Sunday, July 21, 2019

Ill Bred by Charles Burns

'Ill Bred'
by Charles Burns
from Death Rattle Vol. 2 No. 1
October 1985

Charles Burns was already making a name for himself in the early 80s as the creator of the strip 'El Borbah' in Heavy Metal magazine. This memorable little tale appeared in 1985 in the comic book 'Death Rattle', which was an anthology of horror / sci-fi stories.

Friday, July 19, 2019

In the Land of Retinal Delights

'In the Land of Retinal Delights'
by Robert Williams
oil on canvas, 1968

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Book Review: Sand in the Wind

Book Review: 'Sand in the Wind' by Robert Roth

3 / 5 Stars

‘Sand in the Wind’ first was published in hardcover in October 1973, making it one of the first novels about the American experience of the war to emerge in the 70s. This Pinnacle Books paperback version was released in August 1985; the artist responsible for the outstanding cover artwork is uncredited.

‘Sand’ was author Roth’s first novel; he served with the 5th Marines in Vietnam, and the book is based, to some extent, on his experience of the conflict.

At over 600 pages, ‘Sand’ is by no means a quick read, and trying to synopsize it is difficult as best. It’s set time-wise in 1967 and early 1968 (the Tet offensive and the battle of Khe Sanh are referenced in the closing chapters). Location-wise, ‘Sand’ is set in the I Corps region, and the Marine combat base in An Hoa. Also featuring prominently in the novel is the so-called ‘Arizona territory’ of I Corps, where the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army operated with varying degrees of impunity.

Without disclosing any spoilers, the novel centers on the adventures of two men serving with the Marines out of An Hoa: Lance Corporal and college graduate Mark Chalice, and lieutenant David Kramer. There is of course a large cast of supporting characters, including the enlisted who whom simultaneously hate and revere the ‘Crotch’, or Marine Corps.

Much of the narrative deals with the day-to-day struggles of the Marines to survive a war that bestows death and mutilation with a disturbingly arbitrary absence of logic. The book’s centerpiece is an extended operation by the Marines in the Arizona Territory, where the unit’s incompetent officers are as much a threat to one’s welfare as the VC and NVA. This section of the book is the best at communicating the gritty nature of the Marine war in the jungles of the northern regions of South Viet Nam: the reader gets a sense of what it means to exhaustedly tramp through jungle and rice paddies in 90 degree heat and suffocating humidity, too fatigued to be sufficiently watchful for the ubiquitous booby traps lacing the terrain, nor the VC snipers waiting and watching from impenetrable cover.

This part of the book is an understated but effective criticism of the tactics employed by US forces at this stage of the war, and articulates the causes of the growing resentment between the ‘lifers’ issuing the orders, and the conscripts carrying them out (resentments that would come to poison the American military in Vietnam before the end of the decade).

What keeps ‘Sand’ from becoming a great novel is the author’s insistence on regularly inserting passages intended to deal with the moral and psychological issues of the war. These are awkwardly written and burden, rather than enhance, the narrative:

Luck, something he had always thought about in terms of curses, now seemed to be promising what he could never have really hoped for – too much to be doubted. It all seemed no more than a matter of time, while time rushed him towards it. The impossibility of what was happening prevented him from doubting its culmination in that final impossibility.

Upon finishing the novel I observed that more than a few of its scenes, such as those involving boot camp at Paris Island, are portrayed in the 1987 Stanley Kubrick Film Full Metal Jacket, which in turn is based on ‘The Short -Timers’, a 1979 novel written by Gustave Hasford. This has raised questions as to what extent Hasford’s novel ‘borrowed’ content from Roth’s novel. Roth has not publicly commented on the issue, and Hasford – since deceased – obviously is in no position to comment for himself.

Summing up, while it has its weaknesses, ‘Sand in the Wind’ remains one of the more readable novels of the Vietnam War. If you are a fan of the literature of that conflict, then this novel is one that you will want to have on your bookshelf.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Judge Dredd in Beggar's Banquet

Judge Dredd in 'Beggar's Banquet'
Writers: John Wagner and Alan Grant
Art: John Higgins
2000 AD Prog 456 (February 8, 1986)
This was the very first Judge Dredd assignment for UK artist John Higgins, and he gave it his 'all', as they say. 

