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Jason Aaron on “The Vietnam War in Comics: The Good, the Bad and THE OTHER SIDE.”

Jason Aaron has a book that was released today called The Other Side from Vertigo Comics, which is about the Vietnam War. He has a very cleverly titled blog called Jason Aaron.

The Vietnam War in Comics: The Good, the Bad and THE OTHER SIDE

Hi, I’m Jason Aaron, writer of THE OTHER SIDE, a new mini-series from Vertigo about the Vietnam War, and I’m here to enlighten you on some of the highlights and lowlights of that war’s portrayal in comic book form. Here they are in chronological order.

1. Iron Man in TALES OF SUSPENSE

Throughout the 1960s, several prominent superheroes would sign up for tours of duty in Indochina, but there’s only one who’s very origin goes back to Vietnam. In TALES OF SUSPENSE #39 from March 1963, millionaire industrialist Tony Stark got himself injured by a booby-trap in the jungles of Vietnam while demonstrating his high tech “transistor-powered” weapons to the U.S. military. He was then captured by Wong-Chu, the yellow-skinned “red guerrilla tyrant” of Vietnam, who ordered Stark to build weapons for the Commie cause. Instead, Stark built a suit of armor he used to blast the Commie bastard back to the stone age. And thus, Iron Man was born.

2. JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #117

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In 1965′s JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #117, Thor blundered into the middle of the war and helped a crazed, Commie commander see the error of his ways. “It was Communism that made me what I am-that shaped me into a brutal, unthinking instrument of destruction!” raved Hu Sak, as he aimed his pistol at a huge stockpile of bombs. “To Communism, may it vanish from the face of the earth and the memory of mankind!”

3. Captain Hunter in OUR FIGHTING FORCES

THE OTHER SIDE is the first Vietnam War comic that DC has published in decades. Believe it or not, their last full-fledged Vietnam War title was actually one of the first published by anyone. In 1966, Captain Hunter “smashed through the blazing Viet Cong battleground” in the pages of OUR FIGHTING FORCES #99. A former Green Beret searching for his POW twin brother, Hunter was armed with a wicked right jab and an endless repertoire of witty battle cries, like “Good night, Charlie!” “It’s sleepy time, Charlie!” “Peek-a-boo, Charlie!” “Surprised, Charlie?” “Nothing like Karate to straighten things out, Charlie!” and “Going somewhere in a hurry, Charlie? The fun’s just beginning!”

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No disrespect to writer Robert Kanigher, who was after all the godfather of DC war comics, but there’s no denying that Captain Hunter’s exploits were riddled with the type of racist stereotypes and ridiculous plots that became synonimous with so many of the early Vietnam War portrayals. The Viet Cong are portrayed as either slant-eyed sadists or yellow-skinned buffoons, much like their buck-toothed Japanese counterparts from World War II.

In addition to blatant exploitation, these issues also stink of just plain old stale writing. Issue #101 is the prime example, as evidenced by these descriptions of Captain Hunter’s mysterious female guide, Lu Lin: “Your face tells me as much as a jade carving!” “That Oriental kewpie doll isn’t risking a thing!” “What could I say to someone as cool as green jade?” “Despite the killing she had seen, Lu Lin’s eyes were cool as green jade.” “Then I heard a voice as cool as green jade” “Can’t make out that Oriental kewpie doll” “Only an Oriental kewpie doll, in whose veins blood ran cool as green jade wouldn’t blink an eyelash” “Lu Lin appeared cool as green jade”

When Captain Hunter failed to catch on with readers, his daring mission ended after only seven issues. As far as we know, he never found his brother, but at last sighting the lovely Lu Lin was still “cool as green jade.”

