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Friday, December 02, 2005

Profiles in Courage: The Haunted Tank

The Haunted Tank is awesome, and that's a fact.

Back in 1961, Robert Kanigher--a guy who will always hold a special place in my heart for his incredibly prolific work on Sgt. Rock, the Losers and, inexplicably, Girls' Love Stories--apparently decided that tanks that weren't haunted by the ghosts of Confederate generals just weren't worth reading.

Now THAT'S a blitzkriegHere's how it went down, according to 1985's Who's Who Volume X. During World War II, the ghost of Atilla the Hun (?!) assigns James Ewell Brown Stuart, a Confederate cavalry commander who was known for sporting a peacock feather in his hat and using "audacious tactics" in the Civil War, to protect a tank crew headed up by his namesake and possible descendant, Sgt. Jeb Stuart. General Stuart reluctantly agrees, but only after Jeb--the only one of the crew who can see the General's ghost--agrees to fly the Confederate Battle Flag as they take on the Nazis.

The irony is astounding.

There's no getting around the fact that the idea is crazy. It's a Haunted Tank for crying out loud. And the best part is, Jeb doesn't keep the fact that he's talking to the ghost of a Civil War cavalry general a secret at all, which is probably a major source of resentment for Corporal Gus Gray, the tank's loader. Not a lot of black guys out there have to contend with a boss who constantly confers with their pro-slavery imaginary friend, but I've yet to find an issue where Gus brings it up. I guess the fact that J.E.B. Stuart had to haunt a Sherman tank, named after the famous Union general who burned Atlanta, sort of made up for it.

Firestorm and the Haunted Tank, together at last!I'm not the only fan of the Haunted Tank out there, either. Kurt Busiek even went so far as to introduce an all-new Haunted Tank in his short-lived Power Company series. This time around, it was a sophisitcated hover-tank prototype developed by STAR Labs, which played host to the spirit of Jeb Stuart and was piloted by his granddaughter, Jen. For some reason, there has yet to be an ongoing.

Really though, how could you not like the Haunted Tank? It's a tank haunted by a ghost that fights dinosaurs.

Totally Awesome.The tank fights dinosaurs, I mean. The ghost just helps. Like all of his war comic covers, the Joe Kubert Haunted Tank pieces make it look like the most awesome thing ever. My personal favorites? This one comes close...

All-Out Action!...since it has a fully-manned tank with a parachute taking on a fighter jet in mid-air. That, my friends, is easily one of the top ten most awesome sentences ever constructed. But the all-time champion Haunted Tank moment has to go to an issue that I picked up for myself last week, which proves that any vehicle with a Confederate Flag on it will make high-speed jumps over other vehicles at any time, for any reason:

OVER THE TOP INDEED!You can't really tell from the scan, but the Nazi's eyes are HUGE with the realization that the Haunted Tank is coming down on him like a thunderbolt from the hand of God. All it needs is a horn that plays Dixie.

Truly, they were the Greatest Generation.

17 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

thanks for the info about the haunted tank. the stuart family has a cameo in crisis on infinite earths, which i re-read last week, and i was confused by/interested in said appearance. you've done a public service here today, chris. godspeed.

rob

12/03/2005 1:03 AM

 
Blogger Brent McKee said...

It seems to me that they tended to be rather cavalier about the type of tank that the Haunted Tank was actually supposed to be. At times it was a Sherman and at other times it was an M5 light tank, known as a Stuart. Sometimes it looked like nothing that was ever seen on a World War II battlefield.

Of course that fits with conveniently forgetting that the US Army in World War II was a segregated organization that wasn't desegregated until 1948 (and there were still all Black units as late as the Korean War.

12/03/2005 3:52 PM

 
Blogger Chris Sims said...

Brent, that's one of the reasons I like the series Gravedigger that ran in MEN OF WAR, about a black dude who was put on grave-digging detail, but turned out to be such a badass that he became a one-man commando unit. Plus, it's got them Joe Kubert covers that I like so much.

12/03/2005 5:08 PM

 
Anonymous AriazonaTeach said...

Was Kurt a big fan of the Tank? It was an online poll, right? And I was under the impression that Kurt wanted Firestorm all along, but was gonna put whoever won in the comic. Props, though, for making it wicked cool and all, and for creating an online poll that isn't more or less fixed from the beginning (I'm looking at YOU, Amazing Fantasy polls).

12/04/2005 12:09 PM

 
Blogger Chris Sims said...

If memory serves, everyone involved in the poll ended up making at least an appearance, but Firestorm was the one who actually became a member. The New Haunted Tank was just a team-up in the last few issues.

12/04/2005 3:02 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Garth Ennis and John McCrea brought back the Haunted Tank in a multiple-part storyline in The Demon some time in the mid-nineties. It's the original tank and the original crew, only now much older, coming out of retirement to fight Nazi demons or something. It's worth reading.

--Leighton Connor

12/04/2005 3:18 PM

 
Blogger Chris Sims said...

That sounds awesome! Even though I've got a full run of Hitman, I've never been able to piece together Ennis and McCrea's Demon, and I really want to. Especially now that I know the Tank's involved.

12/04/2005 4:09 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just double-checked--it's The Demon #46-48 from 1994.

--LC

12/05/2005 2:52 PM

 
Anonymous Steve said...

I remember reading the Haunted Tank when I was a kid back in the mid-70s. It was way cooler than Superman and the so-called superhero comics. Sgt Rock was the bomb also.

11/24/2006 7:08 PM

 
Anonymous The Mutt said...

They weren't cavalier about the tanks: there was a progression over the years. Changing the tanks was a big deal, told in a big story. They started with the Stuart tank, then switched to a Sherman, then a hybrid they built themselves in a tank graveyard. (I may have the order wrong on the last two. It was a loooong time ago.)

5/31/2007 8:58 PM

 
Blogger David said...

I'm 51 years old now but I fondly remember looking forward to every issue of Sgt. Rock and also the Haunted Tank. And though today I realize that an M3 Stuart taking on a German Panther or Tiger would be like feeding raw meat to a pit bull, still the stories were exciting and I really enjoyed them.
I think I even might still have a few issues up in the attic somewhere. I might just dig them out.
David Yarbrough

8/02/2007 8:19 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read a bunch of the GI Combats back in the day . I always liked the haunted tank even though as I got older and read more real WW2 books the idea of taking out a tiger with a 37mm gun was nuts. I recently bought the Vol 1 anthology . It's good but not in color. It has all those stories I didn't read when I was buying it off the news stand.

8/13/2007 10:39 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The first tanks were originally an M3 Stuart(they would get destroyed evert now and then).Then they built the "Jigsaw tank" or "Cannibalized" tank out of spare parts and then finally got the M4 Sherman.Gus Gray(the black guy) was not one of the original crew(he replaced Arch).Slim also died during the Comic's run.

In one of the mail/letters pages that ran in the back of the comic,some dude sent a model he had made of the "cannibalized" tank and told what he had made it from,and it had a photograph of the model.I don' remember which issue that is, however.---Smitty

1/15/2009 8:03 AM

 
Blogger olderthenyoda said...

As a preteen youth in a cold war El Paso the Haunted Tank was intense if inaccurate entertainment from the desert battles of World War 2. Adults were too busy to point out the flaws in the stories but the comics provided enough interest to get me reading Bantam War Books like Brazen Chariots years later to learn what really happened in the armored battles splashed into my mind from the DC Comic books. Decades later I find the old stories as entertaining and attractive as I did in 1961.

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