On the firing line —
“Your mouth is dry, your palms are moist on the rifle stock. You’re ready — but you’re staking your life! From valley forge to Viet-nam, this is the heart pounding plunge into war… and we’re giving it to you! Can you take the excitement of authentic battle action with no punches pulled? Then you better dig in! This is real! This is the way it is! This is –”
BRAVE AND BOLD!
A lot of people coming to this site will most definitely be more well versed in the world of superhero comics than the world of war comics. However, in the dissertation I wrote back in 2015 I put a focus on comics that depicted the Vietnam War. The piece was titled:
Blazing Combat: American Comic Books and the Depiction of the Vietnam War Soldier 1964 – 1975.
Before the research had begun for this piece I had never read the stories included in Blazing Combat. In fact, I had never even heard of the book before 2015. The series lasted a mere 4 issues from 1964 to 1965. It was an anthology comic that featured multiple different war stories. A Vietnam War story lead each issue. It was firstly banned from army bases and then cancelled completely in 1965 due to its anti-war stance, at a time where such a stance was not popular. One of its main controversies came from the issue that we are going to look at today. Please allow me to introduce you to LANDSCAPE.
Most American combatants were troubled by the South Vietnamese, despite the official rationale being that the American aim was to help them, most G.I.s found them hostile, confusing, frustrating, and treacherous. As noted in Jayne S. Werner & Luu Doan Huynh’s The Vietnam War: Vietnamese and American Perspectives: Extraordinary conference Papers, they did not see themselves fighting for South Vietnam and saw it as a worthless country.
LANDSCAPE brings the inhumane treatment and misunderstanding of the Vietnamese to life in quite brutal, realistic imagery. As Randy Duncan and Matthew J. Smith’s book The Power of Comics suggests, this story may well be the main reason why the series was banned from army bases, and eventually cancelled, due to its condemnation of the brutality towards civilians.
The story focusses on the innocent, elderly, South Vietnamese villager, Luong. The reader grows to sympathise with his, and realises that all he wants to do is to tend to his rice. The war is ruining his simple livelihood and he wants no part in it.
A battle ensues between American and South Vietnamese forces, against the Vietcong. The Vietcong escape through a rice paddy and a flamethrower is readied to clear them out. Luong throws his hands up and refuses. He grabs the arm of a soldier and yells at him. He is caught in the crossfire and shot dead. This display of brutality is shocking and can be transferred to our current times to show the blatant disregard for innocents in conflict. Robert D. Schulzinger describes this perfectly in A Time For War. The misery of ordinary Vietnamese contributed to a deepening sense that the very people the Americans had come to help had their lives ruined by them.
The script for this issue was written by Archie Goodwin and the art was done by Joe Orlando. This story should be celebrated alongside the great stories that Marvel and DC were bringing out in the same era. If there is one comic book story that has inspired my research, my serious look into comic books as history, it is LANDSCAPE. The fact that a story this beautiful, raw, and honest exists on the comic book page is proof of the true artistry of comics and how important the stories contained are to our history and culture.
Thank you for reading,