His intricate penmanship is remarkable, but also something of a liability; as Higgins relates in his autobiography Beyond Watchmen and Judge Dredd: The Art of John Higgins, taking so much care with the artwork meant that his output was limited, and, consequently, the income he earned as a comic book artist............!

Wagner and Grant's script has the perfect mix of cynicism and black humor.......things sorely lacking in any U.S. comic of the same decade.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Book Review: Vietnam: The Australian Experience

Book Review: 'Vietnam: The Australian Experience' by John Rowe

5 / 5 Stars

I didn't realize that the Time Life Books publishing enterprise, so ubiquitous to anyone who is a Baby Boomer, also was active outside the USA. So it was that Time Life Books produced a 15-volume series titled Australians at War during the mid-80s. 

Like their American counterparts, these books were marketed as a monthly or bi-monthly  'subscription', that relied on a low price for the initial volume in order to entice the customer to commit to purchasing the entire series.

Some of the volumes in the Australians at War series can go for hefty prices, but I was able to get 'Vietnam: The Australian Experience' for under $10.

'Vietnam: The Australian Experience' (168 pp, 1987) adheres to the traditional format used for Time Life Books; half-page to full-page black-and-white photographs are placed throughout the text, with multi-page segments devoted to special topics interspersed throughout the book. A section featuring full color photographs also is incorporated into the book.
Author Rowe (1936 - 2017) is about as knowledgeable about the Vietnam war as anyone; he was among the first Australian military advisors sent to South Vietnam in the early 60s. 

His 1968 novel about the war, Count Your Dead, was highly critical of the way the war was being waged by the Australian and American governments, and the backlash against it from the Australian establishment was so severe that he wound up resigning from the military. 

Rowe went on to write a number of other novels during the 70s and 80s, mainly in the thriller genre. 
'Vietnam: The Australian Experience' opens with the appointment of Australian military advisors to South Vietnam in 1962 and closes with the withdrawal of the Australian forces from the country in 1972. During that interval 50,000 Australians served in South Vietnam, 496 died, and 2, 398 were wounded.

Although the book does cover the participation by the Australians in military actions throughout South Vietnam, it focuses primarily on efforts in Phuoc Tuy province on South Vietnam's southern coast. When the Australians were deployed there in force starting in 1966, the province was heavily infiltrated by the Viet Cong; much of the narrative is devoted to the efforts of the Australians to eliminate the VC presence in Phuoc Tuy and restore control to the South Vietnamese government. 

One thing Rowe stresses - without slipping overtly into polemic - is that the Australians were well experienced at jungle warfare and counter-insurgency campaigns, and this experience colored their approach to tactics and strategy in their actions in South Vietnam. Such actions regularly contrasted with those of the Americans, who, in hindsight, could have benefited considerably from adopting the Australian 'way of war'. Whether all readers will agree with Rowe's assessment is of course open to debate, but I found Rowe's observations to have considerable merit.

'Vietnam: The Australian Experience' is a very readable book. The descriptions of the campaigns are well communicated, and the inclusion of numerous anecdotes from Australian soldiers gives the narrative additional impact.

Summing up, 'Vietnam: The Australian Experience' not only is a very worthwhile history of the Australian involvement in that conflict, but a book that addresses the deficiency in the reporting about the role of non-U.S. militaries in the Vietnam War. Copies in good condition can be had for reasonable prices from your usual online vendors.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Killraven's First Appearance, Amazing Adventures Issue 18

Killraven's First Appearance
'War of the Worlds'
Amazing Adventures No. 18
Marvel Comics, May 1973
I've posted excerpts from this inaugural issue of the 'Killraven / War of the Worlds' storyline back in 2009, but I think it deserves to be presented in full. These scans come from the 2018 Marvel Masterworks edition of 'Killraven: Volume 1' (look for a full review coming soon)

Certainly, 'Killraven' is one of the greatest of the sci-fi comics of the 70s (standing alongside Deathlok's appearances in Astonishing Tales during the same time period). Neal Adams started the artwork on this issue of Amazing Adventures, but left the assignment unfinished. Howard Chaykin hastily was recruited to fill in the missing pages.

While limited to only 20 pages, writer Gerry Conway nonetheless was able to come up with a narrative that sufficiently fleshed out the future world of Killraven to keep readers intrigued and ready to come back for more.