Thursday, 11 May 2017

DMZ Book 9: M.I.A (#50-54) PART ONE

"If there is a Big Picture to be found here, I'm not seeing it.  Just a lot of smaller ones." - Matty Roth

Catch up time, in a noughties version of the USA a Second Civil War fought between the south-western Free States Army and the sitting U.S.Government came to a halt when mistakes made by U.S. soldiers during the occupation and battle for Manhattan caused the U.S government to negociate a ceasefire between them to the west and the FSA hanging round in New Jersey at the Lincoln Tunnel.  This ceasefire caused the Island of Manhattan to become a Demilitarised Zone and the people left trapped inside after a botched evacuation tried to carry on as best they could.  Reporter Matty Roth came to the DMZ by accident, but soon brok important stories about abuses going on in there. Then elections were held and helped along by a star struck Matty, the charismatic Parco Delgado was elected governor of Manhattan.  Immediately he bought a nuke which one group had hidden away, and when Matty broadcast this to the world things turned bad fast.  Matty had jettisoned his journalistic ideals and was running a death squad.  Then Parco disappeared as the invaded to look for the nuke.  Matty was beaten up by soldiers and his attempts to have them killed want badly wrong as fourteen civilians were murdered by his goons instead.  Left alone, with not one person willing to take his calls, he wandered out onto the streets only to see a mushroom cloud billowing up from where the U.S. had bombed the defunct nuclear powerstation the nuke was being hidden in.  This volume "M.I.A" contains the one-shot "Notes From The Underground" and the four-parter "M.I.A".  Now although I said it was my policy to only split volumes when they exceeded seven chapters, "Notes From The Underground's" unique construction means It's the longest I have spent on one issue, I wanted to include a visual sample from every short in it and wrap things up in a conclusion seperately from the "M.I.A" arc.
Matty ponders his notes.
This was DMZ's 50th issue and to celebrate several artists illustrated some short stories and single-pagers all written by Wood.  The conceit is Matty, just before the tragic events of the end of the previous volume is sorting through his notes which cover all four years of his time in the DMZ, ones he hasn't for various reasons written publicly about.  So, enjoy some of Matty's unused stories in NOTES FROM THE UNDERGROUND.

NGO: Art by Rebekah Isaacs. In a taxi an excited man in the front finds Matty in the back.  He's off the clock, he sometimes comes for a ride with the driver because "sometimes shit just gets so fucking boring round here he comes and hangs out with me".  He has one rule in his taxi, "no jounalism".

The excited man fills Matty in on what he is there for, his investors see unlimited potential in providing progressive communication access to the citizens of the DMZ.  He hopes they can "liberate the masses through information technology".   Matty say their cellphones still work, "the telecoms saw to that.. no cost. It's not like they can send us the bill."

The excited man says his way would shine a light on the people and show them the world that's been passing them by all these years, "we can usher them back into the arms of society... we can free them.  Educate them." He wants to set up shop in New York for a new comms network and will donate free access to select Americans. The taxidriver asks "So wait... you hired me to drive you real estate shopping?"

Touring the DMZ.
The man says yes, many buildings are abandoned and can be purchased cheap.  The driver points out the buildings are under the control of militia and warlords.  The man says he's been authorised to buy the real estate from the squatters.  Matty says he hopes he bought lots of cash.  The man says he has vouchers.  Matty and the driver burst into laughter, the driver offers the man a beer then screeches to a halt.

They get out, the first stop on the man's real estate tour.  Right now Matty reckons they have less than a minute before a nasty guy calling his soldiers to the roof starts dropping grenades on them, "your future telecommunications HQ is a restricted area".   The driver tells him to hurry up with his beer, he has thirty seconds.  Then they return to the car and drive the hell away. Matty tells the man "Tell your investors you can't liberate us, educate us, or buy us.  You sad dumb tourist.  You don't know how lucky you are". End of short story.

MATTY+ZEE: Art by Jim Lee.  A single pager showing Matty taking shots of Zee searching through some rubble.  The text talks of their history although is dated to before she left him a couple of volumes ago.  Matty admits he has a hard time living up to her standards, "I cannot imagine living in this city without her, I cannot imagine this city existing without her".  Her leaving him can probably be said to have influenced his bitter spiral into violence in the previous book.

Zee remains the heart of the DMZ.
LITTLE PLASTIC TOY:  Art by Fabio Moon. A wordless story, a young boy finds a small cluster bomb and not realising what it is takes it home and sleeps with it under his pillow.  Next day he has wrapped a small red scarf round it, but one of the other kids recognises what it is and calls for help.  He doesn't want to hand it over until Zee intervenes and she is able to take it and hand it over for safe disposal.
He put a scarf on it! *sob*
LOOTED: Art by Ryan Kelly. We join Matty as a serious looking older man has him put gloves and booties on, then asks him "ready?"  Matty thinks about this story, a man scouring the city for works of art, paying the city warlords and mercnaries to help him and buy their silence.  He shows Matty his rooms full of artwork.  He then tells Matty he is dying "and I don't now what's going to happen to my babies when I'm gone".

