Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Fair Trade: Haunted Tank
During Operation Iraqi Freedom, Lieutenant Jamal Stuart, commander of an M1 Abrams, finds his tank suddenly occupied by the spirit of General J.E.B. Stuart, a Civil War era cavalryman. Gen. Stuart has guided generations of cavalrymen in his line, offering them protection and advice in the time of war. One problem: He's still stuck in the 1860s, and his charge, Lt. Stuart, is Black.
Needless to say this causes no small amount of bad blood for Lt. Stuart, who wants nothing to do with the Confederate General. But there's not much time to argue about it as the crew is besieged on all sides by Iraqi guerillas looking to put the kibosh on their machine. So J.E.B. Stuart rides again, leading one of the most powerful war machines ever built through the dusty streets.
See what I mean? Great setup. But rather than offering something novel or unexpected with it, writer Frank Marraffino instead riffs on the same race cards which were cliched when I was in high school. OF COURSE Gen. Stuart asks Jamal if he prefers the term "Darkie" over "Nigra." OF COURSE Gen. Stuart raped one of his slaves to produce the lineage which lead to the Lieutenant. OF COURSE he was then cursed by the slave's hoodoo wielding grandmother. This stuff is so hoary it's downright comical.
When Marraffino sticks to the action -- and lets penciller Henry Flint cut loose -- the book picks up appreciably. There's a bit of satire in the way the Iraqis are handled, which is ridiculous enough to work, and his grasp of the Army terminology and the various ordinance is appreciated. But Flint's pencils are the best part of this collection. At the beginning of the story the M1 rolls into a field of Iraqi tanks, and the ensuing battle is one of the best rendered tank battles I have ever seen in a comic. And that high quality continues through the entire book.
In closing, this is not a bad collection per se, but I would have much preferred a more balanced portrayal of Gen. Stuart and his contemporaries rather than just making him a stereotype. Were there bad men in the Confederacy? Certainly, but there were honorable men as well, and I have always thought of Stuart as a more romantic sort. Of course, that doesn't jive with what a Vertigo book is going to be, so I suppose I have no one to blame for my disappointment but myself.