That’s right, the genius who gave us the Spirit and a new language of sequential storytelling also introduced comic books as a teaching tool of preventative maintenance for ordinance and machinery in Army Motors and later in PS-The Preventative Maintenance Monthly.
But, his powers of detail and observation didn’t go on hiatus just because he was serving his country. An inveterate people-watcher his entire life, Eisner collected characters and moments the way most people collect pennies.
But, it’s his experiences with his journeys to Korea in 1954 and Vietnam just before the fall of Khe Sanh that make up this newly reissued volume.
The title story Last Day in Vietnam not only puts you in the story, it makes you an active participant, being led by an escort on his final duty, who has never truly experienced the war. A chance encounter with three shell-shocked Sniffers hitching a ride shows just how deft Eisner is not only with visuals and dialogue, but silence.
Though the narrator of "The Periphery" is not the main character, he shows us how easily the war is brought home to those sent to observe it. "The Casualty" paints a sad portrait of one soldier who doesn’t learn from his mistakes.
"A Dull Day in Korea" gives us a sobering view of soldiers don’t always comprehend the war they fight. And, the brief but moving "Hard Duty" provides a glimpse of a work detail not often seen in most Vietnam tales.
And, the closing tale, "A Purple Heart for George," highlights Eisner’s gift for characterization, his ease and craft at capturing the everyman at his weakest and most open, despite the consequences that may result. In these ten pages, we get a glimpse of what drives the most scared of us to do what we do, even to the guilt of those who stay behind.
Interspersed with photo reproductions from Vietnam, both civilian and military life, the volume has been reprinted in a beautiful burnished sepia tone, which serves both to distance and draw in the reader. Eisner’s pencil work here is among some of his best, managing to catch deep, wrenching emotion and telling characteristics with a few strokes, while the inking serves only to deepen the power of these tales.
If you’re a fan of Eisner, you already know these stories. If not, picking this up will give you a good taste of the depth of his talents. Either way, you can’t go wrong.