Book of the Month

Book of the Month – The ‘Nam Vol. 1

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Written by DOUG MURRAY
Penciled by MIKE GOLDEN & WAYNE VANSANT
Cover by MICHAEL GOLDEN

Size: 248 pages
Price: 29.99

The most amazing thing about The ‘Nam isn’t the story being told, although that story is fantastic — it is the Book of the Month, after all (but more on that in a bit).

The most amazing thing about The ‘Nam is that it existed at all.

Barely ten years after the end of the Vietnam War, a war that caused deep and lasting social and political division in the United States, Marvel Comics Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter had the audacity to order up a comic book about the war that would sit on the shelves of comic book stores and in the spinner racks at super markets alongside Spider-Man, the X-Men, and the Avengers. Talk about a risky proposition.

Perhaps the most amazing thing of all about The ‘Nam is not just that it existed, but that it lasted for seven years and 84 issues.

(There is a great introduction in this volume by series editor and Vietnam vet Larry Hama. He recounts the compelling story of how the series came to be and its early days. If you’re the kind of person who skips the introductions in trade paperbacks, I’m telling you do not skip this one.)

In 1986 when The ‘Nam first hit the stands I was 9 years old and in no way ready for a comic book that realistically chronicled the Vietnam War. I could handle the flashbacks to Vietnam that happened in Larry Hama’s G.I. Joe, but that was about it. My friend Noah was a year older and he collected The ‘Nam. I would occasionally read an issue or two of his copies but I clearly wasn’t ready for it.

The 'NamWell, it’s mumblemumble years later and now I’m ready.

There are so many issues that are attached to Vietnam and none of them matter here. The ‘Nam is not about social commentary. The ‘Nam is not about political statements. The ‘Nam is about survival.

The way The ‘Nam is structured events happen in real time (relatively). Each issue in the series was another month in the war. The ‘Nam Vol. 1 collects #1-10 and so what we have here are Private First Class Ed Marks’ first 10 months in country.

It sounds almost mundane to say that The ‘Nam is kind of a handbook for the day-to-day life for an infantryman in Vietnam. In his introduction, editor Larry Hama said that he and writer (and fellow Vietnam vet) Doug Murray had one very important goal — they wanted to capture, as accurately as possible, the every day life in the war for the soldiers. That meant that first and foremost: No bullshit Hollywood heroics. There are heroic actions in The ‘Nam but they mostly tends to be about survival. There isn’t a lot of flag waving or inspirational speeches here. When platoons went out on patrol or were sent on some mission into the jungle, the guys just wanted to get back to base alive and in one piece. There is a lot of resignation in The ‘Nam. Well, we’re here. We might as well make the best of it and try to make it out alive.

Our window into this world is Private First Class Ed Marks. He arrives in Vietnam about as green as a new soldier can be, and by the end of this volume he’s a wizened veteran of the war. Through PFC Marks (and his platoon buddies) we learn how to make it through a patrol, how to deal with corrupt commanding officers, how to survive in Saigon when you’re on a day pass, just what kind of people became known as “tunnel rats”, and just why it was that one of their Vietnamese scouts was sullen so much of the time. We are introduced to the Vietnam War on the ground level.

 

The 'Nam


Writer Doug Murray obviously knows what he’s talking about. As an army veteran who did two tours in Vietnam, Murray certainly has the experience needed to create not only very real characters but a very convincing world in which they inhabit. The ‘Nam is full of detail and jargon that lend a greater authenticity to the book. Sometimes stories that are loaded up with tons of specialized jargon can feel impenetrable, but not here. Murray give you enough context to understand what everything means, and if that’s not enough there’s a very handy glossary in the back of the book that explains the military terminology. But my favorite thing about The ‘Nam was watching the growth of PFC Marks throughout the course of his first ten months in Vietnam. It’s a subtle and a gradual change and before you know it, and right before your eyes, the kid has become a man.

The 'NamThe art in The ‘Nam is truly one of the highlights. Artist Michael Golden has a style all his own that straddles the line between acutely realistic and exaggerated and cartoonish. Normally you’d think that art that has its feet planted in two distinct styles would be jarring and off-putting, but not here. If there is any kind of environment in which one’s perception of reality can shift from one moment to the next, I would imagine that being in the midst of a jungle war in a faraway land is one such a place. Whatever the reasoning, the simple fact is that Golden’s style here just plain works.

