If you’re a fan of comics, you’ve probably read a few Marvel and DC Comics titles that portray the Vietnam War. Even if you didn’t, it’s been hard to avoid seeing the depictions of this war in pop culture over the years. But Marvel and DC are not the only ones with a deep history of Vietnam War storytelling.
Until recently, most people in the United States thought the Vietnam War was a military conflict that took place primarily in Southeast Asia. But recent research by historians at the University of Minnesota has unearthed evidence that in the early 1980s Marvel Comics started a fight that pitted the United States against the Soviet Union, with Dr. Doom as the face of the Soviet attack on America.
“In the 1980s, over three million American troops were still stationed in Southeast Asia. These men and women were ordered to defend the United States against Communist aggression in Vietnam. These troops were mostly stationed in the country’s remote jungle regions — far from the cities. Marvel Comics was a major political force during this period, and by the mid-1980s it was the most popular comic book publisher in the country. The comic book industry was highly censored by the government of President Ronald Reagan, but Marvel Comics was not. Instead, the publisher took a blunt approach with its content, and the result was a series of politically-charged comic books. One of the most controversial was titled Marvel Graphic Novel: The ‘Nam, which was writtenInterest in the Vietnam War in popular culture peaked in the 1980s with a series of war films such as Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, Hamburger Hill, Out of Bounds, and others, as well as television series such as Duty and China Beach. Some shows, like Magnum P.I. and The A-Team, were not filmed during the war, but had Vietnam veterans as the main characters. Comic books are no exception to this trend. In the middle of the decade, Marvel Comics launched the popular magazine The ‘Nam and Semper Fi, which featured several stories about the Vietnam War. Other comics from this period include In-Country NAM and Vietnam Journal.
In 1982, Larry Hama, a Vietnam War veteran, volunteered to write stories for Marvel Comics’ G.I. Joe: A true American hero. Hama’s job was to create a backstory for all the characters in this comic, and he made some of them Vietnam veterans. One of the most popular characters, Snake Eyes, went on long-range reconnaissance patrols in Vietnam, and several stories are connected to his time there.
A few years later, Hama teamed up with writer Doug Murray, a wounded sergeant who had served two missions, to write a story about the Vietnam War called Fifth to First for the October 1985 issue of Marvel’s Savage Tales. The story appealed, and Hama suggested that Murray submit a proposal to Marvel for a Vietnam War comic. To Murray’s surprise, Marvel agreed. Murray, publisher Hama and editor Jim Shuter developed Marvel’s The ‘Nam in 1986 as a highly realistic war comic written from the perspective of an ordinary infantryman. The creators of The Nam didn’t want the comic to be built around superheroes or indestructible characters like Rambo.
Don Lomax, a Vietnam veteran, became a writer for The ‘Nam’s in 1992, basing his stories on his own experiences. / Courtesy of Don Lomax
The Vietnam team decided to concentrate the stories at the level of squadrons and platoons during the major combat years 1966-1973 and present them chronologically in 96 issues, each corresponding to a month in Vietnam. After a year-long tour, the characters returned to the United States, and new ones came in their place. Murray wanted to attract young readers and inform them about the war. So he got the seal of approval from the Comic Book Code, which allowed distributors to ship books to the masses and allowed advertisers to place ads aimed at minors. But it also meant no sex, no drugs, and no swearing.
In the first issue of The ‘Nam magazine, published in December 1986, readers were introduced to Private Ed Marks, a young man with impeccable looks and a fear of heights, who boards a plane at McCord Air Force Base in Washington, DC, in January 1966 to fly to South Vietnam. He was assigned to the 4th. Battalion (Mechanized), 23. Infantry Regiment, 25. Tropical Lightning Infantry Division.
On his first day, Marks went to Cu Chi base camp, where the division was stationed, about 25 miles northwest of Saigon, where he met a corrupt sergeant major waiting for a bribe. Marks meets with the fighters in his squad, who in turn hand him a Mattel rifle – a common reference to the M16, since it was lightweight and made of plastic parts, like a toy gun. Marked on an old M14 with a wooden stock.
