DMZ is a story of what happens when America is plunged into a second civil war and the two sides come to a halt at Manhattan which has been declared a dmemilitarised zone and both sides observe a ceasefire while the citizens still trapped there after the disasterous evacuation at the start of the war attempt to carry on and survive best they can. We've been following the story of Matty Roth, a former newbie journalist, he's been embedded in the DMZ for two years making friends and following the big and small stories. However in this book we step away from him and explore the lives of various DMZ inhabitants, some of whom we have already met, in a series of one-shots called "Decade Later", "Amina", "Wilson", "Kelly", "Random Fire" and "Soames". Brian Wood is still the writer but there are a few different artists working here, regular artist Riccardo Burchielli is joined by Danuel Zezeuj and Nathan Fox. So without further ado let's explore The Hidden War.
DECADE LATER: We start with a grafitti artist known as "Decade Later", or Decade for short with a friend in the DMZ running and avoiding fire to collect a box full of spray paints. "Before you ask, yeah, it was worth the risk" he thinks. as he sprays the number ten in a circle and arrow.
|Decade Later makes his mark.|
Decade: "Whatever happens, even if it's full-on war, the city will still be there when it's over. You can't kill a city...I don't want to die. I'm not finished yet".
We then flashback to "way before the war". A young Decade, not known by that handle yet is discussing the train times and the fact he has a plan for them.
He and a fellow artist spray some art, Decade's friend wants to know why he only sprays messages not art. Decade says he wants people to look out of the window and be affected by his messages on the subconcious level. He wants to leave behind "some kind of knowledge". It's not about claiming territory, he wants his messages to make sense in the future. His friend says he needs a tag, Decade says he'll work on it.
We then return to the present, Decade has painted another message and then goes and attends a "War party". A group of people have gathered on a rooftop and are boozing away. A woman says to Decade that she is lucky to be in his presence. Her older brother worshipped him, "you're one of the few working artists from the old school". Decade says sometimes he feels like a jackass doing what he does, but she says it matters to her.
Then she exposes a breast and asks for his autograph. He signs it and they kiss, and she asks him "you got something else to do right now that's as fun as this?" While they kiss he thinks:
Decade: "I've been living tense for so long. This fucking war's been wearing me down for so long. The adrenaline doesm't hit me like it should, or the buzz from creating something new... nothing. She's still young enough to get excited about life and she helps me to remember."
Flashback to before the war and he's on the run but gets caught by the cops and beaten. Present day Decade thinks it was life and the risks you took, "in this for life".
|Decade works on his masterpiece.|
Later he's accosted by the same militia as before, they tell him he should be grateful to them for keeping the neighbourhood safe for him to draw. They tell him he's getting old and might not ever come around to their way of thinking. One puts a gun to a bored looking Decade's head then suddenly a U.S. army chopper drops a gas grenade on them and he gets picked up by the soldiers as a suspected militia member. Naked in a cell he thinks:
Decade: "That was it. I don't have decades anymore. And I'll never get a chance to finish it. The project. The big picture".
He's being choppered out of the DMZ, he has a hood over his head. When he is told they are flying over Queens he pleads to have his hood taken off and the soldier grants his request.
|His ultimate artpiece.|
AMINA: Amina is a returning character from Book 3, groomed to be a suicide bomber, Matty saved her but left her bereft of purpose and living aimlessly on the streets. We join her wearing ragged clothes and no shoes in a high rise apartment where a similarly attired woman called Tina with a baby asks "did you get it?" She says "something happened."
|Amina and the King of Soundview.|
Amina: "The war was miles away. But living here was no less a battleground. They fight with fear and intimidation. The targets are your self-respect, identity and safety. And they make you complicit, right off the bat. That's the leverage. I witness this guy take a life, and he's gotta put me hip deep in his shit".
She's told to take something to a man and he'll give her something in return to be brought back to the King. He tells her "eyes on the door numbers. Not in the bag, right?"
She thinks back to when she slept with Matty, he told her the only rules she needs to follow are the ones she sets herself. With one life to live, the "question is how you choose to live it". He told her her destiny was hers to control, "blah blah blah" she thinks bitterly. He talked for hours like it was all so easy, "like he wasn't every bit as trapped by it as I was".
She disobeys King's orders and looks in the bag to find many bundles of cash. She is briefly paralysed by her thoughts. Why her? Does King want her dead? What's in room 178? Who's Len? Is this a test? Is it all of the above? Should she take the money and she and Tina buy their way downtown, "grow vegetables on our roof and turn fashionable? See Matty Roth's face everywhere I look?"
