DC Comics History: Haunted Tank
By Deejay Dayton
Jul 17, 2017 - 11:43
Writer(s): Robert Kanigher
Artist(s): Russ Heath
The Haunted Tank made its debut in the pages of G.I. Combat during the period 1960 – 1964: the Silver Age, and the series would run in the book for more than twenty years. The concept of the ghost of a Confederate general leading the crew of a World War 2 tank took a while to develop into the state we now recognize, but was fully formed before this period was over.
Robert Kanigher and Russ Heath introduce Jeb Stuart and his tank, named for his Confederate general ancestor, as well as the rest of his tank crew, in G.I. Combat 87. The Haunted Tank is a small M3 tank, part of a squad that includes a number of much larger, Pershing tanks. But when they all get surrounded by Nazi tanks, its the Pershing ones that get destroyed.
The M3 has greater maneuverability. But there is more to the tank than that. Jeb Stuart is sure he can hear a laughing voice as he battles the Nazis, although the others in his crew, Arch Asher, Rick Rawlins, and Slim Stryker, cannot. All four were childhood friends, and would re-enact the US Civil War, representing the south.
But in their version, the south would win. Is it any surprise these are all white kids? Jeb was named for his cavalry general ancestor, and ever since childhood thinks that he can hear the man's laughter. Since there no longer is any cavalry, the four boys decide to join the tank corps, and conveniently all get placed together in the same tank.
As they battle the Nazi tanks, all on their own, they get hit and all of them get knocked out. But when they awake, they discover that their own gun took out the last Nazi tank. But who could have fired it? The laughing ghost? OOOooooOOO!
The story in G.I. Combat 88 improves on the first Haunted Tank outing. This time around, the ghost is not just disembodied laughter. We get to see the ghostly head of General Stuart giving prophetic advice. As before, only Jeb Stuart can see and hear his ancestor. Arch Asher, Rick Rawlins and Slim Stryker just go along with what Jeb tells them. The story has the Haunted Tank pursuing a Nazi "ghost tank," able to appear and disappear at will, and seemingly impervious to damage. The ghost tank has been taking out all the other tanks in the battalion.
As in the earlier story, towards the climax the entire crew of the tank get knocked out, but the ghost takes control and drives the tank straight into the Nazi lines. Jeb wakes up as the Haunted Tank descends on a hidden platform, and finds a secret Nazi base, where they can repair their tank, and send it up and down in an instant. The crew take out the base and end the threat of the "ghost tank."
The Haunted Tank story in issue 89 is all done with the David vs Goliath concept permeating it. General Stuart vocalizes this to Jeb Stuart, when he and his men feel bad that a big Pershing tank has to provide protection for them. But the Pershing tank gets bombed by a plane, and the Haunted Tank crew vow to avenge it. Along the way they take out a Nazi ship, and others apply the David vs Goliath idea to them.
The Haunted Tank gets called to move to a new location, and a plane picks them up. Then the bomber that had taken out the Pershing shows up again, attacking their plane. The Tank gets dropped by parachute, and manages to shoot down the bomber as it falls, and lands safely.
G.I. Combat 91 was the first to actually feature the Tank, and Jeb Stuart, on the cover. Kanigher and Heath provide the story, which all centres around a turtle. The Haunted Tank crew rescue the turtle from a hawk, in between battling a whole slew of Nazi tanks. The turtle pops up again a couple of times in the story, and Jeb Stuart always avoids running it over, which often leads him into great positions to kill more Nazi tanks.
The ghost of General Stuart doesn't get to do much in this one. It often is just shown as a head looking mournfully on. Apparently he is worried about the turtle as well. The Nazis don't care about the turtle. They shoot at it with their guns at one point, revealing their position to the Tank crew. But General Stuart is shown in one panel a bit more full bodied, and you can see part of his horse as well.
G.I. Combat 92 is the first to fully show General Stuart on horseback while chatting away with Jeb Stuart, while the rest of the team presumably wonder if he has gone nuts. This tale looks quite different than earlier stories, with a snowy, wintry setting.
Unlike the previous stories, in which Arch Asher, Ricks Rawlins and Slim Stryker barely get to do anything, this story takes them out of the tank as they all grab weapons to try to take out a big dangerous Nazi tank. Jeb has a bazooka, Arch has a machine gun, while Rick and Slim have grenades. Their attacks seem to fail, but do wind up setting off the ammunition the tank itself was carrying, which blows it up.
The Haunted Tank crew finally begin to question Jeb Stuart's sanity in G.I. Combat 95. Jeb Stuart keeps receiving prophetic hints from General Stuart. Following these, he is able to lead the team to victory in some really deadly situations against the Nazis. But Arch Asher, Rick Rawlins and Slim Stryker are still growing increasingly concerned about the way Jeb holds conversations with the air, and insists that the General is leading them to their triumphs. Finally they turn on him, grab Jeb and tie him up. They truly believe they are doing the right thing, that their leader has lost his mind from shell shock. Slim takes control of the tank, and when he is about to lead them into a Nazi trap, General Stuart appears to Slim, warning him of what is ahead. Thanks to this, they avoid the trap and Slim takes out the Nazis. He is not completely convinced that he saw the General, but stands up for Jeb, and has the others release him.
The Haunted Tank gets destroyed in G.I. Combat 96. The smaller Haunted Tank is assigned to be the scout for a convoy of big Pershing tanks. Jeb receives a cryptic warning from General Stuart, but nothing super dramatic. The Nazi plan that Jeb and crew wind up taking down crashes into the Haunted Tank, leaving it a complete wreck.
