Most artistic endeavours that have come out of the Vietnam War, at least in the West, has been from the perspective of the American foot-soldier. Although it’s not all gung-ho heroics, the Vietnamese people are still often portrayed as faceless stereotypes: hidden snipers disappearing into the jungle; an indecipherable mixture of civilian combatant and terrorist insurgent; or just plain victims of American chemicals and other weapons of mass destruction.
In The Other Side, the Vietnamese army is given a face. US Marine Billy Everette is drafted on his first tour of duty, to fight against a threat of Communism in a country that he’s never even heard of, and forced to do things he finds increasingly atrocious and under-prepared for. Meanwhile, Vo Binh Dai of the People’s Army of Vietnam is crossing the jungle from North Vietnam, having volunteered for his duty, to fight for the freedom of his homeland from the American oppressors. Their destinies are intertwined in a deadly knot but their journeys, while both travelling through different versions of hellish horror, couldn’t be motivated more differently. Billy Everette’s days and nights are filled with the ghosts of his dead compatriots, and his gun whispers violent messages in his ear. Vo Binh Dai, on the other hand, sees only the heroes of Vietnam’s past, calling him to their side or offering him the glory of death in combat, defending his nation from the alien invaders.
The split story is deeply moving. Both sides are eloquently told and expertly illustrated, with Stewart’s gory, combat-based horror mapped out in the slowly glazing eyes of the soldiers he depicts.
Despite its dual perspective, however, it doesn’t feel like it adds a lot to the already well-fictionalised mass of Vietnam War stories. This isn’t to play it down – it’s a solid piece of work within its genre – but it loses some of its bite courtesy of the fact that so many other great creators have been here before. But it’s still a heart-wrenchingly sad and horror-laden story of two boys, who go to battle and mess up their lives in a pointless and futile war.