Back with more DMZ. It's America.. By the time these stories take place it's been nearly ten years since a movement arose in the mid-west known as the Free States. Disillusioned by a government more interested in fighting wars overseas than taking care of its own people they seceeded from the Union and set up their own government in Montana. Immediately they came into conflict with the U.S. government and a Second Civil War began. With so much of the U.S. army serving abroad and the Free States enjoying much popular support the U.S. was pushed back to New York. It was there that a ceasefire was finally negociated, but the island of Manhattan remained stuck between the two and with around 400,000 people left trapped there after a botched evacuation, people attempt to live their lives as best they can in the DMZ. The series has been following journalist Matty Roth as he spends several years working on reporting stories of the goings on in the place, but the series has also looked around at the lives of other people who live there too and these five stories are all one-shots, snapshots of lives spent surviving in an American warzone. Recent events have made the U.S. break the ceasefire and they have been bombing the DMZ every day for a few weeks as well as making aggressive moves aimed at the Free States Army based in New Jersey in preparation for a major push through the DMZ and the resolution of the war one way or another. These stories take place as the bombs fall and tensions rise to unbearable levels as we say goodbye to characters we've got to know as the series has gone along. Brian Wood is still the sole writer but each chapter has a different artist. It's the only volume co-creator artist Riccardo Burchielli didn't draw anything in.
FIVE HOURS UNDER FIRE: Artist Andrea Mutti. We start with a U.S. army soldier called Cal Foster dispatched into the DMZ undercover. He tries to call for extraction but Liberty News is reporting that in "anticpation of what can only be described as a massive military operation" all cell service and power has been shut off and then he drops his satellite phone and breaks it. Directional EMPs have been used too. Liberty News then shuts down because of an executive order. Cal finds shelter in the underground. He follows the rails and comes across a crowd of people, one of whom is Zee Hernadez. She demands to know "who the hell are you?"
|Zee sees though Cal right away.|
Cal: "I'm no Trustwell mercenary. I'm not exactly Special Forces. I've never been issued anything remotely resembling a uniform. We're encouraged to scrounge on the battlefield. We're encouraged to act like locals. Like illegals. Like terrorists."
He arrived in the DMZ three weeks ago to make what is happening, happen. He thinks that this is the "big one" and when the smoke clears the war will be over and he'll be left cleaning up what remains.
He thinks the civil war is a "waste of fucking time". People have too much of a sense of entitlement and think the world should bend for us. "We've lost our identity as a nation, is it any wonder we're here now?" He sits down and Zee comes over to him and asks if he is OK. She kneels and addresses him quietly that she knows who and what he is. She checks him over asking is he's here to kill someone, "how long before you start lining us up against the wall an shooting us?"
He tells her she has an attitude for someone in a hole in the ground. Then he pushes her hand away. She asks if he or she should tell them who is bombing them. He says they know who's bombing them, "do they know you picked the targets?" she responds. He stares at her then asks who she really is. Zee says he'll never know.
Zee: "If I've learned anything about people like you - tourists in this city - it's that you don't have the faintest idea who any of us actually are."
He asks her to teach him. She says she has rounds to do. He asks why she doesn't accuse him out loud and "let these animals tear me apart?" She just says he doesn't understand them and leaves him sat alone.
|Cal in a quandry.|
Cal: "Civilians. Traitors. Insurgents. Human shields. Terrorists. Martyrs. There's nothing noble about any of this bullshit is there?"
He thinks how the military are thought of as part on the problem. That by removing the soldiers the violence will stop. It is a fantasy that "demonises the professionals and absolves the guilt of the so-called innocent".
The war has rewritten the rule, trying to apply conventional modes of behaviour to the most unconventional war the planet has ever seen is "naive". He's twenty-six years old and was a high school kid when it all kicked off. He wonders if he'll celebrate his 30th birthday with a gun strapped to his chest.