He tells Matty that "patience and drive" amassed this collection, he loved money but loved art more.  Matty points at a Van Gogh and the man says has recovered 60% of MOMA's collection.  Matty thinks how there is billions worth here in tha townhouse.  The man says he's kept meticulous records "I claim no ownership, just the privilege of caretaker."  He needs Matty's help now.
An unsung hero.
He wants Matty to use his communications with the outside world and find the proper people to talk about this. His system of barters, payments, trusts, bribes and blackmail will breakdown once he is gone.  He leaves to Matty containing a list of the catalogue, missing pieces and repairs he made.  There are codes for the security system and secondary location as well as a Swiss bank account with money to help with restoring the museums after the war.  He tells Matty he is the first person he trusted, now he must go to the people he trusts. Matty can only leave in awe of what this man had done "something for humanity that I can barely wrap my mind around... much less put a price on".  And he leaves the man contemplating the art. End.

SNOOZER, THE GHOSTS: Art by Lee Bermejo.  It's a single pager about the ethos of the Ghosts of Central park and their mission to save trees and wildlife.  Soames told Matty one day that when the dust settles after the war, people will mourn the decimation o the parks and open spaces, the tainted water supplies, the poisoning of the air and destruction of historical spaces, "And, I firmly believe" said Soames "the first question we'll ask is 'Why didn't we do something when we had the chance?  Our excuses will ring hollow'".
Enviromental activism in the DMZ.
HEART OF NEW JERSEY.  Art by Riccardo Burcielli. This story starts with Matty being driven right out into a New Jersey forest to meet the Supreme Commander of the Free States of America.  When his blindfold is taken off, he is greeted by an unassuming man called Commander Townes standing outside a parked caravan.  They go inside and start to have a chat.

He tells him after some chit-chat that the first year of the war was hardest for them, the rise of the Free States wasn't just the rise of some predestined idea.  The second year was better:

Townes: "That was when we started buying mayors.  A couple of governors.  A couple of FBI field agents, too.... Okay I lied about the agents.  Some halfwit under my command shot them.  We just used their badges.  Opened a lot oof doors for us, literally.  Amouries, National Guard bases, banks even".

Matty asks more about the banks and Townes says the first secret is that the FSA is suprer rich like "own-the-country rich".  They are so rich they outright bought Chicago. They never made a move on it because the "famously neutral Chicago... is like a sleeper cell".  He makes a call and it goes hot, opening up a new front in the war.  They have no need for Texas, the power is in the East.  They'd love Florida, but in the end won't need Miami when they have New York.
The leader of the FSA in humble surroundings.
Another secret is they have four divisions coming down through Canada to assault New York from the north, straight down the Hudson valley. "Why are you telling me this?" asks Matty. First because the Federal army won't be able take on four divisions at least until New York State. And he is telling Matty because he knows he's conflicted and will take his time in sorting out "what's news and what's intelligence".

He tells Matty what he's going to take away from this interview, about the Redneck army who buy cities and governors, assissinate heads of state, field multiple divisions of troops and have brought the most powerful army to its knees.   He's had foreign heads of state sit where Matty is right now, "and knew they were looking at someone they can do business with".
Matty is left with much to mull over.
He tells Matty to hand over the tape recorder when he leaves, "I'm not going to make it that easy for you".  Next day Matty returns to the DMZ thinking they talked for ages more, got wasted and fired off some M-60's. It left a lot of stuff swirling in his head, and as he takes the memory card he had hidden in his mouth he thinks "Information that, even if I tried to bust it open, I'd not be able to verify.  Or so says that old hermit in the woods".  End story.

KELLY CONNOLLY:  Art by Philip Bond.  A one-pager of Matty's on-off girlfriend, a fellow reporter who helped him break a big story. Matty's "notes" on her here date to just before she committed suicide in the DMZ.
The late Kelly Connolly.
WILSON'S KITCHEN: Art John Paul Leon. Another early story for Matty, invited to the legendary kitchen of Wilson, the Triad boss who runs Chinatown now.  As he looks around he sees how the kitchen is two buildings basements worth.  He shows the bean curd fermenters at work and the fresh greens grown by hydroponics.  Matty watches in fascination, "He takes some of the bean curd and mashes it into peanut oil, chili, garlic, rice wine cut with a little water".
Wilson and Matty become friends.
The wok is heated and the mixture dumped in it, the greens are added and in thirty seconds cooking time he has a plate full of bean curd, soft not soggy greens and sauce.  As he eats with Wilson, he is told the make all the bean curd, "easy to make, down here". He says he'll show Matty the greenhouses after they finish.  The cooks hustle out, "It reminded me, quite pointedly, that this was Wilson's kitchen, and this was Wilson's Chinatown.  And it's the rest of the world's loss".  End story.

