Poor old Jason Aaron. This is another one of his Vertigo-published, creator-owned books that I’ve read without paying for it. Like Scalped, I got this out of my local library, and this time I didn’t even have to pay a 25p reservation fee, as I picked it straight off the shelves. Still, I hope someone out there is paying to read his books, as he seems like a pretty good writer.
The Other Side is a Vietnam War story, told from the point of view of two different soldiers – one American and one Vietnamese. The American soldier, Billy Everette, just doesn’t want to be in Vietnam at all, goes insane pretty quickly, and spends most of the book seeing the ghosts of dead soldiers and listening his gun speak. The Vietnamese soldier, Vo Binh Dai, starts off full of enthusiasm, keen to fight for his county, but is also driven somewhat crazy by the horrors of war on the long march down from North- to South-Vietnam. Eventually, these two soldiers face each other on the battlefield and one of them doesn’t get to go home.
Aaron is the cousin of Gustav Hasford, the Vietnam veteran and novelist who wrote the screenplay for Full Metal Jacket, and Hasford’s life and work were the inspiration for this intense graphic novel. Anyone who has seen Full Metal Jacket will find some scenes in this book extremely familiar – particularly the scenes where Billy is bullied by his drill instructor – as will anyone who has read Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson’s Punisher: Born graphic novel, as the American soldiers in The Other Side eventually find themselves hopelessly outnumbered by Vietnamese soldiers as they attempt to defend a US army base, much like Frank Castle’s unit in the Punisher book. However, this is a powerful read in its own right, a relentless look at the madness of war, full of vivid, violent imagery.
Artist Cameron Stewart’s work always reminds me of the work of Darick Robertson – another reason why I kept thinking of Punisher: Born while reading this – but I think Stewart is a better artist. His work here is some of the best I’ve seen from him and the extracts from his Vietnam Diary at the back of the book make it clear just how much effort he put into researching this mini-series.
I’m not sure that I would want to read this again, but I was impressed by it and I would recommend it. It has a (Titan Books) cover price of £8.99 – which seems reasonable for a book that collects five comics – but you can get it a bit cheaper than that from all the usual online retailers and they may even have a copy in your local library.