I’m sure, as a new writer here, I’ll piss some folks off here but zombies are getting played. I’ve seen too many of them lately. So the prospect of yet another zombie property, this time set in Vietnam, seemed like a tired idea.
That was before I opened page one of ’68, Image’s pseudo-new property (a one-shot was released five years ago): a zombie epic, currently a four issue mini-series with more one-shots to come, set in the heart of the Vietnam War and, eventually, on American soil.
Unlike something like Dead Snow, the film in which a small group of Nazi zombies rise from the dead in the modern day, ’68 is a revisionist history of world war with the enemy becoming (for the US) not just the Vietcong but also disease and the dead.
This isn’t a side mission in where a small group of soldiers find a small group of zombies and then the story ends and everything goes on as scheduled. This is a full telling of history as if zombies just happened to show up.
But that is just the small set up. Because deep inside ’68 is a historically accurate and immensely realistic setting. All of the Vietnam War we see actually happened or were common occurrences/happenings/goings-on. The addition of zombies either adds a new element or revolutionizes the themes we are all familiar with.
For example, the American characters of 1960s/1970s react as 1960s/1970s Americans would to a zombie invasion. The authenticity of the period is not sacrificed for cheap thrills and pointless gore.
In turn, the zombies are a product of the time period as well: if the zombie virus expands to Vietcong groups underground in caves, the zombies live in caves. If, as specifically shown in issue #1, a Vietnamese sniper becomes a zombie, he’ll pretty much stick around where he was before: up in a sniping spot just waiting to fall down.
But let’s take a look at the stories themselves and delve deeper:
Issue #1: “And if You Go Chasing Rabbits. . .”/”Mouth of Babes”
The first thing you notice when reading ’68 is that it contains one large story and then a short story, self contained, that shows the expansive universe of both the Vietnam War, the country itself, and the zombies effect on other Army units.
The main story here, “. . .Chasing Rabbits” involves two major plots. One involves our hero’s main base Firebase Aires, which has just received a fresh delivery of dead soldiers. The underwhelmed doctor and the camp captain discover that maybe these recently arrived dead aren’t really dead after all.
Meanwhile, an Asian soldier named Yam, grossly abused by his fellow soldiers for ‘looking too much like the enemy’ ends up drawing the shortest straw and has to investigate a Vietcong cave. He seems to encounter much of what expects: the enemy. But his squad above has bigger (and deader) problems.
To end the issue, “Mouth of Babes” examines a group of three soldiers drinking the night away on a recently captured enemy town only to encounter a group of zombies that, perhaps, are smarter then ever thought possible.
With a story by Mark Tidwell and incredible inks and colors by Nat Jones and Jay Fotos respectively, ’68′s first issue pulls absolutely no punches whether it be the offensive language used by the American soldiers in regards to the enemy or the gruesome reality of war, both with the living and the dead.
Particularly excellent, besides the impressive action and the often unsettling (in that good way) visuals is the creators intense dedication to detail of the period (as previously mentioned). At this point, ’68 #1 only hints at a grander storyline but, in only a short amount of pages, establishes a universe where, regardless of living enemy or dead enemy, war is certainly hell.
Also impressive is the creators ability to not spoon feed you the stereotypes and archetypes of zombie lore. We are thrown into this world of the war and are forced to accept, much like the soldiers in the story, that something is truly amiss, even in a crazy world surrounded by death, explosions, and pain.
Issue #2: “Better Run Through the Jungle”/”Sissy”
In the opening main story, part two of four, we do continue with Yam’s misadventures in the caves and forests but we are shockingly brought to a completely other aspect of the Vietnam War, based roughly on Jane Fonda, where a beautiful actress tapes her protests behind enemy lines.
What starts out as a gratuitous sexual moment comes back to haunt the reader come issue end. Add a CIA agent, some mass murder (without zombies), and some complex booby traps and you have a universe built beyond just zombies and explosions. It’s fully thought out and grown and we’re only in issue #2!
The self contained mini-story, “Sissy”, takes the common theme of the GI falling in love with a local and takes it to a whole new (gruesome) level. The results are shocking but, oddly, fitting to the stories we’ve seen before both in real life and in other fictional tales. This one just has flesh eating creatures.
The pacing in issue #2 is just marvelous and the focus on historical events with a zombie bent is at an all-time high. Your pulse is racing and you’re both dreading and drooling for what happens in issue #3.
And to add interest to the whole thing, the creators take the common mailbag concept in most comics and decide to use it as an instructional cheat sheet on Vietnam War history. And it isn’t just throw away knowledge but the intelligent creators show how they used real life events to help make their story more real.
And speaking of the creators, I had the honor of meeting Nat Jones (pen and inks) and Jay Fotos (colors) at Phoenix Comic-Con. Besides my autographed copies of issues #1 and #2 (as well as an Image six-part comic called Death Dealer to be reviewed later), both took the time to explain the world they created.
Like most comics, ’68 has it’s original cover (one of them is shown above) but, for collectors and purists, there are always variants and secondary covers that add a little fun to the experience (I’ve posted two secondary covers below the issue titles above).
Jay and Nat’s goal was to capture well known photographs of the era, regardless of their controversy (such as issue #1′s zombie interpretation of Eddie Adam’s infamous photo of a Vietnamese man named Nguyen Van Lem being executed) and ‘zombify’ them.
Issue #2 is of ’60s legend Jimi Hendrix and Jay told me Richard Nixon is an upcoming figure for a future issue as is Jim Morrison. This idea, more then anything, adds to the unique (and beautiful) approach to time period authenticity.
What I can assure you readers is that Jay and Nat have your best interest in mind with ’68. It isn’t the same ‘ol story. It ain’t the same old zombies either (see the end of issue #1). Jay and Nat were full of passion and work together with Mark Kidwell (story), Jason Arthur (lettering), and Tim Vigil (pens and inks) to produce the most authentic and original take on a played genre that others have beaten into the ground. Plus they are just cool dudes.
Here are some photos of their righteous booth at Phoenix Comic-Con ’11: