It's more DMZ time. Set in a noughties USA where the midwestern states seceeded and set themselves up as the Free States movement, this series has been exploring what life is like in a wartorn demilitarised zone as the Free States and U.S army observe a sullen ceasefire either side of the DMZ. This DMZ is the island of Manhattan, which was not fully evacuated when the Free States made it as far as there. Nearly half a million people are trapped there trying to survive day-to-day under fire from both sides as well as the villianous Trustwell company working on reconstruction of various New York landmarks. In the last volume a new power player appeared on the scene, charismatic demagogue Parco Delgado and his Nation of Delgado party who won the first elections run in the DMZ and who is now governer of what's left of Manhattan island. Embedded journalist Matty Roth has been filing stories on various goings on in the DMZ for two years but has fallen completely under Parco's spell, losing his journalistic objectivity in the process. This volume contains the two parter "The Island" which sees Matty doing some proper journalism drawn by Kristian Donaldson. The four parter "War Powers" drawn by regular artist Riccardo Burchielli which follows Parco Delgado's first weeks in power and finally "ZEE, DMZ" drawn by Nikki Cook which is another Zee Hernadez focused one-shot. So let's begin.
THE ISLAND: We join Matty taking a boat out to Staten Island, it's a place that never seems to come up when people talk about the war, "but you'd think it would". It's part of the DMZ and has the highest concentration of U.S. troops in the whole war. "What happens here?" he thinks as he arrives to find everyone partying, "why so many guns but so little noise?"
|Welcome to The Island.|
Matty: "But troops stationed somewhere, on base, standing by, keeping watch... what's that all about? What's their P.O.V? What's it like to get this close to Manhattan and all you can do is stare across the harbor? Beyond the rah-rah shit, beyond the shit talk, beyond the soundbites.... these invisible troops in the forgotten borough. What's their deal?"
He shares a cup of coffee with a female soldier as they watch the sun rise over Manhattan. She tells him "I don't fuck anyone who can't kick my ass. No offense" to a surprised Matty who just wanted coffee.
She then tells him to relax, she's just messing with him. She knows he's going out with "that weird chick, the medic? Saw you guys on TV at some Parco rally". Does Zee know he here? Matty says yes. She hands him some binoculars and points him towards a boat full of Free State soldiers. They fish there every morning.
Matty asks if they aren't planting mines or putting divers in the water. The soldier says no, why would he say that "you have something against them or something?" She tells him he's paranoid and tells him to refill her coffee and wake some more people up.
|Checking out the Free States/|
The commander says they chose not to fight, although that's off the record. One day he sent some booze over to the FSA to say "what's up? Easy right?" Matty thnks he did indeed make it that easy.
Matty: "It was one of the most beautiful ideas I've heard of since I've been in the DMZ. And one of the most insane, most ludicrious, at the exact time...Their faith in the arrangement is total. Nothing is off-limits, everything is open. These soldiers are friends... and why not?"
The FSA arrive in boats bringing bags that Matty thinks could have explosives in it but in fact booze, junk food, pirate dvds and music. The U.S. army has more women than the FSA, the U.S. swap uniforms and dogtags with them, I.D. and code words, "things that would terrify the leadership... Free States troops in U.S. ranks?"
Matty: "Defecting? Sabotage? We're all so alike it hardly seems to matter, this close up."
He still has the words in his head about the end of the war where everyone is still an American. These soldiers are thinking ahead, "refusing to buy the premise of the war". They collude on falsifying reports and have an "extraordinary level of trust".
|Sharing a moment.|
All the Free States soldiers have been lined up against the wall or are kneeling on the ground, "we didn't do shit.. we didn't do shit" says one of them as a rifle is pointed at him. The commander asks Matty if anyone of them stole something last night? Matty can't think of anything. Turns out what's missing is a vial of ricin which the commander had as a souvenir of a prior posting.
It was sealed up in his safe but now it's gone and "some sniffer drone is gonna pick it up and then we're all fucked". He realises what he has to do and orders his men to hood and shackle the Free State soldiers. "The war is on" says the sergeant in charge.
|It all goes wrong.|
Matty: "I grew up on Long Island, and spent the last three years living in an active warzone. And I can safely say I've never seen people this seriously batshit fucking crazy".
