This May, “Men at War” leaves the DC Comics publishing catalog, replaced by New 52 Second Wave book “G.I. Combat.” The series features three all-new installments of classic DC war properties including “The War That Time Forgot” written by J.T. Krul and “The Haunted Tank” written by John Arcudi. Although the original, classic stories were set in the war eras of their time, in the new “G.I. Combat” will reflect the modern era.
Krul’s “The War That Time Forgot” boils down to the core “soldiers versus dinosaurs” plot, the writer told CBR News. “The concept is pretty much what you’d think if you saw a picture of it; it’s soldiers fighting dinosaurs,” Krul said. “The story takes place in the present day and it’s about a team of soldiers that wind up in this strange area where dinosaurs are just running rampant. Concept-wise, it’s a lot like ‘Jurassic Park’ meets ‘Predator.’ It’s really just a tale of survival for these soldiers as they try to — not even figure out what’s going on as much as they want to survive and get the hell out of there.
“Obviously, we’re using modern-day soldiers, so you have that aspect of it — but I think it boils down to a sense that, in the original tales, it was almost like the dinosaurs’ existence was accepted and it was a fringe world,” the writer continued. “They would go there and leave. Every tale was yet another adventure of someone going into that. It was more like a Savage Land type thing, like they knew it was there and they kind of just dealt with it on occasion. For ours, it’s a little bit different in the sense of, they’re not sure of what’s going on or where they are or why the dinosaurs are there. There’s more of an air of mystery to it, I think. It’s more about being isolated and alone as opposed to being part of this massive army that’s sizing up against the dinosaurs.”
Krul emphasized that although “The War That Time Forgot” is a DC classic, he doesn’t feel much pressure to live up to the original, thanks in part to the fact that the originals regularly told stories with new characters rather than building a legacy for one character or groups in particular. “To me, it’s actually been an easy project to work on,” he said. “They’ve done a lot of stories on it, it’s been around a long time, but it’s been different soldiers fighting in a war and fighting against dinosaurs. There hasn’t been a Sgt. Rock character that’s been the centerpiece of it for the whole time where you’re really trying to make sure you do that character right. In a way, the dinosaurs are the characters, they are the focal point of it, and the battles and confrontation. In that respect, it’s just trying to hold true to that and make sure it’s exciting and fun, trying to bring something different. I want to present it in a different way in terms of the action and art so that it’s big and bold and jumps off the page at you and has all these ‘Holy Crap!’ moments that comic books are great for delivering.”
By contrast, Arcudi’s “Haunted Tank” weaves a new story, one only tenuously connected with the original. Set in Afghanistan, Arcudi describes the tale as “a story driven less about protection and more about revenge.”
“The haunter, let’s say, is a nasty guy who’s cryptic and aggressive,” he said. “If he weren’t already dead, he’d be like a creepy stalker.”
The protagonist of Arcudi’s “The Haunted Tank” is Sergeant Cruces, the only man who can see the ghost haunting the tank. “He’s from the southwest and he’s in Afghanistan for the same reason all of our men and women are: he’s duty bound,” Arcudi said. “He’s still there because he’s really good at what he does, but he’s getting pretty fatigued. It’s time for him to go home. Maybe that fatigue has something to do with his being ‘haunted,’ but I won’t say more than that.”
As fro why he made the changes for his take on the original concept, Arcudi said he doesn’t believe there’s an convincing way to pay direct homage to the classic comics, due in large part to the wartime sentiment surrounding it. “Boy, I gotta be honest. I don’t think there really is any way to pay homage effectively or adequately to that material,” Arcudi told CBR News. “The whole premise of the original ‘Haunted Tank’ is great and fun, but comics and attitudes towards war were so different when the feature started in 1961 — and those attitudes were changing even then. Taken in context, it’s fantastic stuff and I love it, but how do you recapture that lightning in a bottle which was so much of its time? Even then, attitudes were changing. Setting a 1960’s comic war story in WW II was not an accident. That conceit created a kind of instant nostalgia. Vietnam would not have worked for that feature’s environment, you know? If you think about ‘Huckleberry Finn’ by Mark Twain, this same dynamic was at work (honest, go see for yourself), and woe to the writer who ever tries to recreate or amend that masterpiece.”
While he may not be aiming to capture the lighting in a bottle the original “Haunted Tank” harnessed, Arcudi did note he hoped his take on the conflict in Afghanistan stayed sincere to the sacrifices and harshness of war. “There’s something incredibly moving and courageous about men and women putting their lives on the line for causes, be it American, or British, or Egyptian, or Syrian, but it’s not so distant to us as it once was, thanks to TV and embedded reporters,” he said. “It can’t be romanticized anymore, and it shouldn’t be. Doing so trivializes the actual sacrifices made, so it’s welcome to me that Americans view conflict in a harsh and real light. You could argue that introducing a supernatural element into the story trivializes those sacrifices, but such is the nature of fiction. All you can do is try to stay sincere and hope for the best.”
The “Haunted Tank” writer also mentioned the manner in which he is aiming to keep his story as accurate to the world of actual troops as possible. “[The most challenging thing was] trying as hard as I could (under the narrative requirements) to keep this as true to the experience our troops in Afghanistan are having,” he said. “It’s impossible, of course. You have only 14 pages to tell a story, so you need to make so many short cuts, but whenever I could, I tried to stick to authentic jargon and references, ranks functions, etc. because our boys deserve to be represented as human beings, not plot points. Who knows how well I succeeded, but I did my best. I have two friends who fought in Iraq, and they were my major source of inspiration. Beyond that, I’ve read a lot about the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts over the years. It’s important stuff that all of us should try to educate ourselves about.”