4. BLAZING COMBAT

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The first truly memorable portrayal of the Vietnam War in comics came courtesy Warren’s short-lived BLAZING COMBAT magazine. Most all of its stories were written by the late, great Archie Goodwin and drawn by such luminaries as Gene Colan, Russ Heath, Alex Toth and John Severin. And it also boasts some amazing covers by the great Frank Frazetta. Unfortunately, some of the book’s imagery (most notably a scene where Vietnamese peasants are burned to death) proved too inflammatory for audiences in 1966, and the series lasted just four issues. These days, the original issues of BLAZING COMBAT command high prices, but back in 1993, Apple Comics reprinted the stories in two volumes, and those are a lot easier to come by.

5. SGT. FURY AND HIS HOWLING COMMANDOS KING SIZE SPECIAL #3

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“This is the BIG ONE! It’s the soul-searing saga you thought you’d never see… the Howling Commandos in action today!”

So proclaimed the cover of 1967′s SGT. FURY AND HIS HOWLING COMMANDOS ANNUAL #3. In its bid to become “the most talked-about work of war-mag wonderment ever published,” this 50-page travesty featured a cameo by President Lyndon Johnson (who talks like a bad version of a Mark Twain character), Viet Cong fighters who looked like Mexican banditos (and like most other comic-book VC of the era, spoke fluent English, their favorite phrases usually consisting of “Die, American swine!” and “Death to all Yankee imperialists!”) and a ridiculous plot to sabotage North Vietnam’s creation of a Hydrogen Bomb. Fury’s well-formulated plan consisted of the Howlers disguising themselves as Vietnamese refugees (a ploy that’s perpetrated merely by donning different hats), infiltrating the city of Haiphong and detonating the bomb. “There she blows!” the Howlers joked, as their plane soared above the mushroom cloud. Stan Lee presents… Nick Fury executing thousands of civilians! Excelsior!

6. SUPER GREEN BERET

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Tod Holton was an all-American teenager who was given a magic, glowing beret by his uncle. Whenever he donned the beret… SHAZAM! Young Tod was transformed into an adult super soldier, much like Captain Marvel in fatigues. As Super Green Beret, Tod was able to use his magic powers to aid the American troops in Vietnam by making “magic monkeys” appear to throw coconuts at the Viet Cong or turning hand grenades into pineapples. Published by Lightning Comics, SUPER GREEN BERET only lasted for two issues in the spring of 1967. So unfortunately for all the GIs in Vietnam, Super Greenie Beanie was nowhere to be found come Tet 1968. Probably could’ve used some of those magic monkeys of his in Saigon or Hue City.

7. THE ‘NAM

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Obviously, the most successful Vietnam War comic book was Marvel’s long-running series THE ‘NAM, which debuted in 1986, right in the midst of the whole late 80s Vietnam War revival. A spin-off from Murray and Golden’s “5th to the 1st” stories from Savage Tales magazine, the series ran for 84 issues, but never matched what it had in the first six issues, when writer Doug Murray was paired with artist Michael Golden. The various Punisher appearances are a particular low point.

8. VIETNAM JOURNAL

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VIETNAM JOURNAL #1 was unleashed upon an unsuspecting populace in November 1987, courtesy of little-known Apple Comics. Borrowing a phrase from Full Metal Jacket screenwriter Gustav Hasford, Don Lomax’s vision of Vietnam had come to “mangle frail civilian sensibilities.” Comic-wise, I’ve still never seen anything so horrific as the horribly burned chopper pilot from Vietnam Journal #7, whose leg comes off in a medic’s hands; the meticulously-pockmarked landscape and the bullet-riddled bodies of Viet Cong in issue #4; the tangled mass of soldiers clinging desperately to a chopper’s rope ladder in #5; the poor grunt who’s been shot in the face on the opening page of #6; the bayoneted baby in #13; or the last three issues, #14-16, which are, without a doubt, the most brutal and disturbing comics I’ve ever read. Even today, VIETNAM JOURNAL is one of the most gritty and brutally honest war stories ever published.

9. HEARTS AND MINDS

An Epic graphic novel written by Doug Murray and illustrated by the great Russ Heath. Superior, in my opinion, to Murray’s work on THE NAM.

