“’68: JUNGLE JIM #1” (Comic Review)
’68 has addressed the issues of war in a way many have refused to touch. Mixing the true terrors of the Vietnam battlefront with the inhumanity of the walking undead, the work has upped the horrors of death and isolation in a setting unfamiliar to this generation’s readers. Though it’s not uncommon to find zombies in WWI and WWII in both movies and comics, the Vietnam War seems to be one territory few ever tread; perhaps in respect to the still large population of Vietnam survivors or just in hushed reverence for the fallen troops.’68 takes no prisoners in its raw representation of a military conflict that still haunts many to this day, however. It’s a solid kick to the head to a market heavily saturated in zombie paraphernalia and reminds the reader that even though it’s a work of fiction, the stories it tells are a reflection of a time all too real.
’68: JUNGLE JIM is a continues the one-shot of the same name. In the original title, Jungle Jim tries to rescue a group of American POW’s trapped in a small Viet Cong village, but only makes it back with one soldier, Brian Curliss. After an extraordinary battle and original Jim’s death, this new series sees the mantle being taken by Brian himself, who takes over for his predecessor as a one-man vigilante protecting his countrymen from both the living and the dead on the Vietnam landscape.
As he attempts to move the troops to safety, armed with a machete and a machine gun, the story cuts to a secondary character, Miss Manon, a woman who runs a French missionary shelter for war-torn Vietnamese children. Though she is aware of not only the dangers of the war but of the corpses that just can’t seem to lie still, she is determined to survive and protect her group. As the comic progresses, we slowly become aware of something underneath the surface, the true reason that Brian stayed in Vietnam and how close that thing is to destroying Miss Manon’s world.
Despite the Image series’ popularity, some readers wonder if the addition of zombies to a war comic is perhaps an over-zealous attempt to grab a piece of the growing undead genre. Though it may seem a bit off-putting, the extra macabre angle can be better interpreted as filling the gap between an older terror and a newer one. While the current media generation has few ties to the Vietnam war, the contemporary fear of zombies translates beautifully to the traditional casualty-of-war horror and adds a certain depth that rings true to both eras. A modern take on an old favorite.
Writer Mark Kidwell, does an amazing job of staying faithful to both. He treats the world seriously, keeping true to the lingo and factual events of the time, while perfectly melding in the supernatural angle. Jeff Zornow’s illustrations don’t skimp on the violence either, creating every panel a splash page of violence, emotion, and grotesque detail. This series is a solid addition to any collection, be they a fan of shock, history, or something a little in between.