Saturday, August 6, 2011

Hearts and Minds: A Vietnam Love Story

Written by Doug Murray
Art by Russ Heath

Feeling nostalgic for the early days of the 'graphic novel', the over-sized comics of the late 80s that tried to showcase more refined storytelling, or were in some other way remarkable, I jumped at the chance to pick this book up for only $2 when I saw it in a used book store.

Unfortunately, Hearts and Minds isn't very good.  It perhaps could have been, but it is a little too amateurish to really work.  It opens in Vietnam, where VC forces enter a village, and attempt to recruit new men.  One man, Duan Le, refuses to join them, so they put him in charge of looking after a small crate of weapons.  Later, Americans find the weapons and shoot Duan, before evacuating the village, including his wife, Nhi.  Duan survives and joins the Viet Cong, although little is shown of how he goes about this.  We are left to presume that he just hates Americans.

Then we slide over to the States, where we meet Brett, a young man about to enter college, who ends up flunking out of ROTC, and getting drafted.    Once he ends up in the 'Nam, as a lieutenant, his Captain sends him to a whorehouse, where he meets and falls in love with Nhi.  Later, he buys out her contract, and makes plans to take her back to the States with him.  A major offensive (just before Tet) by the VC lands them all in some tough spots, and all three characters meet up in Nhi's apartment.

The notion behind this comic is good; it's just given a very ham-fisted delivery.  The characters are little more than archetypes, and much of the story seems to be designed to test the more liberal boundaries of Epic at the time (in other words, there are boobs and swear words).  I never once cared for the characters, and found the way that Nhi called Brett 'master' creepy, even if she was just joking.

Russ Heath is a legend in the comics world, but this feels a little phoned in.  While still Stateside, Brett is always wearing the same sweater (it has a B on it, like we're in Riverdale).  The size of the lettering suggests that this book was originally planned to be a regularly-sized comic, and then was simply blown up for the larger format Marvel used back then, but without adding any more detail to the art.

It's weird.  By this point, Murray was writing much better stories about Vietnam in The 'Nam; I don't know why this book isn't better.

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