Nam’s film became famous for its realistic depiction of the war and its treatment of controversial issues such as media coverage, military protests and racial tensions. / Offered by Jason Wynn Collection
The next day, Marks and his team were sent on a search-and-destroy mission that led to a shootout in the village. At night in Cu Chi, 4th Battalion soldiers watched on an open screen as Viet Cong missiles rained down on the base. Marks jumps to his feet but nobody moves. His comrades assure him that the enemy will not bomb their part of the base because the VC want to see the movie too.
During his deployment, Marks has to deal with a terrorist attack on a hotel in Saigon and fighting in the bush. He accompanies a tunnel rat, a soldier who has gone into the tunnels in search of the Viet Cong hiding there. During a patrol, Marks and his team were sprayed with the toxic herbicide Agent Orange, which is used to destroy vegetation that could provide cover or food for the enemy.
Frustrated by what he saw as the one-sided portrayal of the Vietnam War in the American media, Marks decided to study journalism and become a war correspondent. In issue #70, Chronology Spring 1972, Marks returns to Vietnam as a reporter, and the editor sends him to a fire base to cover a story on the Special Forces A-Team.
Nam covered many topics and issues, including cluster grenades (which kill officers with shrapnel), prisoners of war, river patrol boats, downed pilots and rescues, anti-war protesters, and racial tensions, including fighting caused by misunderstandings.
Although the main characters of the device are fictional, real historical figures and events can be recognized in it. Bob Hope and his ubiquitous golf club visit Ku Chi with a group from the USO on Christmas Day 1968. Anna-Margaret accompanies him on stage, just as in real life. Actress Chris Noel, who risks her life to visit offshore drop zones, was on the cover of issue 23.
Issue 24 is about the communist attacks in South Vietnam during the Tet Offensive in 1968. The cover features photojournalist Eddie Adams, who took one of the most famous photographs of the war: Major General Nguyen Ngoc Loan executes a Communist prisoner. Fictitious members of the 4th Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment are sent to Saigon where they help defend the American Embassy. They participate in a stunt at a Saigon radio station, and then witness Adams’ Pulitzer Prize-winning recording. Squad Leader Ice gives his cynical response to the photo: Front page of every newspaper in the United States!
The cover of issue #24 features Eddie Adams, who took one of the most famous photographs of the Vietnam War: Major General Nguyen Ngoc Loan executes a Communist prisoner. / The Guy Aceto Collection
Continuing the story of the Tet Offensive, in the next issue two fictional characters visit naval friends in Khe Sanh, in northern South Vietnam, when the base comes under heavy attack. Two fictional characters help the Marines against Hue in one of the greatest battles of the war. House-to-house fighting led to the Marines taking control of southern Hue and discovering a mass grave of civilians killed by the Communists.
Number 29, which covers the tense month of June 1968, is full of real people and events. It begins with peace talks in Paris, and the following panels show a heated exchange between diplomats Suan Thui of North Vietnam and Averell Harriman of the United States. At the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, Sirhan Sirhan wounds presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy. On another front, General Creighton Abrams succeeded General William Westmoreland as head of the Vietnam Military Assistance Command, which oversees all U.S. combat troops in South Vietnam. In a Boston court, Dr. Benjamin Spock is convicted of inciting the violation of conscription laws.
In another episode, while Marks watches television at the Battalion Club, CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite reports on the war. Marks notes that Cronkite exaggerates the success of the Communists in Da Nang: It looked like the entire hull had been swallowed by the ground.
The October 1968 issue shows President Lyndon B. Johnson announcing a halt to all B-52 bombing of North Vietnam. The 75. The issue devotes attention to the My Lai massacre in a special four-story, 48-page issue covering the atrocity of the 16th. March 1968 reported in which 2nd Lt. William Culley and members of two rifle companies killed Vietnamese civilians.
Readers are unhappy when the plot strays too far from the fictional characters and are outraged when The ‘Nam #41 enters the Marvel universe. Captain America, Iron Man and Thor are on the cover – but let’s face it, superheroes only exist in the imagination of those who read them. Ice and Martini, another recurring character, dream about what it would be like if superheroes were in Nama to fight communist madmen. In their imaginary world, the superheroes kidnap Ho Chi Minh, take him to Paris and force him to sign a peace treaty.
