The ghost of Confederate general J.E.B. Stuart is haunting and protecting an M1 Abrams tank as it rushes toward Baghdad as part of the US-led invasion of Iraq in this DC Comics miniseries, released under the VERTIGO imprint.
Those who remember the old HAUNTED TANK series from G.I. COMBAT comics in the 1970s will enjoy the new twist on the situation. Not that this miniseries is a mere modernisation of the old one. There are a lot of changes in the premise. In the new version, General Stuart can actually take part in the battle and in one scene, even joins in machinegunning a group of Iraqi soldiers. The new tank commander Jamal Stuart, an African-American has lengthy conversations with his namesake and possible ancestor and the rest of the tank crew can see and interact with the ghost as well-- quite a change from the original series where no one but Lieutenant Jeb Stuart could see the ghost and many of his crew wondered if their commander was going nuts.
The new Haunted Tank also appears to be far more unlucky as it gets caught in a lot of perilous situations, forcing the ghost to intervene to save Jamal. While the US-led assault on Iraq was swift and overwhelming, this comic certainly makes it look like a rather dangerous affair with the M1 tank barely surviving attacks by Iraqi fighters. This makes for some very exciting, close-range battle scenes rather than the antiseptic engagements with tanks exchanging cannon fire from half a mile away.
The real conflict in this issue is between J.E.B., an unrepentant Confederate soldier and Jamal who is ready to confront him with the dark legacy of the south. Surprisingly, the creative team gives each side its due. The ghost does not turn into a contrite civil rights convert who denounces the Confederacy but Jamal does not eagerly welcome the ghost's guidance either. Many of the coming issues of this miniseries actually have the Confederate stars and bars flag displayed quite prominently. It should be interesting to see how the creative team handles such a politically-sensitive issue without having either side cave in to the other.
The art of this issue has a highly-detailed, well-lighted grittiness to it rather than the shades and heavy lines of traditional DC war comics. The soldiers and military equipment are all depicted with a great deal of realism that makes the story seem more timely, regardless of how fictional it is.
While this issue is entertaining enough on its own, the entire story is eclipsed by the character of General J.E.B. Stuart. With his florid, poetic language and his flamboyant, anachronistic appearance, he grabs most of the attention and gets the best lines. All the other characters, including Jamal, can't really hold their own in their scenes with him. One would think the ghostly general is the lead character, not the tank crew. If this keeps up, they might as well change the title of this book to "General Stuart and His Not-so-Amazing Friends."