Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Mirror, Mirror on the War…

Posted by Don MacPherson on October 8th, 2006

The Other Side #1
“If You’re Lucky, You’ll Only Get Killed”
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist/Cover artist: Cameron Stewart
Colors: Dave McCaig
Letters: Pat Brosseau
Editor: Will Dennis
Publisher: DC Comics/Vertigo imprint
Price: $2.99 US/$4 CAN

As a Canadian, my cultural connection to the Vietnam War is basically limited to knowledge of draft dodgers among my country’s population. I saw some of the movies — I never cared for Platoon or Full Metal Jacket, but I was fascinated by Hamburger Hill. I’ve read about the emotional scars left on the American psyche and how they reverberate even today. I’m obviously aware of Vietnam on a purely factual level, but I’ve never really felt it, not in the way Americans do. Writer Jason Aaron helps to bring the pain and even pride of this scar on the face of history by taking us into not only one American’s journey to and through the war, but a Vietnamese soldier’s experience as well. This two-pronged approach to the storytelling uses the cultural divide as well as the commonalities to really drive home the emotional and social significance of an unfortunate piece of the past.

Billy Everette was a scrawny, scared kid from rural Alabama who did everything he could think of to avoid being called to perform his duty for Uncle Sam and his war in Vietnam. Everyone expects him to do his best, to fight for his country against the evil of communism, but he wants no part of it. Meanwhile, an ocean away, another young man named Vo Binh Dai steps forward willingly and proudly to join the People’s Army of Vietnam. He expects to die, but he embraces that probability just to get a chance to stave what he sees as an unjust American incursion.

I’ve seen Cameron Stewart’s art develop and evolve in recent years, from his breakthrough work on Catwoman to his collaborations with writer Grant (Seaguy, Seven Soldiers) Morrison. The Jack Kirby influence on his work is apparent here, but more than that, his line art here reminds me a great deal of the styles of Darick (Transmetropolitan, The Boys) Robertson and Kieron (Remains, Lowest Comic Denominator) Dwyer. It’s meticulously detailed, and though there’s a hint of his more cartoony style, Stewart aims for a harsher, more extreme representation. There’s a realistic tone here, but things are exaggerated to amplify the horrific and ugly circumstances and characters. McCaig has brought energy and strength to super-hero and space-opera tales in the past, but here, he employs dark and muted tones to enhance the downtrodden and horrific moods of the story.

Aaron’s take on Billy Everette’s recruitment and basic training reminds me a lot of the sort of thing Garth Ennis might write given the same sort of assignment. The training segments are more than a little reminiscent of the dynamic between Vincent D’Onofrio’s and R. Lee Ermey’s characters in Full Metal Jacket, but Aaron wisely doesn’t let them get too familiar either.

Dai is a much more interesting character, mainly because he represents something rather fresh and unfamiliar. Aaron maintains an important emphasis on his radically different culture and background, but he still manages to make the character seem grounded and relatable. Dai is someone the reader can admire because he’s shown to be someone who stands up for what he believes in.

The juxtaposition of Billy’s and Dai’s stories not only spotlights their significant differences but the common ground they share. Dai may be braver and more focused, but we see they both come from small communities, from similar nuclear families. While Billy’s training may be lacking in how people are treated, the military facilities at Dai’s people’s disposal pale in comparison. The ultimate message is about how important attitude and ideology are in waging a war, but I’m fascinated by the connections — both subconscious and thematic — between these two protagonists. 10/10

5 Responses to “Mirror, Mirror on the War…”

  1. HipHopHead Says:

    When you say “American” what do you see in your mind’s eye? The trauma of the Vietnam War on the troops was felt, mostly by the poor and disenfranchised. Most of the “Americans” who made it Canada, were the same “Americans” who had the resources to leave the Gulf area before Hurricane Katrina hit. These are some of factors a person needs to weigh when reviewing history.

    I wrote a little response on ComicPants, so I don’t want write the same here.

    What I like about the title of this book? He doesn’t identify which side is the Other Side.

  2. Don MacPherson Says:

    Actually, my reference to it being an “American” experience isn’t intended to impy there was only one American experience. There were obviously a myriad of different experiences. The war affected different people in different ways.

  3. HipHopHead Says:

    My reference to your term “American” was not imply one experience, but to ask what type of person do you see. If someone says to you, “an American walked into a bar”, by nature your mind would automatically view either a man or woman (being a bar probably a man). Your stating “I’m obviously aware of Vietnam on a purely factual level, but I’ve never really felt it, not in the way Americans do.” Being that you are not American, your statement leaves me to belive you have a general sense of either the majority of Americans you have encountered or your own hypothesis of American feelings towards the impact of the Vietnam War. Additionally, being Canadian you have a very unique experience of that time. What was the general consensus of Canadians of Americans going to north to avoid the war? What was the impact on the Canadian economy? How did Canadians view Muhammad Ali’s defiance of the draft? According to the documentary “Bowling for Columbine” gun violence in Canada is a rarity. (for that matter most of world except America)

  4. Don MacPherson Says:

    HiphopHead wrote:
    My reference to your term “American” was not imply one experience, but to ask what type of person do you see. If someone says to you, “an American walked into a bar”, by nature your mind would automatically view either a man or woman (being a bar probably a man). Your stating “I’m obviously aware of Vietnam on a purely factual level, but I’ve never really felt it, not in the way Americans do.” Being that you are not American, your statement leaves me to belive you have a general sense of either the majority of Americans you have encountered or your own hypothesis of American feelings towards the impact of the Vietnam War.

    I was referring to a nationality, not a particular gender- or raced-based demographic. I think you’re seeing some kind of profiling where none exists.

    Additionally, being Canadian you have a very unique experience of that time.

    My unique experience of that time revolved around pacifiers and pooping in a diaper.

    According to the documentary “Bowling for Columbine,” gun violence in Canada is a rarity. (for that matter most of world except America)

    Gun violence is much rarer here. Though I’m a fan of his work, Michael Moore’s film oversimplifies possible reasons for the difference.

  5. Chris Says:

    I am really glad you recommended this book.

    It’s excellent. I am looking forward to the next issue.