Just as in a real war, in The ‘Nam people come and go. Some are rotated back home to the United States when their tour is up, and some get killed in action. While PFC Marks might be our window into the world, it’s not all about him. The ‘Nam is more about the tapestry of characters and atmosphere of the Vietnam War that Doug Murray and Michael Golden have created here. Sometimes we’d met one of Marks’ platoon mates and then the story would go off to follow this new character for a while. By the end of the trade we feel like we know these people and we have come to like them (except for the ones we aren’t supposed to like). And unlike your typical comic book from Marvel (or DC) there is real danger here. Your favorite character could step on a land mine at any moment.

After all this time I am still surprised that The ‘Nam was published. Surprised and thrilled. I am equally surprised and thrilled that marvel has seen fit to begin collecting the series in trade so that a whole new generation of readers can can discover it, and so that people like me who were too young to appreciate it the first time can finally do so properly.

 


Conor Kilpatrick

According to the by-laws of Vietnam-related media, this review is best experienced with Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth" playing in the background.
conor@ifanboy.com

 

Comments

  1. I had forgotten that this book existed.  I remember my friends all talkign about it when I was a kid, but I never read an issue.  I’m going to have to go back and pick this up now.  Thank you.

  2. I bought my first issue of The ‘Nam at the Pearl Harbor Navy Exchange when I was in 9th grade or so. 

    I was with my dad, who served in Vietnam, and noticed his curious expression at my selection. Being young, dumb, and enthused to show my dad that comics could be serious, I piped up with "It’s about the truth in Vietnam."

    He just looked away, kept walking and said "There was no truth to Vietnam."

    Dad is/was hardly a grizzled war vet who never talked about his time in Vietnam at all. So it was an odd moment of realization, embarrassment, and clarity all rolled into one. I still bought the book, and enjoyed many issues after that.

    I’m not sure what the lesson of that memory is, but it was the only time he and I ever talked about comics (other than his quiet resignation that we had to lug my collection with us around the globe each time we moved). 

    I haven’t read those issues since I was a kid, but maybe I’ll dig them out of the longboxes again.  

     

  3. The ‘Nam was one of the first indications I got as a kid that comics had a lot more stories to tell than I had realized. It was a little too raw for my young mind, but that first year was great. Unfortunately, this book was another casualty of the nineties; it began as a book committed to realism, and it ended as a book in which the Punisher was a character.

  4. I remember coming across this comic as a kid mixed in with my dad’s Spider-Man and Fantastic four comics.  I found it incredibly interesting even though I’m sure I didn’t get it and if I read again now would not remember a thing.  I think I still have a few, I’ll be looking into this.

  5. Awesome. I have an issue or two of this I got as a kid in some grab bags. Excellent stuff, it’s nice that they’re finally releasing collections.

  6. Does anyone else remember the 2 or 3 issue run of the Punisher in "the Nam"?  I’d bought a couple issues of the Nam here and there, but specifically remember those issues because it seemed so odd to do that.  Granted back then I didn’t understand concepts of cross-promotion.  I wonder if those issues will make it into the trades.

  7. I think those Punisher issues were near the end of the run, an attempt to boost sales I imagine.

  8. proof read!

     

    also…im going to buy this now because of you. 

  9. @conor-Would "Fortunate Son" by CCR be an acceptable replacement for Buffalo Springfield?

    But seriously, having characters rotate in and out?  How did they get that by editorial in an industry that always wants to return to the status quo?  Little things like that make me want to give this a try.

  10. @MisterJ: Well, it’s not a superhero book, for one. These aren’t characters whose primary value is licensing deals.

    And no, you can only listen to Buffalo Springfield. It’s the law.

  11. I saw this at my local Barnes and Noble and I should’ve picked it up. It looked really interesting and this review you did conor makes it more appealing to me. Sounds good, I will pick it up the next time I see it.

  12. @conor-of course, I should have recognized the tie-in to licensing.

  13. Really glad to see The Nam collected.  It was indeed amazing that it came out when it did, when there was still little in the media reflecting the war as seen by those who fought it. It reminded me of Bill Mauldin’s Willie & Joe, the only thing my father felt told the real story of American GIs in WWII in Italy.  Both vets and many folks who had been in the anti-war movement both respected the book.  And yes, Buffalo Springfield only.