10. THE OTHER SIDE

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And then there’s this new Vertigo mini-series, featuring gorgeous art by Cameron Stewart and amazing colors by Dave McCaig and witty banter by yours truly. Be the first kid on your block to get a copy.

jasonaaron.blogspot.com

32 Comments

A very nice over-view, but you should also mention The Watchmen.

how good is that blazing combat cover!?

It’s a great list, though I might have added some of Captain America’s forays into Vietnam, beginning with Tales of Suspense 61, which required him to engage in a contest of Sumo Wrestling– Sumo Wrestling of course being a Japanese art. I guess those pesky Asians are all the same…

Another interesting direction might have been to look at the DC war comics that did World War II stories that were ‘ripped from the headlines’ of the Vietnam war. For instance, Our Army at War/Sgt. Rock 233 did a story directly inspired by the My Lai massacre, for example (Though I’ve not read it in a very long time so can’t attest to its quality– Robert “Her Jade ,Eyes/Voice/skin/manner” Kanigher wrote it after all…)

But that’s quibbling. It’s a superb list.

I remember a Blackhawk series from DC set in Vietnam in the ’50s (I think) where the blackhawks were doing smuggling flights for the CIA or something (a la Air America).

Don’t remember that the idea gelled, although it seemed interesting.

I was going to mention Watchmen, but Mutt beat me to it. Another one to note is Last Day in Vietnam, by Will Eisner. Is that what it’s called? I really need to pick that up sometime.

Did “The ‘Nam” really last that long? I remember they said it was technically a 96-issue limited series early on, but I didn’t think they’d got anywhere near that high. I stopped reading after Michael Golden left, so hearing that the Punisher was in the series is kind of a bummer.

Vietnam Journal sounds like something worth picking up. Is there a trade by any chance?

there are at least two volumes of Vietman Journal in trade collections, and, I believe, another collection, a kind of follow-up series, Desert Storm Journal, which likewise pulls no punches…. Vietnam Journal is very highly recommended by a very picky reader (heh–me, that is).

Matt

I have the entire set of the NAM. I was intrigued by the war as a kid (watching 8 men on my block deploy and return) 1 in a body bag and another 2 suicides (later on). So I wanted to learn about the war. Good series. I have the 3 trade books and the 10 NAM Magazines.

dr pete

It should be noted is that there are 4 different series of Vietnam Journal, they are:

Vietnam Journal (1-16)

Vietnam Journal: Bloodbath at Khe Sanh (1-4)

Vietnam Journal: Tet ’68 (1-6)

Vietnam Journal: Valley Of Death (1) This was suposed to be a 6 part series, but only the first issue was ever printed.

Also there is Marvel’s “Semper Fi”, a 9 part series about the Marines in Vietnam, comparable to “The ‘Nam”.

I have for some time been contemplating releasing the entire VIETNAM JOURNAL series plus the full color series which appeared in Gallery Magazine (now out of business) in CD form after I have my web site up and running later next year. With any luck it will happen but I will be doing it on a shoestring. Let’s cross our fingers.

Don Lomax

That would be fantastic Don! It would be great to have a digital copy of your work as well! Would the CD include the rest of “Valley of Death”, which was never published?

To those interested, I forgot to mention as part of the Vietnam Journal series, you could also include High Shining Brass (1-4), also by Mr Lomax.

Cheers!

VALLEY OF DEATH #1 was the last issue created for APPLE COMICS before the company went out of business. Since the story was put on pause in the summer of 1969 there is a hell of a lot of story left
to tell. If the interest is there when I get my web site up and running I would like nothing better than to continue the series as a web comic for members. I want it to be as affordable as possible so my wife and I are trying to do it all ourself. Wish us luck.

