So this month my blog celebrates it's third birthday. Many thanks to all who read and comment, you are loved. Anyway this blog started out loking at a series, with my posts on Cerebus the Aardvark, so I think it's time to do another one. This time it's DMZ, a comic that ran between 2005 and 2012 for 72 issues, collected in 12 volumes, by writer Brian Wood and artist Ricacardo Burchielli (although he doesn't draw every single issue).
The big idea behind DMZ is that in the near future, five years previously a movement rose up in the south of the USA that became the "Free States" Movement, it formed its own government in Montana and it soon came into conflict with the main government. War broke out and garnered much support as it swept up through the country, absorbing defecting National Guardsmen and their armouries as it went. Soon it reached New York where it finally came to a halt at the island of Manhattan, which had been hastily and disasterously evacuated. Unfortunately around 400,000 people were still left inside there when it was sealed off and with the Free States at one end, and the US army at the other, both stalemated there, the people of the DMZ struggle daily for survival in a warzone more familiar to us as being in places like Afghanistan and Iraq. Our main character is newbie journalist Matty Roth, dropped into the DMZ and left there by accident who decides to stay and chronicle the lives of people inside there, and he remains the viewpoint character for most of the series. Without further ado then, let's start with the first volume "On The Ground".
As they fly in he is given the situation in there by a friendly soldier called Colbert. The DMZ is a "fucked up place". There is "zero fucking security... except what the locals set up on their own." Rules change, from block to block, from neightbourhood to neighbourhood. And as for the Free Staters:
Colbert: "Don't assume nothing. 'Cause everything you've heard is true. All those rumours and urban myths about the enemy. It's all fucking true".
They land and Colbert grumbles that it's the first time he's seen his block in five years. Now it is burned out and covered in grafitti. They all disembark, but before Ferguson can start his interviews, someone opens fire on the group. In a panic they all scramble for the chopper, but Matty who was some wayaway is left behind. But he's actually lucky because the next thing that happens in the chopper explodes.
|Matty and the exploding helicopter.|
Later he wakes up, he's in a warm comfortable room and food is being cooked. The punky woman took him home to her place and he was out of it all night, she was kept awake by his work phone which kept ringing. Matty snatches the phone off her and answers the call. A frustrating phonecall ensues. He tells them what happened to Ferguson and the helicopter and is grilled on whether their equipment and bodies are still there. Matty demands to know how they'll get him home. They tell him to get to the extraction point.
He's told where to go, it's only a few blocks away and to be careful, "the ceasefire is probably blown to shit so you're now in an active warzone". It goes on to tell him "anyone you see is a potential hostile" and he needs to get to the extraction point pronto.
He starts snapping photos which gets the attention of a scary looking woman. She gives the punky woman a name "Zee" and she asks why Matty is taking photos. Zee tells him to stop and snatches his camera away saying he's being disrespectful. He explains he was part of a news crew and she pshaws him, they didn't want attention from the likes the mainstream media.
Matty tries to explain that they get told so much stuff about life in the DMZ, people accept it without question that it's mainly insurgents.
Zee: "That figures. Ignorance wins everytime. That's why your stupid fucking war will never end."
Then when Matty says they are coming to secure the crash site and pick him up. She starts to run saying that's not what securing means. He runs after her and choppers hove into view and bomb the shit out of the crash site killing several people nearby.
Zee: "You people don't know shit about us. You punish us for your own fuck-ups. We just live here! Why can't you understand that?"
On the phone the person at the other end asks he is at the extraction point? Matty looks at the phone and silently discards it and walks away with Zee as the phone plaintively asks where he is?
|Things that make you go Boom.|
But the Empire State Building is still standing. No one knows how, intruders get tossed out of the windows. The parks are "fucking gauntlets" Shopping malls are black market areas. "But life goes on ya know? You hungry?" she asks him. They visit a roof garden and restaurant, everyone is eating delicious vegetarian food. When Matty confesses people outside of the DMZ think they live on rats and pigeons Zee is outraged. She says this is the type of thing he should be reporting on.
She then takes him to an apartment with a bed ridden kid minus his arms. Zee tends to him while Matty realises the boys wounds are fresh, and they probably came from his rescue attempt. "I feel like throwing up" he thinks. As they leave, Matty asks why the arene't in hospital. Zee says the insides of the hospitals are "like something out of a fuckin' horror film".
|Healthcare in the DMZ.|
Matt: "'Life during wartime' might as well be in another country. I'm fucking lame. How do people deal with this shit so well? ...People back home seriously have no idea."
They enter an upstairs room and Zee introduces Matty to a sniper. He is jovial as he tells them he is ex-US Army who watches over his patch and if he sees bad things happening he can warn the locals. He also exchanges fire and flirtatious messages written on signs with a Free States female sniper who is also his long distance girlfriend. Matty realises this would be great interview material and the sniper agrees to talk to him. "Pretty cool right?" grins Zee.
Later Matty wonders to himself about how love made "both of them traitors. Neither of them cares." It would be a cliche if it was true, "love bridging the gaps of war."
Matty: "I've only been here two days. What else is out there? And what's that information worth? The real question is, will the network accept what I send them. Or with they just call in another air strike?"
He realises he is the only journalist active in the DMZ, he's sent two stories to Liberty News. One about the lovestruck snipers and one about Zee, "the human face of the war".
|Matty has the worst boss.|
Off the coast the missiles fly as the US Army get ready to land. Watching from a secure location close by is Matty. But the army find him and strip him naked, before telling him he looked like a sniper and they weren't made aware of friendly press in the area, "get dressed and hurry the fuck up. You're coming with us."
