Marraffino Commands “Haunted Tank”

During the Silver Age of comics, DC Comics’ flagship superhero titles were rivaled in popularity by the publisher’s own line of war books. DC and its Vertigo imprint are now re-imagining many of those classic books for a new generation. With “Unknown Soldier” and “Sgt. Rock” already on the books for respective October and November start dates, December sees the return of the fan favorite Haunted Tank.

The Haunted Tank was originally featured in the war anthology, “G.I. Combat” from 1961 through 1987. The concept was created by writer and editor Robert Kanigher and artist Russ Heath.

Frank Marraffino, the writer behind Vertigo’s forthcoming Henry Flint-illustrated five-issue “Haunted Tank” miniseries, told CBR News that those war series are considered classics for a reason. “They show off the great possibilities available in the comic book medium. Wild concepts are applied to real-world scenarios which allows for an exciting and more aggressive discourse than any boring, straight-forward drama can provide,” explained Marraffino (“The Dark Goodbye”). “These books push the conflict, metaphor, and resonance to a dynamic breaking point. We may learn about ourselves in war, but through war comics we learn about each other.”

Asked if his take was indeed a reimagining or a continuation of the long-running epic, Marraffino said like war, the two paths are one in the same. “It’s really just like warfare itself. The continuation actually becomes one long reimagining,” Marraffino said. “As war goes on it grows and changes and slips into new theaters of battle. That’s exactly what’s happened with ‘Haunted Tank.’ This is a new war, a new tank, and a new crew. So of course it feels different. But the tank is haunted by the same ghost as before, who has the same mission he’s always had. Just as with any other weapon though, our ghost is now a lot more destructive.”

Marraffino said the new adventure begins in the desert of Southern Iraq during the opening stages of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, “back when the mission seemed clear and the enemy appeared easy to vanquish,” offered Marraffino. “The ghost of Jeb Stuart shows up to participate, which complicates the proceedings long before anything else does. The series and our tank crew are heading for Baghdad. It seemed like such an easy trip on paper.”

Pages from "Haunted Tank" #1

James Ewell Brown Stuart (February 6, 1833 — May 12, 1864) was a real-life American soldier from Virginia and a Confederate States Army general during the American Civil War. He was known to his friends as Jeb. In the original Haunted Tank stories, the ghost of Jeb Stuart was sent by Alexander the Great to watch over his namesake Jeb Stuart Smith, a World War II tank commander stationed in North Africa.

Marraffino loves writing the ghost of Jeb Stuart for two reasons: his moxie and his flamboyance. “Jeb Stuart not only has a long history with Haunted Tank, but with history itself,” explained Marraffino. “He was a real guy who lived larger than life and then managed to become even larger in death. This was someone who knew what he wanted and went after it with a clarity and vigor. Sometimes what he wanted was poetry and wildflowers and a prettier uniform and he was willing to use his fists to convince others that these were worthy pursuits. He was all about having fun, even in a fight. That hasn’t changed with his death, nor with his subsequent apparitional reappearance.”

The new McCormick to Jeb’s Hardcastle is Jamal Stuart. And yes, the fact that the surnames are identical is a pretty big part of the story. “I'd say that’s a good guess,” quipped Marraffino. “The tank commander Jamal Stuart thinks he’s got a pretty good handle on things and a fairly concise understanding of the situation he’s in. Then the situation changes and his handle becomes a bit more precarious. But isn’t that always the case with all of us? Countries, even.”

Marraffino said by setting “Haunted Tank” in present day, it allows for political commentary. But added, “I think you can do that in whichever time period your tale is set in. In fact, some of our most painful commentary in ‘Haunted Tank’ doesn’t originate in 21st Century events. That being said, I wouldn’t want anyone to think that this book is a polemical op-ed piece. Our agenda is in pushing the story, not some limited viewpoint.”

The writer is thoroughly enjoying his time aboard “Haunted Tank” and hopes this miniseries will lead into many more. “The current series runs five issues, but people high above my pay grade have insured that there are plenty of future stories left to tell,” he said. “I’m talking about the government folks who wrote the original tale — the real one — that’s still playing out across newspapers today. I myself didn’t need to set up anything in that regard [for future series]. But yeah, definitely more fun and danger is possible out there for Jeb and Jamal.”

Marraffino said the artwork on the project is a tour-de-force and he loves working with Henry Flint (“Omega Men”) for two familiar reasons: his moxie and his flamboyance. “No kidding, Henry has invaded like Hannibal as a one-man-elephant-corps over the top of each page into the panel valleys. The confidence with which he has attacked the visual complexity of ‘Haunted Tank’ is only bested by the sheer and utter disregard he has exhibited towards simplistic storytelling shortcuts. I was seeking a peace-keeping mission, and Henry swept in and won the whole damn war.”

Though Marraffino has a few things percolating in terms of other projects, right now his raison d’être is “Haunted Tank.” “I am concentrating on brewing the perfect blend of high-stakes hijinks and off-color adventure available either for slow-sipping or quick-gulping from the pages of ‘Haunted Tank.’

Vertigo’s “Haunted Tank” #1 is scheduled for December 3. Living legend Joe Kubert, who worked on “G.I. Combat” during its original run, will provide a variant cover.

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