Vansant bases his illustrations on extensive research, which sets his work apart from the lack of realism in older comics. / The Jason Wynn Collection
Nam, who is known for his historical accuracy and good storytelling, also has a well-deserved reputation for his highly detailed illustrations. Different artists worked on different phases of the same issue. The pencil drew each panel. The inker has revised the ink drawing, possibly with additional highlighting. The colorist then applied the colors. Finally, the literalist added dialogue, thought balls and sound effects.
Cartoonist Michael Golden drew 12 of the first 13 issues. Although the figures initially looked somewhat cartoonish, Golden set the standard for realistic detail in military uniforms and equipment. Other illustrators worked on The Nam over the years, but Wayne Vansant, who served in the Navy during the war, drew most of the comic in pencil – 58 issues. With little interest in superheroes, Vansant has built his career around themes of military history, including the Battle of Gettysburg and the Red Army in World War II.
Vansant based his illustrations on extensive research, which distinguished his work from the lack of realism found in older comics. For example, the WWII Sherman tank featured in Marvel’s Combat Kelley and the Deadly Dozen looks like a Sherman, but some aspects of it are completely wrong. DC Comics Our Army at War, later called Sgt. Rock, did better with the Shermans, but the detail is no match for the Vietnam tanks.
Many of the comics contain details that ordinary readers might miss, but that veterans will appreciate. In the beginning of the series, the members of the 4th Battalion wear a uniform. Battalion of the 23rd The bright red patch of electric drill of the 25th Infantry Division. As the war progressed, the bright colors of their shoulder badges and insignia were replaced with more muted colors. Vansant painted the famous UH-1 Iroquois Huey helicopter so subtly that in many panels you can see the pilots’ pedals and feet through the Plexiglas nose.
In another example, a soldier sends a rifle in parts to his wife in the United States. In her hand she holds a piece of metal in which those familiar with firearms will immediately recognize the group of bolts. A character, Sergeant. Daniels, the team’s radio operator, wears a realistically rendered PRC-25 handheld radio with exposed dials, buttons, switches and mounting brackets. On some panels there is a cloth bag with a telephone handset and spare antennas.
The civilian goods are also realistically rendered. Ice carries a perfectly designed pack of Marlboro cigarettes under the camouflage band of his helmet.
Vansant liked to model the faces of the characters after real people. I’ve killed my brother-in-law a few times, he cheerfully declared in Marvel Age, an in-house magazine where writers discussed their projects.
Nam was much more than a children’s comic with interesting stories. Most issues included a section of letters to the editor from Incoming, in which veterans and civilians still suffering from the war could write about friends and loved ones they had lost or how the war had affected them personally. The comic also mentions veterans organizations and their meetings.
Vietnam Magazine, written and drawn by Lomax, was also intended to be a realistic depiction of the Vietnam War. / Courtesy of Don Lomax
Readers were quick to point out errors, which Murray quickly corrected. But some comments put him in a belligerent mood. One reader compared American soldiers in Vietnam to the guards at the Nazi extermination camp Auschwitz and concluded that Vietnam veterans do not deserve a parade. In his angry response, Murray said there is no excuse for the way returning veterans are treated and that he considers it beneath his dignity to compare American troops to death camp guards.
These publications usually include Nam Notes, a glossary of military jargon, and Vietnamese expressions such as Sky Pilot (military chaplain), Charlie (Viet Cong, enemy), White Mice (South Vietnamese military police), Didi Mow (get out of there fast), and Titi (a little). Murray listed the number of officers, soldiers and weapons in a typical rifle company. He also presented the organizational structure of the platoon at the brigade level.
In 1987, Marvel appointed a new editor for The ‘Nam. With issue #10 (September 1987), Tom De Falco took over the editorship. The following year, Don Daly became the new editor-in-chief of the series, starting with #21 (August 1988). The new editors wanted to make changes, such as. B. dropping the chronological order, diversification beyond one team, and introducing the popular character from Marvel’s Punisher, a Vietnam veteran who served in the Marines. These changes did not take place immediately, but eventually forced Murray out. The last issue was no. 51 (December 1992).
Several writers then joined the team, including Roger Salik, who wrote the two-part story Punisher, which tells the story of Frank Castle, aka The Punisher. Of all the Marvel characters, the Punisher seemed like the logical choice for a Nam movie. The prolific Chuck Dixon got to work on 18 episodes, writing a three-part story about Pannister alongside the well-received five-part saga about how war affects the psyche of a Marine named Joe Hallen. Dixon wrote in darker tones than Murray and often focused on snipers and special units. Most of his stories are about Marines.
