War comics are admittedly not my field of expertise, but the minute I thought about a Memorial Day blog entry, one comic came to mind: Jason Aaron and Cameron Stewart’s The Other Side.
I reviewed it for Best Shots at Newsarama two years ago on Memorial Day, and I still can’t recommend it enough. For so many of us, war is something we just hear about on the news, not something we feel. Memorial Day is specifically designed for us to remember those who gave their lives at war, even though most people just barbecue and search for sales. Comics like The Other Side are important not because they’re fun, but because they bring home the things that the news shies away from showing.
Two years ago, I wrote:
We watch these two young men on a collision course, one terrified, one determined, and it is easy to parallel today’s war. Perhaps America no longer has the draft, but we cannot deny that we lack the determination of those we call enemy. We are still seen as invaders, as imperialists. But Aaron and Stewart do more than just portray the fear of a young soldier. They surround him with archetypes of soldiers and an army of horrifically wounded ghosts, all the more terrifying for the knowledge that this really happened. This is no horror story where the villains are chased away by turning on the light and the reassurance that it was all just a story. It isn’t just a story. It’s a true story.
“War is hell,” we hear it said over and over again, often with a knowing shake of the head that says, “You’ll never know, you weren’t there.” We weren’t, that’s true. Neither were the creators of this comic. But it feels real, visceral, gut-wrenching, and every other cliché that of course will never do the reality justice. The ghosts that haunt Private Everette do not speak, perhaps because there is nothing more to say, perhaps because to begin with, they had nothing to say about the war. Dai is different, committed, a volunteer, determined to reach the battle and glory through all obstacles. The narration from his side is beautiful, poetic, speaking of the beauty of war at the same time as its horrors envelope him. The horrors are dictated simply, as if Dai simply accepts them as necessary, while Everette cannot accept even his own rifle, which talks to him in riddles, taunts, and Sex Pistols quotes. Death surrounds these two young men, and there is no pretty life-affirming moral here.
So why the hell should you read it, you ask? You should read it because the writing is stunning and the art better, both beautiful and nauseating and extensively researched. You should read it because it will teach you something about the world you live in, and not in a cheery, metaphorical X-Men way. We spend millions of dollars on entertainment that glorifies and romanticizes war, but only rarely does it attempt to understand it, to explore two of the possible reasons to go to war. Actor Ewan MacGregor stated, before the release of the film Black Hawk Down, a post-9/11 urban war movie, that we ought to watch films like that when we were sending soldiers to war, because we damn well ought to know what we are sending them into. The Other Side does a masterful job of conveying not only the immediate experiences of a soldier, but the real damage that the war has done to him. In a world where casualties are carefully hidden, Private Everette and Vo Binh Dai stand in for a host of soldiers, American and otherwise, who go to fight wars they didn’t start.
In addition to The Other Side, I recommend Unknown Soldier, Garth Ennis’s Battlefields books, and on a less historic but no less real level, DMZ.
I hope everyone had a good day and took some time to remember those who serve.