Of all the things to be haunted
Haunted Tank #1
Freedom Fried by Frank Marrafino and Henry Flint
When I hear the word "haunted" in the title of something, I think of those old black and white horror movies. Back then, a word like "haunted" carried a bit more weight. It used to be that horror films didn't rely so much on effects and monsters, but let the viewers' imagination fill in the holes. In some ways, that's so much more frightening. I still dig a lot of the new flicks out there and (when done properly) the new visual stuff is very terrifying in its own right. But I just don't think that I can take the word "haunted" seriously anymore, at least not in terms of trying to convey horror.
Now the term just comes across as corney and outdated. So when I hear "Haunted Tank", it's tough for me to take that seriously. Well, just what kind of tank is it? Is it a tank of water, a gas tank, a tank top? Any of those things would be weird if they were haunted. But the tank that is the titular item of the book I'm reviewing is that good ole Amurrikan vehicle of awesomeness. Based on the title alone, I would never pick up a book that sounded so ridiculous. But it's a Vertigo book, and they only publish stuff that has some value, so I decided to give this a shot. Plus, one of my other books wasn't in this week, due to a huge error, so I had room for one more book.
The idea of the Haunted Tank has been around the DC Universe since 1961. The story is one of a tank that is haunted by an old confederate soldier. Vertigo has put out a bunch of twisted stuff in the past (see: Grant Morrison), so I was very curious to see what they would do with this property. Oh yeah, Vertigo is an imprint of DC (think of it as a subdivision), and they have permission to use the property.
So, Jeb Stuart is the ghost doing the haunting, and in the past, he has haunted descendants of his that operate tanks. That portion of the story is retained in this book, but said descendant is Sgt. Jamal Stuart, who happens to be a black guy. And that seems to be the focus of the story being told here.
The setting is the early days of Operation: Iraqi Freedom. Both Stuarts and the rest of the tank crew are riding along in a desert and get ambushed by some insurgents, but all of that is really secondary to what's going on. The most entertaining part of the book is seeing how Jeb and Jamal interact. Keep in mind, Jeb was a ranking officer in the Confederate Army. Jamal is grown-ass black man fighting in one of the most controversial wars in American history. Jeb isn't a hateful racist, but he grew up in a time where it was common for some people to think of blacks as a lower race. So, throughout the whole book, he's just casually saying things like "nigrah" and "darky". Yes, those are some very hurtful words these days, and are a shadow of times that we wish had never happened, but Jeb says them in the most polite way. He doesn't even realize how offensive he's being, and thinks he's even being complimentary when he says "In the coming days you too may demonstrate proficiency as a soldiering nigrah of repute." Seriously, WTF?
Of course, Jamal's not having any of it. "My mama didn't raise no "NIGG-A-ROES!" So they spend a majority of the book with Jamal yelling at Jeb to stop with the racist nonsense, all the while, they're trying to fight their way through enemy fire.
Now, every employee that has ever worked for J!NX knows that I will quite often make ethnicity-based jokes. I do so not because I actually feel any particular way about any particular group of people. I don't hate anybody, or classify any groups because of some of their constituent members, be it based on race, color, creed. I was born on MLK day in 1981, which led me to research his life and the civil rights movement at a very early age. I will, however, poke fun at various ethnic stereotypes on occasion because I think they're all bullshit. Yes, we Asians eat tons of rice! There's room for so many jokes just from that premise alone, and it would be a shame for me to let them go unsaid. Yes, I don't grow a lot of facial hair, so I'd be useless in the Sweet 'Stache competition. So I will make Asian jokes. None of that means that I am going to decide someone's worth before knowing them, just based on genetic inheritance.
That's what's going on here. Marraffino (of whom I have never heard) seems to be doing the same sort of thing. He's making a point about how people might think that they're being accepting of different people, but then their actions prove otherwise. You may not think that skin tone affects your perspective, but it's better to accept that it does, and deal with it, than to deny it altogeher. The point is really driven home on the last page of the book, where Jamal tells Jeb about how "Black folks fought long and hard to be free from that word," but then his buddies end up singing some rap song with a captured Iraqi that has the word "nigger" in the lyrics. It's definitely bringing up the old argument about "well how come you can say it, and I can't?" For that, I defer to the most recent Chris Rock HBO special. He lays out the rules so that we can all follow along.
I don't know how the rest of this series is going to unfold, but I give every new Vertigo title around four issues. If they can keep my interest for that long, then I'm in for the whole run. So far, this first issue is quite amusing and does bring up some interesting arguments, even if they've been explored in other media already. I'm sure it will further explore current tensions between American soldiers and Iraqi citizens, both from the insurgents' point of view and the "thank you for liberating us" point of view. Plus, they have a Korean guy in the group, so I better see an "I eat a ton of rice" reference somewhere along the way.
Who should read this book:
People who use humor to confront racially charged situations.
People who operate possessed machinery.
People who have mystical powers from mysterious green lamps.