Back where the Free Staters are being held, the U.S. soldier guarding them shares a cigarette with one of them. The FSA soldier says it's "fucking bullshit" they've been getting fucked together for months. The U.S. soldier agrees but says it's war. They could have coasted to the end of the war but all it would have taken is for a new commander to be assigned and it would all be over.
The FSA soldier says if it had to end with them on the shitty side of the chainlink fence, he'd be damned if he'll agree they're winning was inevitable. He says the U.S. army here is a joke, "a couple hundred half-assed faggots guardiing this whole island. We could have invaded this shit years ago". The U.S. soldier asks how the fucking Free States look "from the inside of a dog kennel?" He asks for his zippo back saying "America man.. love it or leave it".
|Someone else being tortured for a change.|
Above Staten Island is a satellite, a U. S. military survelliance station. It reports that Staten Island has failed to log in. This sends a stealth plane down to fly in low and check things out. It comes down to the level of the Island, a soldier gives them the thumbs up and tells them it's just tech difficulties. The plane leaves, but the soldier tells someone else they need the commander to file a status pronto.
Two Free Staters are being menaced by huge dogs on leashes, they wet themselves in fear as the U.S. soldiers laugh. Then one of then accidentally lets go of the leashes... other FSA soldiers have been hooded and strung upside down. One of the U.S. soldiers talks to them through a megaphone saying "this is fucked up. I mean fucked up in like a hundred different ways. You guys are our friends."
Command in Brooklyn know something isn't right going on and the FSA probably think the same. So they need to work together to find the ricin, even though things will never be the same again between them. They have commited treason and a bioweapon is on the loose "they're gonna bring the hammer down unless we all start working together". The commander is no longer in charge "our boss is done". If they free the Free Staters will they help them out, all grunts together? Please?
|Commander Dick Move strikes.|
Matty: "Are you insane? They worked together, they found the vial, no violence, no blame... they had a truce. Everyone could have walked away. Business as usual. No one had to die!"
The commander says he forgives Matty ignorance, but there is a chain of command. No truce unless he says so. No collusion with the enemy, no justice that he doesn't hand down.
He orders Matty's belongings searched and all tapes he's made here destroyed. He never been more than a guest of the United States military, "consider that if you ever find yourself tempted to talk about what you saw here." Matty is hustled out, his belongings tossed to him as he sits in a boat. The soldier taking him back to Manhattan asks where he wants to go, Matty says someplace quiet. His friends "can wait a little while longer". End of arc.
WAR POWERS: A shabby looking Matty arrives in the DMZ through a U.S. army checkpoint. He's being driven in a taxi by a Rastafarian who asks if he is THE Matty Roth who is "hooked up with Parco?" DMZ royalty he goes on to say. He drops him as far as he can, Matty pays him and when he is asked where he's been he thinks he's been away "too long it seems".
He enters his flat and finds a message pinned up in the bathroom which says "You Lied To Me." As he sits on the toilet a Liberty News broadcast tells us that not thirty minutes into his new administration, Parco Delgado was in front of the cameras rejecting the provisional nature of his position, and announcing several major changes to the delicate balance of holding the city together.
He claimed a landslide victory in the polls and has a "bulletproof" mandate Delgado declared his administration 100% valid, 100% in power and 100% accountable to the people. He then intsructed the U.S. and the Free States to withdraw all thair personnel within ten days. Also he cancelled all Trustwell's reconstruction contracts and any remaining operatives will be regarded as "enemy combatants". Trustwell is toxic and has ten hours to get out, "I have a city to protect. I have a people to protect" he declares.
He muses that he was away too long for his friends, Parco and Zee especially. He thinks it isn't like the block party where he hung out with the man he liked. He's barely seen him, "but that didn't stop him from putting me to work. Dispatch. Messages. Interoffice mail. Fucking shit work". With the city in chaos he ended up saying "fuck it".
|Going to meet Parco.|
He says Matty must have a lot of questions, but he has some for him. What can he tell him about the Chinatown gold? Matty says it's an urban myth supposedly stockpiled before the initial invasion. People have been looking for it for years, but no one has found it. Parco says he thinks it's real and Wilson is the one who has it.
