Written and Lettered by Paul Allor
Art by Paul Tucker
Published by IDW Publishing
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
“I never liked telling war stories,” claims Marine Eugene Smith in the opening panel of Paul Allor and Paul Tucker’s Tet, which initially sets its scene in the Hue City, Vietnam in 1968. The comics industry, on the other hand, told them for many decades. Like cinema, war stories filled popular entertainment from the earliest days, reaching their height during the 1940s and 1950s, and then gradually declining until the 1980s. Yet during times of social unrest, we find the allure of war stories tug at our interest once again. As the real world lurches from one conflict to the next, Tet reflects back on the human side of a war that still bears its scars almost four decades after the fall of Saigon.
It’s this personal side that Allor hooks us in with immediately, introducing us to Eugene and Chip, a duo of marines who have settled into life in Vietnam during the war. While Chip ostensibly visits prostitutes, Eugene is desperate to get home with his Vietnamese fiancee and start a new life. However, when Chip turns up dead with a high ranking city official, Eugene is teamed up with local law enforcement Nguyen Bao to investigate the case. This sets the story up to be an investigative drama with unlikely partners, the kind we may have seen before, albeit one where Allor is already hinting that there is much more to this tale.
Tet refers to Tet Nguyên Dán, the Vietnamese Lunar New Year, a time of renewal and honoring the dead. Seemingly concentrating on the latter, this first issue plays out as a mystery, and not just the obvious one behind the murder of Smith’s colleague. From the first pages, we are presented with a bloodbath. “My first months in Vietnam were not pleasant,” Eugene tells us. “That’s all you need to know,” immediately creating a sense that our narrator is not keeping us informed of everything. Allor’s structure is also told in a split narrative, flashing forward to to the 1980s where it is evident that life hasn’t panned out the way Eugene had planned back in ’68. There is also the more immediate mystery surrounding Chip’s death, and initial investigations indicate that he is not what he seemed. The twin puzzles skim along the edge of noir, right down to the hard-boiled narration.
Tucker’s art adds to this ambiance of noir, often keeping characters in a half-shadow - or more accurately, the half-light of a setting sun - and at other times covered by the elongated shapes formed by a single light source. A scene where Eugene and fiance Há are lying in bed, with a shaft of moonlight tracing the window frame over them. At other times, characters are in reverse silhouette, with a minimalist background contrasting the bright orange light that covers their bodies. It’s one of the moodier pieces of lighting, and distracts from the (deliberately) simplistic background shapes that pepper the landscape.
Tet is a strong opening that aims to obscure from the beginning, creating a world where we can’t necessarily trust the person doing the telling. A rich character-based piece against a wartime setting is nothing new, but Allor is skillfully weaving in a mystery wrapped inside a bigger mystery to keep us on our toes for the long haul.
Written and Illustrated by Tyson Hesse
Published by BOOM! Box
Review by C.K. Stewart
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
If you’re looking for all-ages comic book, look no further than BOOM! Studios’ innovative BOOM Box imprint and their newest steampunk-inspired title Tyson Hesse's Diesel #1. Though light on story in its premiere issue, Diesel #1 is a light-hearted and beautifully illustrated tale that proves BOOM! Studios is cornering the market on all-ages titles. Hesse (Boxer Hockey, Amazing World of Gumball) comes very close to the high bar set by other BOOM! Box titles like Lumberjanes and Giant Days with launch of this four issue miniseries.
Originally conceived by Hesse as a self-published title, he’s reworked Diesel’s slightly more grown-up origins into the coming of age story of greasemonkey and aspiring Peacetowne pilot Diandra Diesel. Dee, as she’s known, has been waiting patiently to reclaim the mobile city founded by her family from her childhood rival and current captain, Wells. But just one day before Dee’s eighteenth birthday, Peacetowne comes under assault from a mysterious power that threatens to leave Dee without a city to live in, much less fly.
Dee and the world of Diesel are a perfect fit for BOOM Box’s strong stable of all-ages titles. She’s fun and rambunctious in a way that will appeal to young readers, but the book on the whole has a wry sense of humor adults will enjoy. Visually, Hesse has crafted a world that will fell familiar to fans of Final Fantasy IX or perhaps Howl’s Moving Castle. The steampunk influence of mechanical flying towns is inescapable, but Hesse doesn’t fall into the trap of slapping gears and goggles on every character to drive home the “mechanical Victorian” aesthetic.
Peacetowne itself feels like a lovingly though not always well-maintained classic car, pieced together from different makes and models of spare parts. The character designs and some smaller background details such as more modern, sailless ships make Diesel feel like it could be alternate history or some version of the future. The more put-together Captain Wells’ design invokes Victorian corsetry and tailoring while Dee’s purple tracksuit would be right at home in the garage of any modern car movie. Hesse’s impressive illustrations and lush coloring do an impressive job of giving these more old-fashioned elements with a modern twist.
Despite the impressive artwork, the first issue is light on world-building. The little background details are an interesting blend of old and new, but give no definitive answer as to where or when this story takes place. Hesse keeps the story focused on Dee, and she’s an entertaining enough character to mostly make up for the current lack of depth. The abilities she demonstrates towards the end of the issue will likely be the driving point of the book, and it’s a mystery I want to see solved. All the same, it would be nice to know a little more about this world and how Peacetowne came to be in it. The struggle will be juggling that background and Dee's story in just three more issues without tipping the scale towards too much exposition.
While the debut packs little lasting emotional punch, Diesel #1 is still a strong showing from Tyson Hesse, and an excellent addition to the BOOM! Box family. Hesse’s artwork is gorgeous and filled with fun visual gags, making Dee’s world engrossing enough to keep you reading through the end. This is shaping up to be a fun miniseries that older and younger fans alike will get a chuckle out of, but with any luck future issues will wind up being as explosive as one of Dee’s garage inventions.