Tankies is a collection I never realized I needed. I’ve read the component limited series and story arcs, which came out in Dynamite’s Battlefields series from writer Garth Ennis. The Tankies brand was in the separate mini series version, the first attempt at an anthology series, and the second attempt at the anthology series. Dynamite tried it’s damnedest to get Ennis war comics to sell. And Ennis delivered great scripts through the whole Dynamite era. Except for the series he played for laughs.
Tankies. Reminded me too much of Rifle Brigade. Too much humor, not enough content. And there is a lot of humor in the first of the three stories (the Tankies collection is three three issue limited series). Ennis also includes the not funny parts and allows for some absurdity in them. The general and aide walking through the battlefield as it explodes around them because the general’s so hardcore, some of the terrible luck of the supporting cast as they come across the Germans. The first story is very much about the British tankies sacrificing themselves against technologically superior Germans because the British government just can’t get their shit together on how to make a tank. There’s lots of graphic, gory art, which at the first panel seems slightly comical because of the exaggerated gore but the exaggerated gore is reality and it just keeps going horrific the rest of the time.
The humor comes from the posh London tankie crew Ennis follows getting a new commander; Sergeant Stiles. He’s a Geordie from Newcastle and if the crew isn’t prejudiced against him, they’re distractedly stunned. And he’s hilarious.
Ennis does a lot in the first couple stories with British class structure and how it plays against itself in the war situation, but that first story is all about Stiles being hilarious. He’s a tank veteran with some bad history, but he’s also completely unaware the rest of the world doesn’t act like him. Stiles isn’t going to so much character develop throughout the collection as Ennis is going to realize he’s a better character when you don’t play him for laughs. The first story has no appreciation of his capability and intellect, just exhibits it. By the third one, the supporting cast of military commanders are finally acknowledging Stiles’s really good at his job. Maybe even in the second story, which starts like it’s going to be for laughs then stops real quick.
The first story takes place just after D-Day and has Stiles and his crew trying to catch up with the rest of the tanks—they’re delayed when Stiles has to take over—while the Germans are hunting the inferior Allied tanks. There’s a lot of banter with the tank crew, a lot of black humor, but also the very straightforward side stories (outside the absurdist humor) about events occurring simultaneously, affecting Stiles and company from afar.
The second story takes place in 1945, when Germany’s losing, with Stiles and a new crew. After initially seeming like it’s going to be for laughs, it’s a tense cat and mouse story with Stiles hunting one of the German King Tiger tanks.
The final story takes place in the Korean War, with a much older Stiles back in the tanks though much of the series actually takes place with a trapped infantry company. It gets back to the tanks by the final part, which ties all three series together, at least as far as Stiles’s journey is concerned. Because of Ennis’s comedy-oriented narrative distance in the first story—and then a still exaggerated one in the second story—there’s not much of a character development arc through the three. There’s a good one in the third story, which relies on what’s come before, but Ennis’s handle on how to write the material gets better the more he’s doing.
By the second story, for instance, he’s figured out how to integrate the more historical sequences he does with asides in the first. The third story he’s able to get Stiles into actual historical events and still maintain the character arc. It reads far better in a single volume, in a single sitting, than I’d ever have imagined. Particularly not when I started it and thought, oh, no, Tankies is the absurd comedy one.
Ennis has a nice afterword summing up the collection at the end, including a bunch of historical information and his narrative reasoning. Then some Carlos Ezquerra sketches and pencils to round off the collection.
Ezquerra’s art’s good throughout. The second story’s probably my favorite—art-wise—but it’s also got a really disappointing finish, art and story-wise. There’s just something off about it. But Ezquerra handles everything Ennis throws at him.
Tankies is a really good read. I don’t know if I’d ever done the three series in a sitting without the collection, so kudos for Dead Reckoning for not giving up on Garth Ennis war comics. These things deserve readers, they deserve regard. And while Sergeant Stiles might not get a great character arc over the three stories, there’s just more and more impressive writing from Ennis to make up for it.
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