Matty loses is temper saying Parco told him he wanted to help him rund the city but all he's had him doing is grunt work and he never sees him, "and mom? What are you still doing here?" Parco asks her to give him and Matty a moment. He says he's been using Matty to handle the flow of information, "the whole political shit, it's a nest of vipers on a good day". Also he just issued eviction notices for three armed factions in the DMZ including the army of the USA.
Matty says he's Parco's press guy, does he think he'd be where he is without him? Parco says bluntly that Matty got him exposure and access where he had no access and exposure. "And now? " growls Matty. Parco says Matty is a symbol of the city like he is. But he's global now and needs more than local hood recognition. Madeleine is handling his message, she has the connections and the knowledge. But he also needs Matty:
Parco: "I need to back up my words with power. I have my militia and for now world opinion is on my side. But I need undeniable power, tangible assets, and loyal people working for me. And how do I get that? I need that gold Matty. And I know Wilson's got it".
Parco says he's the true face of the DMZ, Matty's mum might be the mouth of his administration but Matty can still be its beating heart.
|Two scary guys.|
He wonders about Parco's wanting tangible assets. His militia is thousands strong but although they love Parco, there is a sense this is all just a game to them. They feel part of something important, "when does the bloom come off the rose? When people start trying to kill them".
The Trustwell deadline has ended, they didn't quit the city fully. Everyone knows the strike teams, field agents, spies and informants are still scattered amongst the populace. Now he's about to add another enemy to the list, Wilson. He walks into Chinatown and Wilson is there waiting for him. Matty says he missed him. Wilson responds, "yeah yeah... long time no talk to, blah blah blah. What do you want Matty?"
The next couple of pages are Matty narrating the state of things on the ground in the DMZ, summarising events so far. Parco won the election despite a smear campaign and an assassination attempt. In his first month in office he kicks out the U.S. army, The Free States and Trustwell from the DMZ. He consolidates his power in an area known as "Parco city", checkpoints are everywhere, but beyond them life in the DMZ is as rough as its ever been.
The other players might have pulled out but everyone knows they've left operatives in the DMZ and the are watching Parco Delgado for any sign of weakness. Any sign his popular support is cracking. "Any whiff of corruption" and any chance of getting in to finish the job the assassin failed to do.
|Negociating with Wilson.|
He tells Matty that most people don't want to know if it's real or they'll risk electrodes to the nutsack to get the location out of him. "Pfft. Matty Roth... he always gotta know." sighs Wilson. Matty says they are both in the same boat, surviving, looking out for number one. He then pleads with Wilson saying the DMZ under Parco has a sense of hope again. There's a real chance of ending the war, but Parco needs money. "He needs the gold Wilson" he begs.
Wilson asks Matty if he ever wondered where he got the fresh food from. You can't eat a gold brick, "think about that when you wonder why Parco can't hold his hoods." He then says he will make a deal with Matty but not with Parco. The gold exists it was in a bank and wasn't moved in time before the invasion. U.S. troops came to retrieve it, instead they levelled the building, "burying it so they can come back in good time and take it out themselves".
|A deal is struck.|
The men are bound and gagged. Wilson says Parco had a plan b. Maybe he didn't have much faith in his "best buddy" Matty. Wilson tells Matty he is fucked, he's got to deliver the gold, "so if you help me, I help you. You follow?" Parco will keep sending men and a "stupid bullshit gang war" is not something Wilson wants. So he will give some gold to Matty. All he can carry and tell Parco that's all there is. Matty asks if he can afford to give away that much. Wilson grins and says "you have no idea how much gold I got do you?"
Later, Matty laden down with gold, bids Wilson farewell. He tells Matty they are still cool, but he doesn't want to get involved with Parco and his shit. He wishes Matty the best of luck and not to get killed. Matty calls for an escort from parco, but they get ambushed and Matty drops a bag as he runs for the vehicle. He is told to run back and get it. There is a sniper firing on them, so the commander of his extraction team blows the building up.
