WUSTL Digital Gateway Image Collections & Exhibitions

What Does the Cover Say?

The different covers of the Marvel Comic series, The Nam: The Death of Joe Hallen, place the protagonist, Joe Hallen, a black soldier, in line with the other white male protagonists that appear in the rest of The Nam series. While the highly stylized representation of characters on the covers celebrates Hallen in a heroic fashion, this specific storyline uses a colorblind presentation of Joe Hallen as a hero and fails to represent a comprehensive picture of the black experience in the war.  

On the cover of Issue 54, the first of the mini series, readers are presented with the image of Hallen returning home. If the reader did not know the historical context of the tension between those who did and those who did not support the military within the black community, this image could be read as any soldier returning home from combat. Black Power and Civil Rights leaders, as well as black civilians, saw the disproportionate amount of black soldiers dying in Vietnam as unacceptable considering the fact that Blacks were not free at home (Graham 28). This disapproval from the black community changed the atmosphere black GI’s were returning home to from congratulatory to tense. This environment is not conveyed on the cover and would not register as part of the Joe Hallen narrative to an uninformed reader.  

The covers also depict Joe Hallen as a strong, resilient man surrounded by violence and chaos, but neglect to show how that violence and chaos looked from a multitude of black male experiences. A viewer who picked up on the intersection of his black male identity in a “white man’s war” would be given a false representation of the reality of the Vietnam War. The cover does not represent the racist treatment that many black soldiers endured from their white counterparts (Graham 94). On the cover of Issue 55, the reader sees Hallen in a powerful position with an assault rifle and a fallen comrade, thus creating the narrative of interracial brotherhood. This narrative is continued on the cover of Issue 56 where he is depicted fighting alongside his comrades. In order for the covers and therefore the content of The Nam: The Death of Joe Hallen to be an accurate representation of reality, black soldiers would have had to been considered true patriots, and therefore true citizens of the United States.