Today, Patrick and Shelby are discussing G.I. Combat 5, originally released October 3rd, 2012.
Patrick: True story: when we were deciding what series Retcon Punch was going to cover after zero month, we sorta hemmed and hawed about G.I. Combat. We’re generally fans of Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray’s writing, and I (for one) am drawn to stories that explore the relationship between identity and military service. But on the flip-side, some of the previous stories have been trite, and the art wasn’t always hitting home. Plus, the major selling point (i.e. DINOSAURS) was going away. But when Drew and Shelby and I checked out the solicit to see whether or not we should continue to pick this series up, we saw the title “The Haunted Tank.” That’s just silly enough to work. Let’s explore The Haunted Tank and Unknown Soldier one-at-a-time.
The Haunted Tank in “Mettle”
Patrick: Jeb Stuart is a crazy old man. Now, just because that phrase has fallen into common use to describe any eccentric over the age of 60 doesn’t mean that I am being glib here. Jeb’s 98 years old, and spends all his time dancing around on a cardboard tank, draped in the American flag and carving WWII images into his ceiling with a sword. Crazy. Old. Man. Jeb comes from a long line of military men, and the tradition carried on down to his great-grandson, Scott – who is currently serving in Afghanistan. Jeb’s life has settled into a crazy — but stable — routine, until…
Deep inside the Red Room, a sentient tank springs to life. Let’s explain this sentience as the tank being “haunted.” Luckily, the red room is in Detroit and Jeb’s out in the ‘burbs, so it should just be a quick rampage on the M-102 for the tank to reach its old friend Jeb Stuart. But Steve Trevor sends wave after wave of his own men to bravely fall in front of this supernatural tank (duh), and then demands all the information available on Jeb Stuart. (How exactly Trevor knows — or even suspects — Jeb’s involvement is not explained.) The army guys almost trap the tank, only to discover it’s capable of teleportation (should have request info on that, eh Trev?). The Haunted Tank teams up with Jeb and the two of them teleport to a cave in Afghanistan where Scotty Stuart is about to be executed by some terrorists or something.
The cover sort of implies that the tank is haunted by the ghost of an earlier generation of Stuart soldier – one that served in the Civil War. It’s also clear that Jeb knows exactly what this tank is all about – presumably he and Tanky go way back to blasting Nazis in World War II. And now they’re magically transported to Afghanistan to protect his great-grandson so the bloodline will not be broken. That’s a lot of wars this tank has been involved with , and it’s clear that the Stuart family is defined by conflict. But writer Peter Tomasi spends basically the whole issue with these old-old-old soldiers and a scant few panels with the current generation. Pairing a crazy old man-soldier and a haunted tank-soldier doesn’t create quite the odd-couple dynamic you might hope for. Think of how interesting it would be if Scotty had to work with the Tank. One was a soldier in the Civil War (and then the cavalry in WWI) and the other was trained in counter insurgency in the modern army. But two guys that both have outdated perspectives on military strategy? Kinda limits the fun.
Howard Chaykin’s art is ambitious, and you can tell he used a lot of very specific references to capture the look of both the tank and the Detroit locations. But the art also has this weird composite-image feel to it. So while the action sequences in the streets of Detroit get an extra level of verisimilitude, there are also awkward little mistakes – like this frisbee appearing on the wrong side of this kid’s legs.
Here’s a nerdy complaint. I think that tank is actually in the Black Room at A.R.G.U.S. headquarters in Washington, D.C. Check the Free Comic Book Day issue, which shows us both the Black and Red Rooms: you’ll see the tank sitting under the bone chandelier , and you’ll see it in D.C.
How are you feeling about this one, Shelby?
Shelby: I am feeling a little bummed out that an idea as cool as a haunted tank is so poorly executed. The art is a big reason I’m not wild about this story. I’m so glad you included that panel with the frisbee, there are problems like that all through this issue. Chaykin seems to have a problem with weight and presence. You were totally right to call it a composite; he’s just layering images on top of each other, instead of considering the weight that object would have in the real world. A lot of his action sequences are confusing, as well. When you’re dealing with a subject as conceptually confusing as a haunted tank, you’re going to have to go out of your way to keep the action clear. The tank can teleport itself on top of a helicopter in flight? That’s fine, as long as I can see that is what’s happening. A panel of the tank on the ground followed by the tank in the air is not going to cut it.