Don

Wow!!! As an avid fan of your work here on the small island I am over the moon that eventually we can continue the vietnam saga in valley of death. I have only just found out courtesy of this website that only the first issue was made. I have been trawling every website available to find the 2nd copy. Please tell me though, were there any proof copies made? Had you actually written and drawn the strips for part 2-6? Great to hear Don that you will carry this series on. I for one cannot wait as this war has a special addiction to me as does the apollo missions to the moon….all happening whilst I was 10-12 yrs old and when we had got our first television. It has become a lifelong vigil for me to know everything about these two subject matters.

Peter,

As memory serves VALLEY OF DEATH #2 was written and penciled but the script has since been lost. I will have to rewrite it if the project is to continue but I don’t see a problem. This will all work itself out in the future. I am looking forward to continuing the series, if the interest is there.
Thank you so much for you kind words and I hope to get the ball rolling soon. I am recently retired in pretty good health (not like many of my friends and men I served with. PTSD, Agent Orange, and suicide have taken their toll on my little group) so I have the time to devote to my first love , Vietnam Journal.
With the support of fans like you maybe it will happen.
Thanks again.

Don

Don, I’ll be checking in on that website; Vietnam Journal sounds like some powerful stuff!

Blazing Combat is set to be reprinted in its entirety in a Fantagraphics hardcover this December. Amazon has it available for preorder, but it’s not showing up on the FG website. Hopefully it will still be coming out.

Don
Can’t wait for the rest of the story. Perhaps if you put the whole story together as a comic book we could read valley of death 1-6 as a feature. Perhaps this would lead to a revival to create some work for Iraq and Afghanistan. I’m sure there are plenty of soldiers just waiting to tell a story or two. I have already read some superb accounts of the conflicts from both sides of the pond. My son is a Royal Engineer and has just turned 18yrs. We know his deployment is imminent. Thanks once again for your work on vietnam journal by far the best. The Nam became featureless and poor very early on and never regained the necessary talent to create the truth and horror of vietnam.
Many thanks to Jason for this website 5*****!!!!

I have been exploring various websites of other comic providers such as the members only sites and other platforms for delivery of archival info as well as new releases and I am interested in your imput. It seems that most sites are simply money generating turds with their only function to get as deep into your pocket as possible without you realizing it until it is too late. The monthly member fees, and the “no access beyond this point without paying an arm and a leg.” I understand that they have staffs and mouths to feed but it all seems grubby to me.

I hope that I can make my site free and supplement the cost and time involved by selling CD collections of my work. Hopefully this will allow me to provide, free of charge, the continuation of VIETNAM JOURNAL as a web comic adding pages, hopefully (Yes, I use that word alot.), weekly as I complete them. And fans won’t have to wait until I finish 100 or so pages to get the continuing story…Just come back to the site periodically and view or download the free pages at your leasure. When I have completed enough pages I will then collect them in CD form for sale with the other archival material. I maybe naive but I think there are more important things on this planet than money. As ol’ Jack Burton always says; “What the hell.”

Let me know what you think.

Don

Sounds like a fantastic idea Don. I can’t wait! Best of luck in your endeavours.

Great idea Don. I look forward to the publication of new material. What you say is so true about this money orientated society. The best artists become famous for their work a long time after they have kicked the bucket. I would like you to cover costs though and would hope that a registration fee to download material should cover that….what do you think??

Peter

I appologize in not sending my best wishes to your son and his eminent deployment. One of my sons got back from Afghanistan after his 2nd tour last year and I know the anquish. I have always said that it is harder on the families at home than the heros who go in harm’s way. He is Special Forces so he was in the nasty stuff daily. But he is home and safe now…of course, until his next deployment and then we can go through it all again.

As for my web site. As I said before, I hope to make the new material available for free and exist on sales of my prepublished work. Whether that is viable or not remains to be seen. I (like most artists) was never accused of having great business sense. Witness my trying to start a new web store in the worst financial downturn since the Great Depression. We shall see.

David Turbeville

January 10, 2009 at 12:02 pm

Hi Don,I would like to say that the vietnam journal series was a great comic book,also the High Shinning Brass(1-4)was just as spectacular.I started the tet68 series but the shop buy my house stopped carring them,thats how I found this page.I’m trying to find a set.I wish you would find another comic co. publish your work,you are the best war comics man ever!!!!!!!!THANKS FOR YOUR WORK Dave T.