He walks dazed back to the bag but someone has beaten him to it. It's the Free States who Parco sent to get him. Matty waves a gun at the commander who notes how unusual it is to see Matty Roth armed. They did a deal with Parco so they aren't going to take the gold and abandon Matty, "what's good for Parco Delgado is good for the Free States of America".
|The FSA to the rescue.|
Free States Commander: "You know, as happy as I am to see you like this... I'm still shocked you spent two years trying so fucking hard with that journalistic integrity shit I mean it, you were really working it. And now look at you, all tucked up in Parco Delgado's pocket".
His collection of the gold is confirmed, the Free States are to escort them in. The Free States commander holds out his hand to Matty who reluctantly grasps it and pulls him up. "You may carry a weapon" the commander says, "but you're still the same fucking pussy you always were." And Matty is left standing alone in the street as the others move out.
He joins the group travelling with the gold, it makes him think of the old days. "Men killed and died for it. Loyalties became suspect. Allegiances, even the most rock solid... could unravel in the time it took to name a price." he muses to himself as they travel through the broken streets.
Two of the men get into an altercation, Delgado Nation versus Free States. The commander tells them to put aside their differences for now, "put your personal grudges aside". He orders Matty to have his men finds a place they can hunker down until first light.
They hole up in an abandoned bar, the commander tells Matty his men are protecting the gold, "so lower the fucking gun and let's talk like a human being". Matty thinks it was hard choking that one down and not spit it back in his face. On the other hand he did save his ass, he thinks. Time ticks by as they wait for reinforcements from Parco. But no one comes.
|Matty and the Commander chat.|
Matty calls bullshit saying doesn't he have a revolution to run? Are the Free States recognising Parco's government as legitimate? The commander replies that the government has its hands full over Parco's popularity overseas. Trustwell is a powder keg waiting to go up, "so what's best for us is to just maintain and do what we can to keep the chaos going." Matty wants to know why he's telling him this.
Free States Commander: "Why isn't it obvious Mr. Journalist? You know it doesn't seem like Parco's told you anything about what he has planned".
First light Parco sends out a patrol that picks them all up, complete with air support. Matty thinks to himself that the DMZ at night is not a good place to be walking around.
Parco calls Matty and asks if everything is still cool. Matty says it is apart from the things that aren't. He wants to know why he cut a deal with the Free States commander. Parco apologises for not telling him. The commander did what he did to protect the gold like they agreed to. The gold is a foundation, for creating power to acomplish everything he and Matt set out to do.
Now he has the gold what is Matty to do now? Parco says he's holding a few bags back for Matty to take to a guy for him. "Don't worry! You'll be among friends" he reassures Matty, well familiar faces at least. "Surprise" says the FSA commander and they go driving off through the city. Matty catches up on some sleep, then the commander wakes him up as they are at their destination.
|Uh-oh this can't lead to anything good.|
Parco calls Matty to ask is he has his cargo, Soames tells Matty they have to install shielding in his humvee so it's safe to transport. A downcast Matty says he can't believe all this. "It's a situation of your own making" Soames tells him. Matty asks him where the hell he got a nuclear bomb from.
Soames: "Let's just say: we heard about it and captured it. We hid it and the original owners shut the fuck up about it. Since it's a P.R. disaster and then some. Say what you will about us... we're far better caretakers of the fucking thing than the other would have been".
But now they are selling it to Parco, Matty says. Soames says his conscience is clear and his eyes wide open. "Are yours?" he pointedly asks Matty. "In the DMZ no one stays impartial forever" he comments.
He needs the money Parco acquired was supposed to be for "operational expenses" says Matty. To pay staff and get equipment, to hire security and shore up his goverment. Soames says this bomb is deterrent with a capital D. Parco sees that the wolves are at the door and he needs a way to keep them off him permanently as well as elevating himself in the worlds eyes.
Matty bitterly says he's always "the last to fucking know." Soames says he should have words with Parco and not stew in it. He knows a little about ending up on the wrong side of your goverment. Matty asks why they are giving the bomb up now? Soames says he wanted the thing out of the park and also he made a deal with Parco, not just for gold he got a thirty-year lease on the park, Fort Washington, Fort Tyron and Inwood Hill park. He'll get their neighbours to back off, "and we stay autonomous, our own enclave."
