The Other Side #1-2
Jason Aaron, writer
Cameron Stewart, artist
32 pages each
Originally written on November 22, 2006 for publication by The Comics Journal. I went in for vitriol back then.
Agent Orange and The Other Side might seem different on the surface, in that the former is a chemical defoliant used during the Vietnam War and the latter is a comic book about the Vietnam War. But look a little deeper and you’ll find that they have two important characteristics in common: They both led to the destruction of trees, and they are both fucking awful.
No shopworn Vietnam shibboleth goes un-beaten-into-the-ground by writer Jason Aaron, who uses an apparent real-life friendship with author Gustav Halford, whose book The Short Timers was adapted into Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, as an excuse to pilfer every last sample-ready soundbyte from that film, strip it of context, and fire it like a Deer Hunter Russian-roulette bullet directly at the reader’s brain, with predictably hideous results. Nearly every line of dialogue seems to consist solely clichés strung together like a necklace of human ears: “IF YOU ARE NOT SQUARED AWAY AND BORN-AGAIN-HARD…THE GOOK WILL FUCK YOU UP BEYOND ALL RECOGNITION!” Complementing this one-dimensional portrayal of the American fighting man as an obscenity-spewing kill-crazy redneck motivated alternately by bloodthirsty chauvinism, pants-shitting terror and batshit insanity is the depiction of the Vietnamese everysoldier as a pristine holy warrior who talks like a cross between Mao and the Mandarin. The series’ parallel structure only highlights the unintentional hilarity of the characterizations. I couldn’t possibly illustrate this more clearly than by simply transcribing issue two, page one—which is split into two panels depicting the two main characters and their fellow soldiers—in its entirety:
NARRATOR: The Twelfth Lunar Month in the Year of the Sheep. Vietnam. Somewhere between the coastal city of Vinh and the Laotian border. Deep within the holy sanctuary of the rain forest, we begin our historic journey with a cheer.
LEAD SOLDIER: For the liberation of our compatriots, the defense of our families, the defeat of our oppressors and the reunification of our fatherland…
ALL: Let’s march south!
NARRATOR: December 1967. Vietnam. Quan Nam province. Chest deep in the stinking mud of Danang, I begin my tour of duty digging holes for men to die in.
SOLDIER 1: Welcome to the exotic Indochinese Peninsula, new guy. Where heroes die young, and assholes live forever.
SOLDIER 2: Where dinks don’t die, they just go to hell and regroup.
SOLDIER 3: You think it sucks now? Just wait ’til you’re wasted.
SOLDIER 4: Whoopee, we’re all gonna die.
Can you guess which side is which? Holy Christ, it makes that scene from Platoon where the guy shows Charlie Sheen the picture of his sweetheart back home look inspired. Even poor Cameron Stewart gets fragged: His poppy, buoyant art has been a treat in semi-revisionist superbooks like Catwoman, SeaGuy and The Manhattan Guardian, but here his figurework goes from solid to stolid to squalid, losing all sense of movement and stripping the battle scenes (massacres all, naturally) of any power to grip, excite or terrify, not that they’d have much of a shot at doing so as written anyway. What was that quote from Full Metal Jacket again? Oh yeah: “I am in a world of shit.”