Amina: "If it's not the King, it'll be just another man I'm paying protection dues to. Who might decide that, yeah, maybe I'm clean enough. Pure enough. Or naive enough. Or maybe not worth enough of anything at all."
She runs to where Tina and the baby is and hands her some of the cash, telling her to take it and hide it. She won't be coming back, forget her face, forget she existed, "it'll make the lie easier."
She leaves and carries on to where she's been told to go, as she walks she thinks how the DMZ is a great leveller of people, no one cares what colour you are there. She thinks back to when she was a kid and after the towers fell, "you were your colour... and whatever baggage that came along with it". She remembers how no one would sit next to her on the subway once travel in New York started up again and she was worried that "any second I must drop dead."
|One of many unhappy memories for Amina.|
Back in the present, she arrives at room 178. But her contact Len is dead. A man, Danzinger from Book 3, is waiting there for her who seems to know her, although she doesn't know who he is. He checks the bag of money and says "Barbaro's really making something of himself since he went A.W.O.L". She asks if he means The King and he tells her yes, the man is a "twisted, degenerate fuck" who was a member of the Free States Army up until a few weeks ago.
Apparently Barbaro saw more opportunities as a wannabe ghetto player who sends waifs to run his errands. He doesn't know what the money was for, Len had nothing of value on him. He hands Amina a gun, to shoot the King with. Danzinger was planning to do it, but if he's expecting Amina to come back she may was well do it, "you better not fucking miss."
|Danzinger gives Amina her orders.|
WILSON: Wilson is another familiar character. An aged Chinese-American mob boss who is good friends with Matty and has provided a useful sounding board for him in prior volumes. It's pouring with rain as Wilson and one of his "grandsons" go and meet with a woman called Sheila Chang who has a baby boy with her, Wilson's son.
She asks for help, but Wilson says they had an agreement, if he helps her he has to help everyone. He gives them his card and tells her to call him when the boy is twelve, "I can use him then". He has people positioned around the buildings to watch her and the man who told him about her and the child is to keep his mouth shut.
|Wilson is inspired.|
Wilson: "The audacity. The manipulation of the media. The... bluntness of it all. The fearlessness. I'm not a gangster. This war is going to be gangster".
We then see him organising the protection of Chinatown as war officially begins. He has a message for the other inhabitants of the DMZ. "No rules. No manifestos. No websites. Only one message: leave us alone". They are not part of New York, no one fights in their name, "you don't represent us. And you'll never take us by force. You can't own us. But try if you want."
We see an incident where he was caught in a bomb blast while out in the open trading some money. He was wearing a bullet proof vest which caught all the shrapnel. He stood and showed he was the "great immortal leader." The bomb should have killed him if he hadn't seen it coming, "heh. Gangster".
|Wilson survives another bombing.|
Wilson: "I'd say it was the American Dream. But we were never American. America's boring anyway. Boring itself to death."
We then see him sitting on a roof bemoaning how bored of the war he's getting. Then he spots Matty through his binoculars and is curious as to who he is. Zee is with him and tells him he should steer clear of Chinatown, and to not try and enter unless he's desperate for a bullet between his eyes.
We close this chapter with Wilson alone thinking how the strongest army will win the war, and while the meek might inherit the earth, "when all of this is said and done... I'm gonna own this city".
|Wilson makes his plans.|
We flashback to two days earlier. She is hiding along with a U.S. soldier while under fire by snipers as they work their way through "the corridor of death". As we see her out in the field we get Matty's thoughts on her, that she was fearless but not reckless. She thought out everything first, potential risks explored and assessed.
|Kelly Connolly and Matty.|
Matty narrates that she won an award with that photo and also caught a lot of shit about it to the extent she thought it was the worst mistake of her life.
Matty: "I'm not sure she would have ever forgiven herself for leaving the child there. But all that came later. In that moment, she was just doing her job".
She later asks Matty is she is a horrible person? When he says no, she says "wrong answer" and tells him to "come back tomorrow. Or next week, next month, next year. Whatever".
|Objectivity taken too far?|
Flashback to when she came to see Matty at Jamal's camp after breaking the Trustwell story with him. She and Zee discuss Matty having slept with Amina.
Kelly: "People need to find their intimacies when and where they can, Zee, especially in a place like this. People are here one day and then they're not. It's all too uncertain and fleeting to be stubborn. You just end up sabotaging yourself that way".