I think Tomasi’s writing suffers the same sort of confusion. You are absolutely correct that the tank is in the Black Room, not the Red Room. It may seem like a small point, but I think it’s an important one; getting that wrong is both a sign of sloppy writing and sloppy editing. I know this is essentially the “first issue” of Haunted Tank, but Tomasi is glossing over some points that are important. When Trevor inexplicably starts looking for Jeb, Jeb’s ears begin bleeding profusely, leading him to realize someone is looking for him. Wait, what? That doesn’t make any sense. I get that I’m saying that about a minor detail in a story about a haunted tank, but that’s kind of my point. Just because you’re telling a story about something as ludicrous as a tank possessed by the spirits of former soldiers doesn’t mean you can lose sight of the minor details. If anything, it’s those minor details that ground the story in reality which make it all the more fantastic.
The Unknown Soldier
Shelby: Happily, The Unknown Soldier fares a little better. The Soldier is undercover as an arms dealer, trying to get to the heart of who hijacked the plane and nuclear plant last issue. He’s dealing with a conservative militant group, who is itself dealing with a group of soldiers converted to radical Islam. The arms sale goes sour, as they are wont to do, and the Soldier has to kick some wholesale ass. As he’s talking to the injured leader, the man tells Soldier he has no idea how big this is, and that a revolution is coming. Their chat is interrupted, however, when someone hijacks a military drone and fires a couple missiles at the Soldier. Turns out, they are dealing with a far more sophisticated enemy than they realized, as we see the entire HQ has been hacked.
I really like how current this story-line is. Sure, the Unknown Soldier is some sort of superhuman, who is apparently tapping into the power of generations of soldiers before him, but he’s fighting a war we sadly all understand. When the Soldier mentions to the buyer his guns are from Arizona, the buyer asks if they’re “part of that stuff Obama pulled down near Rio Rico.” That’s got to be a reference to Operation Fast and Furious, an operation that was supposed to track arms deals into Mexico, and instead lost track of weapons which were later used in violent crimes. Palmiotti and Gray have crafted a tale which wholly exists in my reality, which makes me way more invested in the story being told.
I also like Staz Johnson’s art. It’s gritty and dirty: perfectly suited for this issue. He uses a big halftone pattern for shading, and I really like it. It’s unique, and visually very striking.
I don’t know if credit goes to Johnson or his colorist Rob Schwager, but in either case, job well done boys.
I really enjoy the Unknown Soldier. It’s unlike anything else I’m reading, and while the realistic military references can be a little dense for me on occasion, I’m still really interested in this story. Patrick, the Palmiotti and Gray story is what convinced us to cover this title, did this issue live up to your expectations?
Patrick: Again, it was the three words “The Haunted Tank” that made me say “well, we’ve got to cover that.” But Palmiotti and Gray are master craftsmen: and this mastery is on full display during this three-page sequence where the tension ratchets up between the Unknown Soldier and the buyer. By the end, the buyer reveals his whole hand, but there’s no way to forecast that at the beginning of the interaction. And I like that the creative teams knows well enough to celebrate this successful interaction with a two-page fight scene.
Shelbs, I like that you point out the currentness of this story. So many comics are sorta lost in time, battling evils the likes of which the world will never see. And while this issue maybe implies there’s some sort of giant redneck separatist conspiracy, the references to Timothy McVeigh, Fast and Furious, the Tea Party and Drones, all place this story within the confines of our reality.
I’m starting to wonder if there’s something to the fact that Unknown is a valuable fighter, but totally worthless at getting information. Like, he didn’t get shit out of those gun-runners, but he did do a spectacular job of kicking their asses. If the on-going story is going to focus on a revolution, the subject of Unknown’s blind loyalty could be an interesting source of conflict. He’s this engineered (or… something) super-soldier – maybe the fact that he’s not savvy enough to question his orders is part of what makes him so super. And what does that say about the nature of military service? And does that accurately reflect the army we have now? How about reflecting the army we need now? There’s a lot of substantive ground to cover here – I home Palmiotti and Gray don’t shy away from it.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?