The generators then cut out plunging the room into red emergency lighting. The woman with the prosthetic leg comes and sits next to him. She asks him why he carries a gun. He mumbles that every has one in the DMZ, but she insists she does know a lot of people walking about with assault rifles. He stammers "I... I have to". She says no one has to, they might want to, but they don't have to.
|Cal does a runner.|
She puts her head on his shoulder but this makes him get up abruptly. He apologises to her and runs off after she calls after him. She implores him to stop, but as he runs he says "I can't". And that brings this chapter to an end.
GHOST PROTECTOR: Artist Nathan Fox. We are in Chinatown. Triad boss and rulet of Chinatown the elderly Wilson is having a lavish meal. Sitting with him is a body guard. Wilson tells him to go home to his family but the bodyguard says he has none. "Me neither" sighs Wilson, "just this soup here". He tells the bodyguard, name of Woodrow, that he is family and invites him to eat with him.
Wilson: "It is a shame Chinatown dies tonight".
Woodrow: "If you survive boss. Chinatown will never die. You are Chinatown".
We then flashback to three days ago. A Huey helicopter is brought to him and a man comes out saying it is an honour to meet Wilson. He is offering the vintage copter to Wilson in exchange for a meeting with him.
Wilson says he doesn't need money he has enough. The man says it's all worthless paper money, he's "burned through his gold stash". Once the U.S. army come rolling through if Wilson doesn't agree to the evacuation, " you and everyone you know and love will rot to death in a detention camp on the other side of the planet. You have three days". And the man leaves Wilson alone to think it over.
Wilson: "How did this come to pass? When did I get old? The Living Saint of Mott street, some called me. Others, Ghost Protector". What will they call me now? This is an impossible situation... one I did not see coming... am I expected to just lie down... after walking so tall for so long?"
He gets angry and thinks they wouldn't crush an entire neighboirhood merely because they didn't run on command. He tells his guards to torch the chopper so the man who gave him the ultimatum sees the smoke. Then dump all the gold in the river, "make sure they can see that too".
Next day he wakes up in the company of a young woman. His guards phone to tell him to look out the window. He does so and sees the whole population on Chinatown standing outside. At first he is angry with them, but as he gets changed and goes down he realises, "I am an old, old man. Time to call it a day".
|Wilson demonstrates his power.|
Three days later, bombs are falling on Chinatown. Wilson drinks his soup and looks out of the window and thinks to himself, "I was merely her caretaker. I had a good run. But she will outlive us all". And a bomb falls on where he is obliterating him bringing Wilson's story to an end.
She is listening to Radio Free DMZ, still broadcasting thanks to an EMP shield. She peers out of the window and sees a baby in a car seat sitting alone out in the open in the middle of the street. She rushes down there and picks the seat and baby up and takes them back to her flat. Just in time as well, a bomb falls where the baby just was.
|Amina finds a baby.|
Amina: "... I know you can't hear me, and this is probably a really weird thing to say... but enjoy the silence. It's a bad night out there".
As she sits holding the baby she thinks about her past, from a middle class girl headed for NYU or Columbia to a radicalised and manipulated terrorist.
Her parents died early on in the war, who she used to be died with them. After her failed suicide bombing she "died" again, "my identity was compromised and destroyed, sacrificed by the ego of a stupid boy named Matty who didn't even know me". She lost two years living rough, but after she voted for Parco she signed up for a housing program through the Delgado Nation and the architect Jamal. They found structurally sound buildings for people and hooked them up with water and power. She got lucky and was given a home in an old printing works.
Amina: "I came back, gradually, back into myself. Despite groups like Trustwell, the Free States, or Matty Roth's best efforts. I spend my days and nights alone but I'm never lonely. And then... this happened and everything changes again".