Thanks David your kind words are hardly deserved. An update on my web site. It is up and running, I hope you will all visit it at http://www.lomaxcomics.com I have 5 new pages posted that pick up where VALLEY OF DEATH #1 left off. I will continue to post new pages in 5 page increments for the duration. I can’t say hoe often since I want to wait a little while for the word to get out and the pages can’t be archived due to space restrictions. So please check in periodically. I hope you all enjoy the new additions.

Don

Thank you so much for your kind words, David, they are hardly deserved. An update on my website, it is up and running at http://www.lomaxcomics.com . I have continued where VALLEY OF DEATH #1 left off. The pages are free and I hope you will all visit my site and enjoy them.

Don Lomax

are there any more war comics based around the vietnamese war?

plz reply asap

,[...] goodcomics.comicbookresources.com is one another interesting source of tips on this topic,[...]

i nave just found the lomax site
but it appears i have missed continuum pg 1-101
wondering if anyone has downloaded them since they are not archived
and willing to share

don i think i met you at firebase cleveland reunion where i purchased all the issues u had at the time
by apple
have got all other books in your collection
me 25th div 2/27 inf(wolfhounds) 1969-1970
1st cav 5/7 cav(garyowen) 1970-1971

I missed the first part as well. If anyone has the first bit please upload it to a file sharing website and post a link.

Don, maybe that’s something you could consider doing as well, uploading to a file sharing archive online. There are several file hosting websites out there and they’re free to use.

Cheers everyone!

Bob and Nick,

Since my last posting there have been developments in the “Vietnam Journal” saga. Last summer Gary Reed at TRANSFUZION Publications and I signed to bring out the entire series of Vietnam Journal including the spinoffs in Graphic Novel form. The pages that I have and will put up on my website will be collected in cronological order and released. They can be gotten through your local comic book outlet or through TRANSFUZION’S web site at http://www.transfuzion.biz/TITLES/VietnamJournal.htm. I started to reissue the series back in ’02 with IBooks, but with the death of the publisher the project was put on hold until now.

Book #1 (Indian Country) and Book #2 (The Iron Triangle) are already out and book #3 (From the Delta to Dak To) will be out later this month (March 2010).
The rest will be coming out approx every two months.
#4 (MIA) will finish up the original 16 issue series of “Vietnam Journal”
#5 will collect the” TET ’68″ series
#6 “Khe Sanh”

#7 will be “Valley of Death”, the majority of which has never been published other than my website.
#8 will be the color strips that appeared in Cavalier for 4 years “Hamburger Hill” , also never before collected.
#9 will be the series that I am posting now on my web site “Brain Dead Horror”

After that we expect to release “High Shining Brass” and the “Desert Storm Jouenal”
Hopefully, if my health continues to be good and TRANSFUZION viable as a publisher we intend to comtinue to tell the stories of the grunts on the ground…and tell it like it was for future generations.
Thank you all for your loyalty and indulgence to an old Vet.

what I always found irritating about PC revisionists vis a vis the second vietnam war, was/is how they forever question the morals of the contemporary writers at the time and never think that every word they read then and now is from the western perspective, never from the North Vietnamese one. They won the war and yet we read only texts from the west.

There use to be a “Funny” comic about Nam. It was about a little, short, “4-eyed” soldier who was very brainy. He’d been drafted and after Basic and an 11-Bush MOS, got misassigned to the “War College” in DC for generals, then sent to Nam where he became a 1-Man Army – shooting and blowing up everything!. I only saw one or two issues of it while in TaiPei back in ’67-’68 time at the Navy Club or Linkou Club. Any of you guys remember the name of the comic or the little guys name?

PS: I do remember part of the comic book’s name……of course it “Private ______(somebody)”

Dave.

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