Squads of soldiers move through the streets, one squad murders a family of four that Zee tries to attend to. She sarcastically sends "compliments to your bosses." She starts writing and one of the soldiers gets in her face, but is told to back off. Matty is thrust forwards and told, "This is: 'insurgent cell defeated en route to engage Amercian forces' or something, whatever. And crop out the small bodies." Then a bomb hits, knocking Matty, Zee and the soldiers flying.
|Matty gets blown up a lot.|
But Zee gets there first. She declares she is not armed and starts checking the soldier's wounds. When Matty gets there she tells him to bugger off, "I leave you for ten minutes and next thing I see you've hooked up with these psychopaths." Matty says it wasn't his choice, he has a literal gun to his head. Zee and Matty start walking the man back to cover when his head explodes, much to the distress of the other soldiers. Disgusted Zee walks off and her parting words to Matty are "Go back home!"
The next couple of pages take place in Matty's churning thoughts. He stayed in cover until dark and thinks about turning on his cellphone and asking for them to get him "the fuck out of here". He is totally alone here and could be back home in a couple of hours. He sits at thinks...
We then get a report from Liberty News on the invasion. They talk it up as a great success, as well as admitting they have been getting "anonymous" text and pictures from inside the DMZ. Then we cut to Matty thinking, he "got the job". He is now an offical reporter on life in the DMZ.
Matty: "Tomorrow there'll be more fighting, but right now, even after hours of shooting, it feels like a million miles away. This city has a way of changing every few blocks. Something new around every corner... I'll worry about tomorrow when it comes."
Next chapter sees winter come to the DMZ and Matty goes to Central Park to investigate. The place is almost devoid of trees, then a group of men in winter gear appear and shoot him with a traquilizer dart and carry him off to their base. Matty wakes up in a bamboo forest and with a panda for company. He's let out of the pen and goes to meet with the leaders of this mysterious group.
|The mystery men of Central Park.|
The leader - Soames - say they are, "enviromentalists. Outdoorsmen. Scientists. Some people would even call us Treehuggers". Matty is then given the official tour which he can photograph. They are a fully independant community, all gas, electricty and plumbing is generated on-site. They are underground because when the shit went down during the evacuation of Manhattan and afterwards they pulled the roof in over their heads and with a combination of solar panels, natural light and instant greenhouses it works brilliantly.
|How to make a zoo self sufficient.|
Matty is resistant to the idea of making a "commercial" for them. Soames says one day the war will be over doesn't he think people will want the park to still be there when it happens? Matty says will do a deal, he'll do a story on them with no inteference and they also take him out on patrol.
The patrols are to try and protect what's left of the trees in the park. People have been burning them for fuel. How long will it be before Soames expands his patrols to try and protect more than Central Park thinks Matty? "How do you sweet talk a person into freezing to death for an idea?" he wonders to himself as he walks the park with some of Soame's men.
As they walk, Matty's guide fills them in on where they are and what gangs they have problems with. Then foragers are spotted, and the Outdoorsmen send in the drones which fires on the people trying to cut down a tree. Then it drops a clusterbomb which outrages Matty. "They kill us, so we kill them" responds Soames.
Then the foragers retaliate by riding up on snow-skis and firing at them. One of the men tackles Matty to the ground to keep him safe but gets a bullet in the back for his bravery. The foragers leave, and the dying man, Miller, gives Matty a key to his mother's old place. It's empty but secure. He pleads with Matty to just tell their story but:
Miller: "Don't put this.... in the story, OK? ... but Soames lied to you... we are the ghosts..."
Matty says quietly, "I know you are" as Miller dies. Another victim of the kill or be killed mentality of some of the DMZ.
|What a senseless waste of human life.|
When the lights come on he juices up his gear and tunes in the radio. Not to listen to Liberty News, but "the pirate station's where it's at". There is also Radio Free Jersey, "but there's only so much Springsteen I can take." The hour of power is the greatest thing, if they could do it with the water he'd have nothing to complain ab... he turns and someone kicks in his door hitting him in the face and knocking him down. When he comes to he realises his most valuable item has been stolen. His "PRESS" jacket.
Matty: "That jacket's my life. Something that stops sniper fire is worth way the fuck more than a laptop."
And he leaps into action chasing after the guy, especially when he realises his press badge has also be taken. As he runs, he thinks on how screwed he is, the jacket can be faked but the badge, "the badge is what keeps me alive. Gets me access, gives me cred".
|Yes fucked indeed.|
He gets back on the tail of the thief who is heading north-west. Soon he end up in no-mans-land and the theif is sat there mocking him as Matty gets fired upon. Then a huge explosion knocks the thief of his perch and Matty finally gets to him. But the theif panics and runs to the Lincoln Tunnel which just so happens to be held by the Free State Army.
|A thief and a dick.|
And that brings the first collection to an end. So in five issues we have had deftly set-up life in the DMZ, the range of characters living there, been introduced to characters we'll be finding a lot more about as the series continues and been provided a political situation with a history still to be properly told. We#ll be finding out more about just how the Free States were able to make such headway against the US Army and what their political principles are. Of course the whole notion is preposterous. I mean imagine an America where people are so disillusioned with the mainstream political establishment and it's Presidential figurehead that they rise up in protest and civil unrest. Aahahahahahaha, haha, ha. Look honestly I had this series written into my schedule long before the Mango Mussolini was even elected the Republican candidate. I'm not trying to be precious with my timing of this or anything. Anyway, Brian Wood has created a world that already feels very "lived in" and a lot of that can be put down to the excellent artwork of Riccardo Burchielli. He has a very slightly cartoon style that gives faces lots of depth of emotion but not so cartoony that it makes light of the heavy subject matter. It's a great and gritty combo the two of them make and an excellent way to kick off the series. Join me in a few days for volume two.