By Daniel Vlasaty
I’ve seen enough movies and read enough books to understand that war is not a pretty thing. I never had to actually go to war to figure that out. War is hell, as they say. It is scary and messy and fucked up. It’s honestly something that I don’t think a movie or a book or a comic can accurately capture. Again, I’ve never been to war and am only making assumptions here. But think about it. How can something like fighting in a war ever really be condensed down into a few hours on the screen or a few hundred pages in a book? We’re only shown the “juicy” parts – juicy for us, fucking hell for the people involved in the – the action and the suspense and the intrigue. We’re not really ever shown the inner turmoil or the toll it takes on the person. Maybe we are in a way that we can see, but not in a way that we can feel or anything like that. I guess what I’m trying to say here is that this book is fucked up. The Other Side by Jason Aaron and Cameron Stewart is a fucked up look at an already pretty fucked up piece of history.
The Other Side tells the story of two Vietnam war soldiers. One American, Billy Everette, and one Vietnamese, Vo Binh Dai. We are shown the war and indoctrination from both sides of the conflict. How similar, but also how different, they are. The contrast of their training and preparations for war. I found it interesting to see it like this on basically a page-by-page comparison. Billy Everette does not want to go to war. He does not want to go to Vietnam. And when he receives a draft letter he does everything he can think of to get out of it. He has sex with all of his town’s bona fide sluts, hoping to contract a VD. He tells the doctor at his physical that he’s queer. But none of it worked and they took him anyway. On the other side, Vo Binh Dai I the only man from his village that volunteers to go fight for his country. He knows that he may die and he thinks it will be a righteous way to die. Thinks there is honor in it.
What follows is a violent and brutal dissection of life at war. At how the war wears upon both of them, their resolve, and their sanity. The way it fucks with you both physically and mentally. It’s shocking to see how the characters are changed by their time in the jungle.
I’ve always been a fan of Jason Aaron’s writing. This story is slightly different than what I’m used to from him. There are elements I’ve come to expect from his work visible in The Other Side, namely the violence, but the subject matter and the tone of the story is different. The Other Side was originally published in 2006, and was one of Aaron’s first major works. But it doesn’t read like it. It reads like a mature and solid piece of fiction. This is probably the reason why Jason Aaron is one of the best writers working in comics right now.
Cameron Stewart’s art is scary. What I mean is that it’s realistic and the violence and gore he shows does not come off as cartoony in any way. It’s fucking intense. The line work is bold and rigid. And when combined with Dave McCaig’s colors we are fully immersed into the shit and hell of war. We are in the jungle with both Billy Everette and Vo Binh Dai and their respective armies. What I liked most were the hallucinations. Basically, from the get-go Billy Everette is plagued by hallucinations, and Vo Binh Dai’s come later. But with Billy’s, he sees these gruesome visions of injured and dead soldiers (also his rifle is telling him to kill himself and others). They follow him everywhere and grumble at him. Stewart and McCaig illustrate these hallucinations as ultra-realistic and terrifying nightmares. All-in-all The Other Side is an ugly-pretty book. I call it ugly because of the shit it shows, but it shows that shit in a beautiful and eloquent way.
The Other Side is a human story that takes place in a hellish war-zone. Weirdly, I’m not a huge fan of war comics, although I did thoroughly enjoy this book. I enjoy comic books because of their ability to transport me (the reader) to a place I’d never want to or be able to go to. I think Jason Aaron has successfully captured what I imagine to be the human side of fighting in a war. I think on I enjoyed this book so much is because of that. Because this is not a book about the Vietnam war. It’s a book about two soldiers fighting in that war. It’s a smaller story set inside a bigger, even more fucked up story.
The Other Side