Adapted from the first issue cover. Artist: Michael Golden.

THE ’NAM

Medium: Comic books
Published by: Marvel Comics
First Appeared: 1986
Creators: Doug Murray (writer) and Michael Golden (artist)
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Comic book series set during World War II go back to the days of Sgt. Boyle and Airboy, when stories about that war were contemporary adventure. But a generation later, with World War II comic book heroes like Captain Storm and The American Eagle still maintaining a presence in comic books, stories about the current American war weren't so popular. Sgt. Rock's younger brother, Larry, who fought in Vietnam, didn't last very long, and Magicman, who was originally set there, quickly abandoned that locale. Only Dell's Jungle War Stories/Guerrilla War lasted an appreciable length of time, and it had no …

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… continuing characters and was only published quarterly. Another generation went by before a major publisher succeeded with a comic book set during the Vietnam War.

Marvel Comics, which had done "contemporary adventure" war comics as recently as Combat Kelly, which was set in Korea (tho the title continued long after President Eisenhower brought most of the troops home from there), did an issue where the remnants of Sgt. Fury's Howling Commandos went to Vietnam, but didn't set an ongoing series there until it was able to do so with some historical perspective.

The original impetus for the series came when Marvel editor Larry Hama (Red Sonja, Spider-Ham) approached writer Doug Murray (Roger Rabbit, Conan) about writing for the October, 1985 first issue of Savage-Tales, a Mad-formatted comics magazine Hama edited. Savage Tales was about war stories in general, but this particular one concerned Vietnam, of which both Hama and Murray were veterans. It was illustrated by Michael Golden (Bucky O'Hare, The Micronauts). That story, "5th to the 1st ," is generally considered a prelude to The 'Nam.

The following year, editor-in-chief Jim Shooter (X-O Manowar, Legion of Super Heroes) proposed a comic set in Vietnam, and gave Hama the assignment of filling it. Hama thought of Golden and Murray. The 'Nam #1 was dated December, 1986.

The story opened with recent draftee Ed Marks saying goodbye to his family on Jan. 7, 1966, as he went off to war. On the next page, he woke up in Asia on the morning of the 8th, and his tour of duty had started. By the end of the issue, he was well on his way to becoming a war veteran.

After that the title continued to chronicle Ed's participation in the war, month by month, including real-world developments, as well as Ed's day-to-day activities as a common grunt. The "month-by-month" aspect was an unusual way of constructing an ongoing comics storyline, tho not completely unprecedented. Unlike most continued stories, where one month's episide may start a day or less — even immediately — after that of the previous month — or may even overlap — each 'Nam issue actually did cover a month's progress in the overall Vietnam adventure, and the story dates advanced accordingly. A similar technique was tried in Little Orphan Annie during the 1930s, each daily episode covering a day of story time.

A big difference was that Annie's days didn't add up like real days did — she never got any older, no matter how many "days" passed. But months in The 'Nam were just like months in real life. By the time the comic had been coming out a year, Ed's tour of duty was up, and he was shipped home just like real soldiers were (tho he later came back as a reporter).

Thus, with a constantly evolving cast, The 'Nam went through the war from 1966 to the it end, each successive protagonist rigorously tracking, to the day, how much time he had to put in before returning to "the world". The final issue was #84, dated September, 1993. At one point, there was talk of boosting circulation by crossing over some of the popular Marvel superheroes who had been active in the '60s, but in the end, the only mainstream Marvel character who ever turned up there was Vietnam vet Frank Castle, before he became The Punisher.

Comics set in World War II, like Captain Savage and The Haunted Tank, tended to take place on a sort of war-like neverland, all jumbled together so the overall impression was World War II but individual events didn't stand out. But in The 'Nam the war was presented as a panorama, with the various elements, such as The Tet Offensive, Agent Orange etc. dealt with as they happened — just as those who'd actually been there remembered them.

— DDM

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Text ©2010 Donald D. Markstein. Art: © Marvel Comics.