition. Of course, the soldiers on the other side of the conflict are about as clich├ęd as they come; a ragtag cluster of underdressed, over-armed militants who descend onto the scene shouting about infidels and imperialists… but they aren't the focus of the story, and the speed of their arrival is matched only by the haste of their departure. Author Frank Marraffino spends more time this month introducing us to the good guys than he does sending them into action, and it's just as well. While the speedy, intense battle scenes may be more visually impressive and exciting, the real hook of the story is with the ghost of a Confederate General, the boys he rescued from certain death in the middle of an oasis and their offbeat, uneasy relationship. Besides, there'll be plenty of time for bullets and ‘splosions later in this five issue mini-series, and from the small taste we get this month, I know it'll be worth the wait.

Henry Flint's artwork is the real superstar of this issue. He must have been the kind of kid whose trapper keeper was filled with sketch after sketch of machinery, because he treats this job like a labor of love. His renditions of a desert-bound tank and the mechanical competition it encounters are strikingly accurate, but not stifling or lacking in individuality. His machinery wears its scratches and grime like a medal of honor, reminders of battles once fought and terrain left far behind. It carries its personality on its thick metal hide, and is identifiable as a character unto itself from the word go. Perhaps most importantly, Flint never misses an opportunity to remind his readers just how gigantic a tank really is, spotlighting its size in comparison to the men behind the controls and allowing it to tower menacingly over a full-sized pickup truck.

Flint has a mastery of impressive, cinematic storytelling, too. This issue reads more like a thoroughly fleshed-out storyboard than a traditional comic, with the artist's impressive attention to detail working with his adventurous camera angles to deliver a fantastic final product. When this tank gets moving, the sense of motion is so vivid that you'll swear the panels have started shaking.

Haunted Tank is loads of fun. Its cast of characters is identifiable, admirable and genuinely funny, and their relationship with the ghost that drives their adventures is a bit more complicated than it would seem on the surface. Who could've thought it would take a comic book about a possessed war machine to bridge the enormous generation gap between the Civil War and today? This is dynamite stuff: it's light and goofy when it needs to be, deep and dirty when it doesn't. I'm buying it, give it a shot yourself.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 9

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