Welcome to the 150th daily installment of 365 Reasons to Love Comics, a column about creators, characters, titles, stories, and odds and ends that make comics great. The archive can be found here.
Today continues War Comics Week as we talk about a great series that stood out immensely, considering its era.
150. The ‘Nam
Yep, it’s Marvel’s turn.
The ‘Nam was a bold experiment in comics. There are a few reasons for this. One, it started around the time when war comics and all other non-superhero titles were dying out. Two, it took place in the “real world,” Marvel’s characters only existed in comics read by the soldiers. Three, it took place more or less in real time, taking a monthly trip through the American involvement in the Vietnam War.
According to this cool interview I found with creator/writer Doug Murray, who was a ‘Nam vet himself, the title actual got its start in Savage Tales, where a few short stories by Murray and artist Michael Golden impressed editors Larry Hama (known for his war book GI Joe and his cameos on MASH) and Jim Shooter enough to launch a series. Murray was challenged with keeping the book comics code approved, but I think he did a good job. After Golden moved on, a rotating team of artists came onto the book, including Sam Glanzman, who had drawn the Haunted Tank for quite a few years.
Because it was written by a veteran (and later in the run, another vet, Don Lomax took over. Chuck Dixon wrote some issues in there, too, but I don’t think he was involved in the war), the book was terrifically realistic. It followed the lives of several people throughout the course of the war. Some made it through, some got killed, some got injured. There were stories focused around actual events, such as the Tet Offensive and My Lai Massacre, stories about drug use, Agent Orange, prisoners of war, fragging (killing one’s own officer), racism, homefront hatred, and more.
The comic also took an occasional anthologizing look at other characters, including a memorable story (#27) that detailed a friendship between two pals, one of whom didn’t make it home. It has an incredibly haunting final page:
Really, I’d say the series was very educational. As I said above, the stories did delve into actual events. Also, any army terminology with which readers may not have been familiar was explained in the letters page with a cool glossary. The letters page was fantastic; there was quite a correspondance from veterans both old and young.
Sales started to sag over the course of the series, however, and the book suddenly found itself shoved into Marvel continuity, with the Punisher making several pre-origin appearances. The real time aspect disappeared as story arcs broke the one-month-at-a-time rule. After an incredibly healthy 84 issue run, the series came to an end.
I thought The ‘Nam was an incredibly well-balanced and realistic portrayal of American soldiers and a life at war. The series gave us some fantastic stories, and I advise you to pick up some of the issues out of your local back issue bin. It’s one of the best war comics ever put out.