She curls up with the baby on her bed, then hears a noise. Three intruders enter, but she kills them with a shotgun and then pukes.
|A fiercce Amina takes out three intuders.|
She stand cuddling the kid, and wonders why she was to only one who went out a grabbed the kid. She remembers how indiscriminate violence can do funny things to a person's psyche. It can cause extme paranoia and you begin to think everything is out to kill you. "Once you decide that what's the point? What's the point of anything?" she thinks and starts bathing the baby.
Amina: "I came back from it by some miracle, and if this sweet thing's mother can't take care of her child maybe this is my karmic duty?Not to jugde a despairing mother's decision, but simply to help? or maybe I'm redy to stop being alone alll this time".
Later, while the baby sleeps, Amina looks out of the windiw a hears a woman shouting "where is she?" Amina sheds a tear.
She goes outside with the baby slung round her armed with a shotgun. There are a few other gun toting gang members with her. Amina demands to know why the mother left her baby in the road. She thinks that it's hard not to become radicalised in this city, so why did she choose to come out. She could have stayed in, moved away and taken the baby and built a home in the new part of the city.
Amina: "I could have registered with the Red Cross or some NGO charity, maybe even got out of the city. I hear mothers with small children sometimes get special permission."
The mother holds a gun to Amina's forehead and demands her child back. Amina asks her why she left the baby. It all pours out of the woman, she couldn't stand every little thing in the universe threatening her. She lost her hearing two months ago because of the bombing and cried for nine days straight. "I just can't protect her from any of it anymore" and she slumps to the ground, head bowed.
|Amina hands the baby back.|
Amina: "I've gone to hell and back, sold my soul a few times over, and somehow came out the other side intact. How can I judge anyone? None of us was meant to live this sort of life. The scars and psychic damage will be with us forever, as will the guilt... and the respect."
A DECADE ON THE WALL: Artist Danijel Zezelj. Another catch up and farewell to one of the more peripheral characters an aging street artist called "Decade Later". We see him in a hoody walking through the ravaged streets. Silently he gets out some spray paint and paints his tag onto a wall and walks off. We flash back to him being taken to the U.S. army Shea Stadium prison, "I was arrested for bullshit reasons, framed by old friends who refused to accept my neutrality".
As he is placed in a cell, he thinks how his way of coping with the war, paintng, hitting parties and walking the streets as normal, "being an artist: real world rules need not apply. Then they bashed all my teeth in. And broke me completely". He had to suffer endless trips to the dentist to remove the shattered remains:
Decade: "The injections. The pain due to the injections. The vibrations from the bone drills. The coldness of the implants. The constant taste of blood... all horrible. The worst thing is no one spoke a word to me the entire time. Not a single word. I gave them everything they asked of me. And they just kept taking".
He confessed everything he knew, made guesses, speculated, embellished stories, while leaving himself out best he could. Confirmed every rumour, every urban myth, offered to take them to people.
|Decade Later, tortured by the US.|
He didn't die though. They were shipping off prisoners and emptying the prison. Decade was considered to be no longer a threat and he could either leave Manhattan altogether or return. No contest, he wanted to be returned to the DMZ. The business with Parco, the nuke and the impending invasion doesn't put him off. As he walks the steets he thinks, "the city is my home. The city is my career. It's always been that. It's always been everything".
After they broke him he feels he owes the city, his friends and everyone he betrayed and if he ends his days bleeding out in the street "I'll happily pay that debt". When he was in his cell he stared at the drawing he did, it became his identity.
Decade: "It might well have been a self portrait. Erasing it would have been giving up hope. Hope and faith and my history and what I've pledged my life to".
He walks into a gallery and prepares himself to continue what he started with that drawing in his cell. The gallery walls are empty of paintings, he pulls out some black marker pens and starts to work. In a cartoony style he chronicles his whole history in one massive room spanning mural.
Pleased with his work he leaves tossing his pens aside and we end his story with this final thought, "The city is my DNA. The buildings are my bones. The streets are my veins. And even if they break me and bleed me dry, I'll carry it for decades to come".
|His work of a lifetime. Will anyone see it?|
Matty: "Time to heal the country, get it back on track. Where've you been? Change is in the wind. Can you feel it? It just smells like fallout".
