Saturday, June 5, 2010

What I Read - Jun 5, 2010

The Other Side - written by Jason Aaron with art by Cameron Stewart. This is a 5-issue mini-series set in Vietnam in1968. The two main characters are both young men, Bill Everette and Bo Vinh Dai, who have enlisted in the military but on opposite sides of the conflict.

The story jumps back and forth between Bill and Vo, with no more than than probably four pages at a time being devoted to either man. The first chapter focuses on their induction into the military. Bill's part of the story follows him through boot camp up until he leaves for Vietnam. Vo's story follows him as he leaves his village and joins the army. From very early on Bill's story has a horrific element to it. He sees has visions of the bloody corpses of Americans who were killed fighting in Vietnam. His rifle starts talking to him, urging him to kill himself or kill someone else.

The horrific elements of Vo's story don't begin to surface until the second chapter. In general he seems like a much more grounded individual than Bill. The gold watch his father gives him, a trophy from Dien Bien Phu, provides him with somethings that Bill lacks, a memento of home and a personal reason for the path he has chosen. In the second chapter as Vo and his compatriots march south toward the front the reality of what he is about to take part in as he meets horribly scarred veterans and sees some of the men in his unit mercilessly left to die when they can no longer go on.

I find this to be a very intense read. The story is about two men on either side of the Vetnam War but it is also, more genrally about how horrific war can be and feel. I started reading The Other Side on the bus ride home one night. That didn't last long. My response to the story and the journey that Vo and Bill embark on was too emotional. I put it down and instead chose to read it on Saturday mornings while I wash my clothes. Its no less public a space to engage the book in, my response is just as emotional but I have more time to read the pictures and words than I did on the commute to/from the office.

Cameron Stewart's art work is cartoony. It gets the job done and then some. I really like it. The coloring work of Dave McCaig also deseves praise. It compliments Stewarts art beautifully.

One thing that impresses me about Jason Aaron's story is that Vo and Bill's stories do not mirror one another. Their journeys both take place in the same environment, at the same time, and eventually their stories intersect but they are not two sides of the same coin except in the most basic of ways: they are both young men forced by law or societal pressures to go to war. At the end of the story one survives the war, the other doesn't. One is left trying to make sense of what happened and search for meaning in it, the other isn't.

The story lacks closure but I think that's intentional. The writer dedicates it to his deceased uncle, who served in Vietnam, on the American side.

The team that created this book is American. There is a serious effort made to tell the story of the other side, the story of a soldier in the North Vietnamese Army. It's tough for me to say how accurate it is. I have no prior first, second, or even third hand knowledge of what that life was like. This is it. My feeling is that ultimately this story is written from the American perspective, even though it also presents a (North) Vietnamese one as well.

Needless to say this is a war story but it isn't a traditional war comic book. It bears no resemblance to the war comics that I used to read at the barber shop when I was a kid. In essensce and presentation this more closely resembles a horror story. I was very moved by it and strongly recommend it to anyone who is intrigued enough to try it. It wasn't an easy read for me but it was well worth my time and money.

This review isn't as cohesive as I would like it to be. It is a collection of thoughts, feelings, and reactions. I need to move on and write about something else, so I'm posting what I've written up to this point. Maybe on some future date I'll write edit, compile, and assemble a more cohesive analysis of this book.

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