Parco calls Matty again and Matty's humvee goes on the run with the bomb, when he is stopped by several cars full of armed militia. A chopper arrives and one of the soldiers tells Matty it's "time to explain yourself." Matty is sent into the chopper and put in touch with Parco who asks him what he wants?
|Parco's bomb retreival|
As the chopper takes off with the bomb, Matty choses to walk home. He thinks to himself that he wants acceptance and has had enough living day to day on other people's charity, we bring this arc to the end with his following thoughts:
Matty: "I don't need Liberty News. I don't need my dad. I don't need the Free States. I don't need Wilson. I don't need Zee, or my mom, or even Parco. What I need is autonomy of my own. And enclave of one. I'm here to do my thing, right? I need the freedom to operate. I earned this. And I deserve this".
ZEE, DMZ: We return to Zee going through the checkpoint to uptown. She finds an empty house and makes herself at home. We hear the Liberty News broadcast again about Parco's first day in office. We then see some Trustwell soldiers one badly injured being helped along by the other two. They drag themselves up the stairs. Meanwhile Zee thinks:
Zee: "I quit Parco City. I quit the whole fucking thing. My apartment, my route, my friends. I quit Matty Roth and his newfound love of gangsters and firearms. I walked uptown until I couldn't hear anything anymore. Until the riots, the speeches, the checkpoint guards and the psychopathic hangers on faded away into nothing".
The Trustwell soldiers are on the floor above. The woman, Martel has a huge gash in her leg while the others try to attend to her. Zee wanted a quiet place to catch her breath, "but in a city that never sleeps, that's impossible."
|Zee tries to shut the world out.|
Later she is lying next to Martel while the rest of the cell sleep. Martel asks Zee who she is. Zee says she's a doctor. She's also a universal donor and transfused some of her blood into Martel once she stabilised the bleeding. Zee tells her she probably won't be able to walk for a while, she lost a lot of blood and was badly damaged. She needs heavy duty antibiotics so she should try and get to a real hospital. She lies there and thinks to herself:
Zee: "Another immature charity case, new to the city, with a whole fuckload of violent baggage and bad associations. And in time flat I am in way over my head. I'm committed. Sound familiar?"
One of the other Trustwell soldiers asks Zee if Martel will really be OK. Because going to a real hospital won't be happening anytime soon.
|But she can't help intervene.|
Zee tells the man to go, Martel can't move but will be safe with her, "but it's a lonely survival". He makes to leave but is shot in the doorway while Zee and Martel hide behin a chair. Masked men come looking inside. They discover them and one points a gun at Martel. But they don't shoot.
Zee thinks "despite her injuries. Despite her age, she is a Trustwell mercenary and that label sticks out here". If she was down in Parco City she'd be detained, way up here she wouldn't survive a day, "unless she's with me. Call it some new kind of conviction". And that brings this volume to an end.
Well a lot to unpack here. "The Island" is an interesting take on the "Christmas Truce" trope, where two sides realise the futility of their conflict and come together to party. And yet how fragile that alliance is when trouble starts both sides retreat into factionalism again and terrible things like torture takes place as a weak commander panics and lashes out. "War Powers" is a very dramatic story, and shows how far Matty has come from journalist who loved the friends he made and who supported him in the DMZ. Now he's a bitter loner, happy to wield a gun and who as part of the machinations of Parco is caught up in some very serious shit. A nuclear bomb is no joke and will play an important part in the story to come. Matty's disillusionment is matched by Zee's in the final story as she abandons where she's lived for the past seven or so years because she can't bear to be around him anymore. And yet she still can't stop her true caring nature shining through as she uss her blood to heal a Trustwell merc, one of the bad guys and her reputation is still such that she is able to vouch for the woman and save her from anti-Trustwell militia. The story is getting pretty dark as the idealism behind Parco's election quickly leeches out of the story amongst back-handed deals, heightened security, roving milita and a nuclear fucking bomb. Return here in a few more days for more DMZ.