He is on the ground again to document the glorious transition from war to peace, "the eyes of the nation and the world are on me now. I'm the last person who deserves this".
He enters some underground tunnels and knocks on a door with bundles of cash in his hands. Two women open it and say "It's Matty mother-fucking Roth" and "come to save us all." He is allowed inside where a crowd of people are huddled together. He holds up his bag with his Liberty News laptop, broadcast software, maps, his badge and lots of cash.
He hands the bag over to them and holds up his phone saying it works despite the blackout, "anyone want to call their families on the government's dime?" One of the men is an ex-Ghost of Central park who left because of ideological differences. Matty wonders if he has something to do with it and will the guy smash his face into the wall.
|Matty back in the warzone.|
Matty mingles some more, a woman asks for his press badge which Matty says she can have "might be more trouble than it's worth though". She says she can handle it. She walks off and a huge man, one of Parco's old guards looms over him demanding to know where he is. Matty stammers that he's probably dead.
The man asks if he is bugged and Matty says the bag probably has one and the phone has GPS. The man asks if he is "gonna fuck us royally like before? Any more of my friends gonna die because of you?" Matty calls the man "Del" and says he hope he won't screw anyone over.
Del: "Shit... I always believed you. Always in way to deep to be faking. Always too cool to be running some kind of scam. Take this. It might not be here and it might not be tonight, but it's only a matter of time before someone takes a shot at you"
And he offers Matty a pistol. Matty considers it and Del's words. He did it all because "it was fun. I believed it all". Because of that attitude it's got to come back on him, maybe a bullet, maybe something else. "But I gave up the press pass for a reason, and I feel like this reason started the first time I picked up a gun" and he refuses to take it and Del wanders off.
He goes and washes his face when a deaf girl comes up to him, She was Julliard student who had her eardrums blown out on Day 204. She plays guitar by feeling the rhythm of the strings in her chest and Matty sits and listens to her play. He wonders if she knows who he is, "but she's not asking for anything. Except for the company."
|Matty enjoys some music.|
The man says he and Matty are alike, neither of them want to be there. He says some of the neighbourhoods are better than they were before, that the violence levels have decreased in places compared to what it was before. Annoyed Matty says "I didn't think people like you existed anymore". And he pushes away the man yelling "fuck off" when he doesn't get the hint.
Matty demands to why he is even here. The man shouts that he has a twelve-million pound townhouse not two blocks away which he can't get to because he'll be attacked. His yacht is now at the bottom of the Hudson. Who knows what has happened to his house in the Hamptons, he used to have a wife and kids, "I used to have a life! Now I don't and everyone's fault but mine!"
Matty starts to say they are all in it together, but the man interrupts saying some have suffered more than others. The people out there trying to live their lives in squalor are stupid, and Matty isn't someone who wants to live like that. Matty says maybe not but not for the shame reasons the man has. "Liar! Fucking Liar" the man yells at him and everyone turns to look at him.
Morning arrives. Everyone is asleep bar Matty who ventures outside as no bombs are dropping. He starts climbing, thinking about events as he does so. The was is going to end, we've had the preamble.
Matty: "How do you end a war like this one? One where you are the population, where you still have to live with the people you conquered? Best answer: As quickly as possible. You break the back of the opposition and get it over and done with". As good and answer as anyone's come up with, anyway."
He reflects that the FSA for unknown reasons have been sitting out the past two years of conflict. The U.S. is a wounded animal, it needs to charge or it'll die. How many lives of the remaining New Yorkers will be sacrificed in the end? He reaches the top of the water tower he's been climbing and there he looks out across the city and thinks:
Matty: "I just wanted to see it one last time, all at once like this. Before whatever's coming comes. I hope I still recognise it afterwards."
|Matty reaffirms his faith in the people of the DMZ.|