Monday, April 19, 2010

500+ pages of quirky tales of battle action

Showcase Presents: The Haunted Tank (DC Comics, 2008)
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Art: Russ Heath, Joe Kubert,
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

During the 1960s and 1970s, writer Robert Kanigher turned out some truly masterful war stories for DC Comics. Of the ongoing series he created and penned, one of the oddest was was "The Haunted Tank" from G.I. Combat.

"The Haunted Tank" followed the adventures of US Army Lt. Jeb Stuart and the crew of the Stuart-model tank as it battled its way across Africa and Europe during the height of World War II. The combination of a Stuart tank commanded by a Jeb Stuart drew the spirit of legendary Civil War General J.E.B. Stuart and he became the crew's guardian spirit, helping them out of impossible jams and giving Lt. Stuart cryptic, helpful hints when particularly dangerous situations were about to arise. Only Lt. Stuart can see and hear him, and this leads to him occassionally appears as if he should be shipping out on a Section 8 discharge. But, no one can deny that Stuart's tank sometimes does the impossible.
The best stories here are really, really good, but there are also a number of them where Kanigher uses a formula that eventually gets tiresome; basically, the General makes a vague prediction and then the tank crew encounters two or three situations that fit the prophecy before finally running into the real danger. It's possible that if one was reading the stories several months apart that the similarity between them would not be as evident, but when they are collected like they are here, it gets a little dull.

Still, these tales are in the minority; for the most part, "The Haunted Tank" was a series that consistantly offered readers some great offbeat war stories... and even when the stories themselves were a little weak, the very detailed, very realistic art by Russ Heath and Joe Kubert is always amazing to look at.

"The Haunted Tank" is a great book for fans of World War II stories (so long as you keep in mind that it IS a comic book--some of the "blazing battle action" is as far-featched as the notion of a tank with a guardian spirit) and for admirers of great comic book art; Kubert and Heath are two of the greatest talents to ever work in the medium.

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