  14. Great pick.  I think I remember reading the issue about the tunnel rats when I was in junior high.  It was pretty scary.  I might be confusing this with another book called Semper Fi though.  I need to check this out.

  15. @wayne2001bc: There is a tunnel rat-centric issue in this collection and it is quite creepy.

    Rats. *shudder*

  16. The boys at 11 O’Clock comics did a great little ramble about this book and I’ve been curious to pick it up ever since.  Didn’t it try to shoe horn Punisher in there at some point? 

  17. I actually saw this in a shop the other day and was going to buy it, but decided against it for some reason. Looks like I’ll have to buy it during my shockingly light week this week

  18. Great pick!  This is one of the few sentimental titles for me where I’ve been passively trying to collect the entire run in floppies.  I’ll definitely be picking up the trade to lend out to friends. 

  19. I have one issue of this comic and I’m not sure why I bought it. It’s called "Creep," about an ugly kid whose family loses their farm and he later on becomes a sniper in ‘Nam. Great fuckin’ story, though.

  20. The only issues of this series I’ve ever read were two issues in the ’90s when the Punisher showed up. According to Wikipedia, it was issues 52-53. I remember it being a fairly dark and gritty book, which meant I didn’t like it and immediately went back to Spider-Man. Being 9 years old at the time may have had something to do with my dislike of it.

    The fact that this series lasted so long surprises me too. I’ll have to get my hands on this collection sooner or later. Thanks for bringing this up, Conor.

  21. I collected the first year or so of this when I was a kind and still have them.   Enjoyed reading them as a kid as they rebooted your mind after reading/watching GI Joe or the A-team on TV.  I’ve been thinking about pulling them back out and reading them, sounds like its time to do so.

  22. Fantastic pick.  I have most of the singles and volume 1 and 2 of the old trades.  Issue #8 is still one of my favorite Marvel books ever.  It’s good to see this collected as it was starting to feel like a forgotten series that was ahead of its time.

  23. Whoops.  I meant issue #9. 🙂

  24. You youngsters may not remember this but back in the day every few months a "hot" book would catch the attention of collectors and the book would sell out and become a collector’s item.  The ‘Nam #1 was such a book.  You could get ten bucks for this baby, easy.

    Also worthy of note is that artist Michael Golden drew the first arc of the greatest *ahem* comic of all time, The Micronauts and was the cover artist of the other greatest *ahem* comic of all time, Rom: Spaceknight.

  25. I read this after hearing about it on a.c and damn was it good!!!! Its like the walking dead but vietnam syle!!!!

  26. Wow, gutsy book & gutsy pick – will check it out for sure!

  27.  I read this book when I was in high school and I loved it , but when I went to buy the reprint I was shocked to find the 30.00 price tag. Sorry Marvel but I ain’t payin 30.00 bucks for a softcover.

  28. 30 bucks is steep but if Midtown has another online sale I will grab it. Maybe checking Amazon would be a good idea as well.

    Michael Golden’s art still holds up well. I got the first few issues of Micronauts again packaged cheap on the Midtown site. I was reminded how much I coveted this book back in the spinner rack days. I never picked up The ‘Nam back then mostly because war comics outside of Sgt. Rock and Unknown Soldier left me cold. I am very glad to be reminded of this. Going in cold I am sure I will be pleased and sorry I didn’t read this  over two decades ago.

  29. The Nam is a good comics, that and G.I.Joe.  Perhaps a war comics episode might expose more war comics. I’d have to include the Enemy Ace: War Idyll by George Pratt.  But back to Nam, yeah, I remember reading the first 12 or more issues and stopped for some reason.  Time for a flashback revisit. 

  30. Hmmm, a used book store by me has at least the first three issues for fifty cents a piece.  I should probably grab them to see if this is something I’d want…

  31. $30 for 10 issues. and nextwave tpb is $35 for 12 issues. I dunno.  but have you seen how thin that nextwave looks? what kind of paper are they using.

     Nam was very good IIRC; but it was "all-ages" — realistic but not that gritty or explicit. and MICHAEL GOLDEN!

  32. Finally reading this in single issues and loving it. Probably going to pick up the trade for my Dad, who fought in Vietnam as a Marine infantry officer.