Just Like Old Times...
A-Team War Stories: Hannibal is the first of four one-shots, each spotlighting the individual team members of the 80s-classic TV show, The A-Team. This IDW series of one-shots and sister publication limited series A-Team: Shotgun Wedding prepare the way for the reboot of the classic show in the upcoming summer big-screen release of the same name.
Writers Chuck Dixon and Erik Burnham pull off a not inconsiderable feat in War Stories: Hannibal, one rarely seen in a market inundated with reboots. Dixon and Burnham are able to introduce the character, not with a ‘Origin Story’ (one where the character is just beginning a path of self-discovery), but as a character already fully-formed.
Colonel John Smith, the titular ‘Hannibal’, is already a seasoned, professional soldier. In 1991 Iraq, at the height of Operation Desert Storm, Hannibal is running incursion operations behind enemy lines. The narrative tropes that longtime fans of the original TV show will remember the character for are already in place. Hannibal is the strategist, the planner. He is a natural leader, able to orchestrate a complex snatch-and-grab operation from inside one of Saddam’s palaces. And of course, Hannibal is a master of disguise.
Dixon and Burnham, together with editor Tom Waltz (who is lead writer on Shotgun Wedding) offer a better comics-prequel than other recent summer blockbusters (sadly last year’s campaign for G. I. Joe comes to mind). War Stories: Hannibal offers a genuine depiction of what is hoped will be Liam Neeson’s portrayal of the classic character. There is a devil-may-care disposition to Hannibal. Plan ahead in detail, but stay ‘loosey-goosey’ as Hannibal at one point himself suggests.
There is also a certain rugged brazenness to the character. ‘You know, I was sure it would be my weak command of Farsi that gave us away. I never thought it would be our boots. You guys have really small feet, have you ever noticed that?’, Hannibal says as he evens the odds by thrusting a gun to the commanding Iraqi officer’s head. While the original TV show rarely produced Hannibal’s dialog as this crisp, Dixon and Burnham are able to convince readers (and perhaps more importantly, longtime fans) that this is exactly how Hannibal would have spoken. And would have thought. In this regard then, War Stories: Hannibal masters the art of the reboot. Not so much a do-over, but a reintroduction. And only a very slight update of the character’s temperament.
It is this kind of attention to detail (most likely the gift of Dixon’s wealth of experience) that seems to bode well for the film itself. It cannot be disregard that both War Stories and Shotgun Wedding plug into a broader commercial model. Comics-prequels could be deemed a way to tap a demographic of younger readers not directly familiar with the original TV show (other than by way of reruns). But with the elegant characterization of this comics-prequel, it is hard to not hope for good things with the upcoming film.
Dixon and Burnham’s focus on characterization certainly should pay dividends for the film itself, as the summer blockbuster will be going head-to-head with writer Andy Diggle and artist Jock’s more recent reboot of The Losers. Both the A-Team and the Losers tread similar ground. Both are special-forces trained, black-ops units betrayed by corrupt elements within the chain of command.
A-Team however, always made for great primetime TV. With bullets fired into the air, hostage-takers outwitted rather than simply murdered, and the team’s incredible adaptability to produce mechanical solutions to almost any problem, the original TV show offered wide-eyed view of the reintegration of military personnel with society. This view differs radically from the grittier, more cynical one presented Losers.
While A-Team War Stories: Hannibal is only the first standalone, it perfectly fulfils what it attempts: an engaging story that will bring readers into the broader fold of the A-Team mythology.