Comics For People Who Don’t Read Comics: The Other Side #1

Gather ’round, younguns, and I’m going to tell you of a time before your “Internets,” a time before the word “spoiler” even existed, a time when everybody found out at the same time what happened in your favorite movie, tv show, or comic book. Nowadays, you spoiled kids learn about everything months or years in advance. Spider-Man unmasks, Henry Gale turns out to be one of The Others, Jack Sparrow meets his apparent doom at the tentacles of the Kraken, and the whole world knows it–hell, can see it–moments after it’s released.

Which makes discovering a book like The Other Side so sweet.

I was at the local comics store–shout out to my boys at Great Escape, yo–this weekend and picked up the usual haul–Azzarello’s Loveless, Digital Webbing Presents, B. Clay Moore’s The Leading Man, the fanboy wankfest Infinite Crisis hardcover–when a book I’d never heard of before caught my eye. You can see the cover right there on the right–two soldiers, Huey helicopters, jungle background–you can already predict exactly what this story’s about, which is a very good thing. Vietnam, in comic form. Put out by Vertigo, which, when it pulls its head out of the third-generation-Sandman-copy clouds, puts out some of the consistently best books on the market.

So. The Other Side. It’s a Vietnam story told from two different points of view. On the American side, we’ve got Billy Everette, a boy from Alabama drafted into Uncle LBJ’s army. On the Vietnamese side, we’ve got Vo Binh Dai, a kid from the village of Nam Phong, which looks pretty much like the Alabama of North Vietnam.

This first issue is fairly standard setup–we see both boys going through their versions of basic training, which includes a pretty heavy dose of indoctrination. Billy’s experience is straight out of Full Metal Jacket, including brutal drill sergeant and rifle begging to be put in the mouth. But since TOS’s writer, Jason Aaron, is a cousin of Gustav Hansford, whose book The Short Timers became the inspiration for Full Metal Jacket, we can cut him some slack–it’s all in the family.

Where TOS diverges from FMJ is the metaphysical aspect. Both boys are haunted–Billy by the ghosts of horribly massacred soldiers, Dai by the expectant spirits of his ancestors. The artwork renders these figures–as well as dramatic jungle scenes, such as the North Vietnamese army camping at the front steps of a decrepit French plantation–in vivid, utterly believable detail.

Ironically, if this were an HBO series, it’d be getting tidal waves of critical accolades. Only in comics can a series this real and ground-level be out of the mainstream. Hopefully the sales will keep this book afloat; if not, a Wolverine guest appearance may be in order. (Don’t laugh–when Marvel’s late, lamented Vietnam series The ‘Nam began floundering sales-wise, the powers-that-be injected The Punisher, in his pre-costume days, into the series to goose buyers.)

Anyway, TOS’s first issue–“If You’re Lucky, You’ll Only Get Killed”–is a solid start to the series, and highly recommended. I’m on board for the long haul, and you ought to be too.

Jay

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