The guys are all really upset, but grab some weapons and take part in the rest of the battle. After they win, the crew appears in a new M3 tank, just like their old one. There is no question that General Stuart will continue to follow them, or any real consequences for the destruction of their original tank. That would not be the case later on in this series.
G.I. Combat 100 fills in some background on the fathers of the crew members. A casual conversation between Jeb Stuart, Arch Asher, Rick Rawlins and Slim Stryker lead to the four men discovering that each of their fathers was part of the same tank crew during World War 1, in one of the earliest tanks. Considering these four boys grew up together, it's close to astonishing that they never actually knew this until now. Particularly because the World War 1 tank went missing, and all four boys never knew what had happened to their dads. One must assume that it left all of them so traumatized that at no point during their childhoods did they ever speak about their own fathers, or enquire why their friend's fathers were never around either. General Stuart somehow knew all of this, though, as he hints to Jeb about a surprise just before this information all comes out.
The title, “The Return of the Ghost Tank,” seems to refer to the ghost tank story from the previous year, although it's not really any sort of sequel to that tale. There is an underground passage that the Haunted Tank uses, but the ghost tank of the title is actually the tank from World War 1, which just shows up out of nowhere when the Haunted Tank is surrounded by Nazi tanks in a village, and helps Jeb and his crew take out all their opponents before vanishing. Was it really their dead fathers come back to help their sons? Frankly, I don't think it likely.
The Haunted Tank story in G.I. Combat 101 introduces the evil Nazi equivalent, a tank crew who have a connection with the ghost of Attila the Hun. Right off the start General Stuart warns Jeb Stuart that his forthcoming battle will be stranger than usual, and that if Jeb fails, General Stuart's ghost will no longer be able to manifest for him. To be fair, if the Haunted Tank lost their battle they'd probably all be dead so it wouldn't really matter. The Haunted Tank winds up facing off against a big red Nazi tank, which is guided and looked over by the ghost of Attila the Hun.
This reinforces the curious connection that the English speaking world have been the Huns and the Germans, despite there not really being any logical historical basis for this. As the Haunted Tank crew deal with the Nazi tank, General Stuart himself gets into battle with the ghost of Attila. Sadly, this fight never even merits a panel unto itself, but gets wedged into the corners of a couple of panels. Great to see the ghost taking an active role, but the tale could have been executed better. That's probably part of the reason the ghost of Attila the Hun returns in a couple of years.
The Haunted Tank story in issue 102 is a classic one, very effective and evocative. An aging Frenchman, a solider in his younger days, sits by a window in his home town staring out into space. While it cannot be said that he is the central character, his role does steal the show. When we are not watching the old man as the Nazis invade his village, we are following the Haunted Tank crew. General Stuart has informed Jeb Stuart that the lives of the Tank's crew depend on a single shot.
The men fight a lot of Nazis during the course of the story, and for much of it Jeb cannot figure out what the General was referring to. Then, at one point, Rick Rawlins manages to shoot down a Nazi plane with one shot, and Jeb assumes that was what the General meant. But it wasn't.
The Haunted Tank rolls into the village, and the old man has been watching as a Nazi sniper has taken a position in the church's bell tower. The sniper is perfectly positioned to take Jeb out, but the old man takes down the sniper with one shot, and then peacefully dies.
Brave and the Bold 52 sees the crew of the Haunted Tank team up with Johnny Cloud, from All-American Men of War and Sgt. Rock from Our Army at War. The story begins with Johnny Cloud, who is assigned to fly into France to meet up with Martin, a French underground agent who has vital information. Johnny finds Martin, who has been sealed into an iron suit by the Nazis. Johnny tries to fly Martin out of enemy territory, but his plane gets shot down.
Jeb Start and the Haunted Tank take over the narrative at this point. They happen to be near the spot where Johnny Cloud crashed, and pick up both him and Martin, and then try to reach allied territory. When things begin to look bad for them, they come across Sgt. Rock and Easy Company, and together they defeat the Nazis attacking them. Martin gets released from the iron suit, and turns out to be Mademoiselle Marie.
Marie provides the Allies with the information they needed, and the men all get rewarded for their efforts. Johnny Cloud is promoted to Captain, and Jeb Stuart becomes a lieutenant. Sgt. Rock is offered a promotion to lieutenancy, but wants to remain a sergeant.
G.I. Combat 105 takes place right after the events in the Brave and the Bold 52. Jeb Stuart’s promotion to lieutenant is mentioned by Mademoiselle Marie, but not much else is made of it. The story centres on an abandoned tank that Jeb and his crew are ordered to tow in.
General Stuart shows up and tells Jeb the story of the Marie Celeste, found drifting with no crew, as a particularly cryptic warning. When the Nazis keep avoiding a fight with the Haunted Tank, Jeb realizes something must be up with the tank they are towing, and discovers that it is carrying a bomb.
He uses it against the Nazis, and then rejoins Sgt. Rock at the very end of the tale for some more Nazi battling. None of the guest stars are very well used. Aside from the acknowledgement of the events in Brave and the Bold, the cameo by Sgt. Rock at the very end has little to no purpose.
The Haunted Tank continues in the next period, 1964 – 1967: the New Look.
Haunted Tank: G.I. Combat 87 - 105 (April/May 61 – April/May 64)
Brave and the Bold 52 (March/April 64)
Next up – Tales of the Bizarro World!
DC Comics History: Haunted Tank
Haunted Tank #1
Haunted Tank # 1 (of 5)
Haunted Tank #1 of 5