Propaganda joins The Other Side
This is Propaganda, I’m Richard Bruton and this is what I’ve been reading lately:
The Other Side
Written by Jason Aaron, Art by Cameron Stewart
Perhaps the easiest criticism of this book is that it’s all been seen before, but as Captain Dale Dye USMC (Ret.) explains in the introduction, the book is deeply rooted in the existing fictions of the Vietnam War for a very good reason; the author, Jason Aaron is the cousin of Corporal Gustav Hasford USMC, another Vietnam vet who wrote the seminal book The Short-Timers, which in turn formed the basis of Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket. In fact, on a little bit of Googling it seems that Jason Aaron is attempting to single-handedly keep his cousin’s reputation alive through two websites (here and here) and this graphic novel.
So armed with this newfound knowledge about the author I’m inclined to think of this as homage rather than borrowing, but if I hadn’t read the introduction or done the research I feel I’d be a little disappointed in the derivative feel of the book’s characters. Despite these criticisms; The Other Side is a genuinely enjoyable and intriguing book of two halves. It tells the tale of two men on opposite sides of the Vietnam War; one a typical American GI, the other a soldier of the People’s Army of Vietnam.
Private Billy Everette is a grunt in the US Infantry, drafted into a war that the US can’t possibly win, to fight alongside soldiers who just want to go home. Vo Binh Dai has volunteered to be part of the glorious struggle in support of the South of his country and he endeavours to trek into a war zone, to give his life for the cause he believes in.
But as they get more and more involved in this ridiculous war, both men find their attitudes changing, as the American conscript becomes a soldier haunted by spectres of former soldiers and the Northern volunteer finds his dream of liberating a country surrounded by the grateful comrades of the South is as distant as the American’s way home.
Personally I found the US soldier’s descent into madness and a gradual realisation that war is hell to be almost a complete repeat of scenes from Full Metal Jacket and Apocalypse Now. But the story of the North Vietnamese farmer, volunteering for a war that he believes the entirety of Vietnam should be fighting is far more interesting. To see his hope, optimism and belief in the honour of his actions gradually eroded is powerfully done. Aaron could have spent a lot more time developing this aspect of the story, rather than treading all too familiar ground with the US GI and his growing disillusionment with the war and his authoritative generals.
The one faultless part of this book is the art of Cameron Stewart; he’s simply one of those artists whose style I can’t get enough of. I first noticed him on The Invisibles Volume 3, where his 5 pages of art rescues the key issue of that great book. But his work on Catwoman was the first time I saw a whole comic from him and a quite wonderful book it was, at least when Brubaker, Stewart et al were allowed to de-cheesecake the character. His art is a delight, full of meticulous details but with a cartoonist’s edge. There are many obvious influences in his work; Bolland, Kirby, Darick Robertson (Transmetropolitan, The Boys) but the most obvious one to me is Jamie Hernandez. But Stewart is getting better and better all the time and his work on The Other Side is just superb.