The series was completed by Vietnam veteran Don Lomax, who wrote 18 songs. Lomax wrote and drew another war comic, Vietnam Journal, published by Apple Comics. Impressed with Lomax’s work, Marvel’s publisher Daly offered him the chance to write for Nam in 1992.
Lomax, a conscript, served with the 98th Light Equipment Maintenance Company as a wheel and track mechanic from the fall of 1966 to the fall of 1967. He attended mechanical school at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland and graduated second in his class.
I got my bachelor’s degree without knowing the spark plug in the CD850 tank transmission, but it didn’t matter, Lomax said in an interview for this article. I joined a chemical platoon where my duties included maintaining flamethrowers, repairing fuel tanks, and transporting supplies for the 1st Air Cav across the An Khe Pass to Pleiku in the central highlands of South Vietnam.
He also repaired typewriters, drove trucks, burned human waste, and argued with his lieutenant. Lomax was a specialist in attitude, he said. Because I was a soldier, my lieutenant did not expect me to follow the army line. He often threatened me with reprisals, so I took my Spc. 4 and gave it to him. He just shook his head and left. When I left Vietnam, I didn’t have any patches or rank insignia on any uniform.
A fan of war comics, Lomax hoped to write one with more realism than the comics he had read in his youth. As a trucker who delivers to tough places, I’ve heard a lot of stories, he said. Some of these stories come from special forces personnel who tell of encountering strange personalities in the bush. All of this was material for my Vietnam Diary, and then for Marvel’s Vietnam.
Lomax brought Marks back in issue 70 (July 1992) as a war correspondent with a degree in journalism from Columbia University. Lomax has also included Stateside shorts that tell the stories of several popular characters. Although strict chronology has been abandoned, several flashbacks explain the 1968 Tet Offensive and the Battle of Hue.
In issue 76, there’s a touching story called The Paymaster. A lieutenant risks his life to provide a paycheck for soldiers at the front. The officer is fully committed to his mission, and the forward units see him as one of their own – a combat veteran. When his helicopter unexpectedly stalls, the lieutenant loses money on the salaries he is responsible for. His new friends sign papers saying they have received salary, even though they have not.
Lomax told this story to his friend. It was a dangerous job flying helicopters and making sure the troops got paid, Lomax says. He was awarded the Bronze Star for bravery. He took his job seriously, even though many advanced students had no time for him anyway.
We never managed to get into the proposed number 96. Marvel management ended the project in 1993, a year ahead of schedule, making #84 (September 1993) the final issue. Sales were down and management wanted to focus on superhero comics.
The last story is told from a communist point of view. A five-year-old girl sends a letter to her father, a North Vietnamese soldier who has gone south to fight the Americans. Through a series of strange events, the letter changes hands several times and finally reaches Marx, who holds it in his hands on the last page of the final issue. The letter contains only a drawing of the girl’s relatives next to her house and a water buffalo.
By the end of the series, Lomax was a freelance writer without a contract with Marvel. One day Tim Tuohy [one of The Nam’s editors at the time] called and said issue 84 would be the last, Lomax recalls. Sayonara, old stick. That’s pretty much it for me with Marvel.
One of the best war comics ever made was not about global conflicts like WWI or WWII. It was dedicated to the ordinary soldiers of Vietnam – and was largely created by Vietnam veterans themselves. V
Born and raised in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, surrounded by Civil War battlefields, Rob Hodges Jr. developed a passion for military history. He also writes literary fiction, science fiction and poetry. His books are available on Amazon.
This article was published in the June 2023 issue of Vietnam Magazine. For more articles from Vietnam Magazine, subscribe here and visit us on Facebook :
In the early 1980s, Marvel was the hottest comic company in America. Its comics were ubiquitous in the nation’s schools, and its characters were at the vanguard of a sweeping cultural revolution in fashion, music, art, and politics. The company’s success and its cultural influence was a hot topic among journalists and historians. One question asked by writers and researchers was “What, if anything, did the company’s popularity say about America’s attitudes towards the Vietnam War?” Since the company’s popularity was an obvious reflection of the nation’s growing optimism about peace and civil rights, the answer was clear.. Read more about vietnam war magazine and let us know what you think.
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