While Arcudi’s “The Haunted Tank” focuses on the realistic experience of a soldier in Afghanistan with horror elements, “The War That Time Forgot” is, as expected, much more centered on its sci fi aspects. Namely, knock-down, drag-out fights between soldiers and dinosaurs.
“It’s such a big, loud story. It’s about mayhem and destruction and visceral action and that tale of survival,” Krul said. “There’s not really much room for introspection, so it’s all basically in your face and on the page. The soldiers all have their lives and things that they’re trying to survive for, but at the end of the day, it’s a very visceral tale and it moves at a much faster pace. It’s about constantly upping the ante and throwing these guys curveballs, having the danger and the destruction and the threats just ramp up and up. There’s some really crazy stuff that’s going to happen — and just when they think they understand or have found a safe place, everything rears its head up again and it’s more chaos.”
In terms of character, Krul’s story will set its sights on two soldiers who are part of a larger combat team. “As far as the team goes, there’s going to be a couple of characters we’re going to focus on — two soldiers that are close friends that have been serving together,” he said. “They’re really going to be the focal point, but there are going to be other soldiers in the mix. I don’t really want to say how, but it’s a little more than just this small crew [fighting] for survival. There’s other stuff going on that’s going to complicate things a little bit and make for interesting alliances, but there are two characters in particular that are focused on a little more than others.”
The two soldiers will heavily lean on each other during the course of the series, a camaraderie Krul hopes to develop as the series progresses. “They need each other to get through this. You feed off of each other for strength. It’s like any challenge; you have support system in your life,” he said. “If you’re going through a tough time, you have those friends that you reach out to and talk on the phone or have a beer with. Just knowing that person is there, whether it’s a friend or a husband or a wife or parent, you have that support system, somebody watching your back. In a military sense, that definitely comes into play, knowing you’re not alone in this and you can get through it as long as you’re together. It adds to that sense of camaraderie and brotherhood.”
Getting into the mindset of soldiers was an interesting experience for Krul, resulting in an emphasis on the survival aspect of his story. “It’s interesting doing it as a soldier because soldiers are trained to deal with obstacles and challenges and danger,” he said. “Again, it’s that notion of them kind of going into autopilot. They go into pure survival mode. When they get a chance to slow down and think about it, they’re like, ‘What’s going on? This is insane,’ but it doesn’t really help them in the current situation where they just need to focus on staying alive for the next five minutes, ten minutes — the next 24 hours. It’s hard to slow down and have that take effect. Part of it is going to be within the reveal of the arc — we have a grand image, and when they’re finally confronted with it, it’s so big and so epic in scope that it just blows their mind. Any challenge that you face in life, it happens and it might be an incredible challenge and you might not be able to take it all in, but it won’t change the fact you have to respond to it. Like, if you’re in a bad car accident or hikers who find themselves stranded in a canyon and they have to cut off their own arm to survive. You do what you need to do, as surreal as it might be. At a certain point, you just get to the point where you go into survival mode.”
While the majority of the New 52 titles have a clear connection to the greater DCU, both Krul and Arcudi said their stories wouldn’t reference other parts of the the shared universe. ” I’m afraid that sort of crossover thing is for much smarter writers than I,” Arcudi said. “If I can just make it through one self-contained story, I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot.”
For Krul, the disconnect between the DCU proper was more of a practical decision designed to emphasize the wonder and amazement of regular humans seeing dinosaurs. “It’s one of those things where, when you have a story like this and it’s in continuity, it’s tricky because, well, then Batman can show up or Superman can show up,” Krul said. ” I guess I’m kind of writing it out of continuity only from the sense that, if you are a soldier in a war and you get thrust into this realm or this area and you come across dinosaurs on the planet, it’s a pretty awe-inspiring revelation. I think that if it’s also in a world where you have aliens with red capes and green costumed men with magical power rings, stuff like dinosaurs has an impact, but not as much as I think it would if they weren’t familiar with a lot of stuff. Kind of like an alien story. Say you were doing “E.T..” [It’s an] amazing story: An alien appears for a little boy and it’s unbelievable and it’s awe-inspiring and it’s a total game changer. If that story took place in the DC Universe, it wouldn’t have quite as much of an impact because there are other aliens floating around. Once you get in that world, it’s like seeing a unicorn in a world where dragons already exist. You’re already in this realm where there are these fantastical elements to it. I’m really trying to just write it as a contemporary story focused on these soldiers. There’s not going to be a crossover with ‘Animal Man’ anytime soon — although, I wouldn’t mind it because I love ‘Animal Man.'”
For those readers who are looking forward for the battle scenes, Krul says he and series artist Ariel Olivetti have them covered. “We’ve done a pterodactyl and helicopter one which was really fun,” he said. “Pterodactyls and helicopters are fun. That’s one of the things that’s been entertaining. We’re trying to dig into the encyclopedia of dinosaurs, if you will, to draw out some dinosaurs that haven’t been featured as much. Obviously, you’ve got your Tyrannosaurus rex and your Triceratops and your Stegosauruses and Brachiosaurs and Pterodactyls. We’ve got another dinosaur that we’re going to try and highlight in the story that I’m excited about doing differently than how dinosaurs have been portrayed. It’s still a real dinosaur, but we’re going to try and present it in a different type of way and a different type of threat for the soldiers to deal with.”
When it comes to action in “The Haunted Tank,” Arcudi plans to bring the horror aspects back to the forefront of the story. “Sgt. Cruces is not a happy guy when his personal haunting starts,” he said. “The things he sees are not remotely friendly or even neutral. I don’t think readers will have any trouble seeing that, right off the bat.”
“G.I. Combat” hits in May as part of the New 52’s “Second Wave.”