Reading Comic Books Out of Order #7 — “Haunted Tank” (2008)

haunted tank_0001It was important to put a year of release after this title, because it’s a mini-series that re-imagines J.E.B. Stuart, a ghost of a general from the Civil War era of the United States. Old J.E.B. used to appear in GI Combat, from what I’ve read, and from the reactions of some long-time fans of that series, it appears Stuart’s character went under a bit of a “re-imagining” as well.

In this five-issue miniseries, collected in this one book, we meet a group of US soldiers fighting in the Iraq war. Each has a distinct nationality, from the “French” soldier Beauregard “Babe” Johnson, to the Southern American “Hot Rocks” Diaz, to the Korean “Chop Chop” Kim, to Jamal Stuart, their leader and a black man. I’m not usually one to draw on people’s races to distinguish them from one another, but this series is about race more than anything.

Anyways, Jamal and his crew are suddenly ambushed by a squad of Iraqis and might have been in serious trouble, too, had it not been for the arrival of James Ewell Brown Stuart, who arrives in true ghostly fashion and slaughters the Iraqi squad. J.E.B. quickly tells his backstory to Jamal and Babe and reveals that his purpose is to aid all of his descendants in battle.

If you were paying attention, yep, that’s right—Jamal is J.E.B.’s ancestor. J.E.B., who was a plantation owner during the Civil-War era.

Cue the outrage from Jamal, who doesn’t normally bring up his background until he realizes that J.E.B. is almost literally the spirit of racism. J.E.B. quickly shows himself to be absolutely clueless at how to be respectful to Jamal, first calling him a “nigrah” and then later a “darkie,” thinking the latter is less offensive.

Jamal, in short, develops a giant chip on his shoulder, but J.E.B. is far from the only racist among the crew. All the soldiers in Jamal’s group show nothing but utter contempt for Iraqis, referring to them by a slew of offensive names, including “diaper heads.” The only member of the crew who shows some sensitivity for the place they’re stationed in is Chop Chop, who succinctly describes that Iraq is actually the birthplace of modern civilization as we know it.

The comic, as becomes quickly apparent, is a huge satire, a send-up of war and what it does to people. The number of epithets uttered by the main cast alone is mind-boggling, and the violence is absolutely over the top. Every time someone is killed, huge gushes of blood that look like sheets come out.

With the increased violence there’s also an increased dose of foul language, something I had never seen in a comic book aside from literary graphic novels I’ve read in the past. Hell, on the first page the word “fuck” appears three times. This actually helps to ground the story in reality, as I don’t think there are many people on Earth who doesn’t have a few “bad words” in their regular vocabulary.

Despite it being an only five-issue series, by about the second or third issue it already feels like the story has been told, save for a rather shocking battle in the last volume. That being said, the conversations these characters have are potent and the backstory of J.E.B. becomes the series’ strongest material, especially as it leads up to an explanation as to how Jamal and J.E.B. could be related.

As I referred to earlier, some fans of the original series might not enjoy the “racist” incarnation of J.E.B., but if you (like me) are going into this with no prior knowledge, you will probably get a kick out of this.

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