Zee is dubious, but Kelly says she believes that completely. Matty tries talking to her and tells him they don't need each other anymore and walks away. Matty thinks how he couldn't find the words to say to her it had stopped being about need for him a long time ago.
|Kelly commits suicide.|
RANDOM FIRE: A new character this time, a club kid called Random Fire, or R.F. for short. He wakes from a nightmare and as he gets ready for the night he is told it's calm and clear out and his flatmate wishes him good luck. He runs through the nighttime streets and finds a hatch which leads to an underground nightclub. Unfortunately he won't be Deejaying tonight as he's been bumped for a celebrity DJ called Grendel who is from Tokyo.
|Club kid Random Fire.|
R.F. asks why she's telling him this and she whispers that she needs a pissed off person to help her tonight. Trustwell security do one thing and that's maintain the status quo. R.F. says they keep the lid on "just enough to keep us all jumpy so we'll want you around still".
She says he's right, but she's ex-Trustwell as they purged all the native New Yorkers from the workforce before the reconstruction began, "they didn't want no one getting emotional on the job while they tore the city apart". But now she needs R.F's help. She says ask why Grendel is coming here now, when he has that answer add Trustwell to the equation and "hit enter. See what the answer is."
|Random Fire and Ingrid.|
R.F: "But at that moment I felt completely disconected from the rest of the world. What do that think is going on in this city? Do they think about it? Does anyone care? Do we even make the news anymore? Or will our struggle be summed up in a tag line on the cover of a CD somewhere?"
He returns to the woman and tells her he's angry and ready to "kill some motherfuckers". She introduces herself as Ingrid, she's seen him spin before and likes him. She's here to save the club, show respect to the city and screw over her former employers. R.F. says he's with her, before realising "wait... save the club?"
She tells him that the plan Trustwell have is to attack the club while Grendel is performing live, and having him escape would make him even hotter than he is now. Outside Trustwell are gathering while Grendel says how cool it all is. They go to plant something in the bathroom but Ingrid is there pretending to be clueless, catching them off guard she disables them and taks their guns.
R.F. goes up to meet Grendel who hugs him and whispers to him, "I need this, please... please just let me have this". He asks R.F. to introduce him and R.F. takes to the mike and yells for everyone to get out. People won't move and tell him to "shut the hell up! Turn the music back on!" He pleads with them, and then Ingrid fires on the Trustwell security.
|Ingrid dies taking out Trustwell.|
SOAMES: Our final story is about Soames, who we met in Book 1, an A.W.O.L soldier who has, along with many others, become the ghosts that haunt Central Park. They have covered over the zoo there and created a self sustaining eco-system underthe ground they pulled in over the top. This is the story of how he came that place.
We start with the revelation that he was a member of the Free States Army, as they have arrived in New Jersey he's been getting an earful of what they believe in.
Soames: "What they believe in is hate. Never been round so many pissed off rednecks in all my life, and that's saying something considering where I come from. I signed up outta love. For my country, the land of free men. Laugh if you want. 'cuz what's not to love".
The Hudson river was full of bodies when they got there, the air was like poison. The only way was forward, into the belly of the beast. "But my path was not with these men. It never was" and we see him jump off the boat he was travelling on and swims to land. For four days he's unconcious with the disease he picked up from the water and when he wakes up he can't stop vomiting.
|Soames escapes via the contaminated river.|
He wakes up to find a couple of people trying to rob him. He stands and finds a flyer aimed at Free Staters, with instructions on how to defect to the USA. "I didn't think I'd need a goddamn ticket to get in" he thinks.
Soames: "What was I even doing? I felt like I was drifting... not only was I in a land between nations, but that I was in a certain state of being, trapped between life and death".
He is jumped by some militia who asks who he is, "a friend!" They try and shoot him anyway, but are out of ammo and run away. "Why do I gotta belong to one side or the other?" he thinks. He spots some birds and thinks they have the right idea flying above the mess. He keeps forging on towards Brooklyn wondering if it'll be any better, he left the Free States to be "rid of ignorants, polluters and murderers". Will the USA be any different?
He comes face to face with a U.S. army patrol who tell him to lay his weapon on the ground when suddenly a herd of deer come running past, "hahaha beautiful!" says Soames. The soldiers tell him to come to them, but a joyful Soames says "no thanks! I'm good! I'm staying here" and he turns away and walks with the deer, bringing his chapter and this volume to a close.
|Soames is inpired to take a third option.|