WILSON:  Art by Eduardo Risso. A one-pager that tells us under Wilson, Chinatown has not only kept its original character but more-or-less its original boundaries.  After a failed assassination attempt he became untouchable, "equal parts kind and cruel, and whatever power he uses to keep the glue of his dominion intact, it's practically invisible to outsiders".
Wilson, Kingpin of Chinatown.
DECADE LATER: Art by Dave Gibbons.  A final one-pager, Matty's notes tell us about the titular grafitti artist who had moved on into the realm of "Street Artist" working on fine and conceptual art. But also "he and others like him act as custodians of the soul of New York City, embodiments of hope against the forces arrayed against them. Their work should not just be preserved but celebrated".  And that brings this issue, "Notes From The Underground" to an end.
A respected street artist.
A great selection of shorts, we've got single-pagers whose out of date notes make for somewhat tragic reading when you compare what happened to them or how Matty's relationships imploded with them. "NGO" is a light-hearted story poking a little fun at the naivete of clueless outsiders who assume the DMZ's real estate is up for sale with reasonable people and which also shows how native Matty has gone by this point.  There might not be any words in "LITTLE PLASTIC TOY" but it paints a heart-breaking story of being a kid in a warzone, not only does he take a bomb home, he ties a little scarf round it as well, that detail just kills me everytime.  Says so much about the resilience of children even in a place like the DMZ.

"LOOTED" answers the question of what happened to the cultural treasures of the city.  One man who could have lived comfortably elsewhere risked life, limb and spent enormous amounts of cash to preserve as much as he could, for no other reason than because he loved art. Matty is suitably awed by him as am I. He reminds me of a man in the game Fallout 3 (game about people surviving a nuclear bomb ravanged Washington) who wants to keep history alive for the people in his free museum in one of the most successful communities in the Capitol Wasteland.  He uses his money and mercenaries to search for relics in museums and the National Archives.  In one you find the Declaration of Independence for him.  I like to think him and the man in this story would be exist in any place where there was great culture and history to be preserved.

"HEART OF NEW JERSEY" finally fills us in (or does it) as to how the FSA made such great strides as it did against the biggest and best equipped army in the world.  There's an interesting dynamic going on between Townes and Matty, how much is bullshittery, will Chicago flip to the FSA at the drop of a hat?  Are there four divisions on their way through Canada as they speak?  The Free States will be coming back into focus soon enough, maybe we'll find out then.  Finally "WILSON'S KITCHEN" gives Matty his first taste, literally of one of the ways Wilson has been able to keep the culture and character of Chinatown alive in the era of the DMZ. WILSON elaborates some more on Matty's feelings about him before they fell out and DECADE LATER shows that while DL might be gone from the DMZ now, he's left a lasting legacy like he wanted. With a line up of superb artists including legends like Jim Lee and Dave Gibbons, this was an excellent celebration of the further flung stories of the DMZ in a landmark issue.  Join me in a few days for the rest of this volume: "M.I.A."


  1. Ooh Dave Gibbons. It is like reading 2000AD.

    But anyway, I wonder if the writer had a copy of the various Conventions with him as he wrote this? It's almost a series of vignettes on the laws of warfare.

    Btw, if Matty continues to wear his 'Press' cap now hes sided with Parco he's committing the war crime of 'perfidy'. Under the Hague Conventions not only *can* he be summarily executed for that, any 'high contracting party' is under an obligation to do so. Under international law the US forces definitely count and almost certainly the FSA do too.

    We discussed before the cluster bomb looking like toys issue.

    There's also some subtle coverage of the laws about protection of cultural items with the art thing and the environmental provisions with the ghosts.

    There's also a backdrop of the fourth Geneva convention in relation to insurgencies. Basically the FSA either count as a high contracting party under the legacy provisions ie they've effectively become de facto government. Interestingly that's how the Taliban ended up being accorded the protections under the conventions. The US asked them to hand over Al qaeda and stated it was their responsibility because they ran the country now. So that was a recognition that they inherited all the previous governmentd duties but also protections. They were a legit army therefore and not merely terrorists.

    Under the conventions though insurgents do get protections so long as they meet a four part test.

    1. Wear a uniform or symbol recognisable at a distance.
    2. Carry arms openly.
    3. Have a chain of command
    4. Abide by the conventions themselves

    It's actually a fun exercise applying the relevant laws to this story. I don't think that's accidental though. I think the writers have considered all this.

    Incidentally those 'naughty nurse' costumes are a breach of the third protocol to the Geneva conventions because they have a red cross on them.

  2. Sent you a moderately relevant email

  3. Parco's army does have uniforms and carry's arms openly but... ah you'll have to wait until next arc to find out what the U.S. military does next. Matty does try and claim to be press, at the end of the last arc when he was being beaten by the US soldiers he tells them he's press. I guess he was lucky to have escaped with just a beating then.

    Zee uses a Red Cross symbol, I've never been clear how she relates to the Red Cross in general in the DMZ. If she was acting alone despite only doing good would she be breaching Geneva Conventions too?

  4. The third protocol governs the use of 'protected symbols'. They are: the red cross, the red crescent, the magden david (basically a red star of David), the red lozenge and (although it's currently not used) the red Iranian lion and sword.

    Protected symbols are used to mark any personal or location that's an impermissible target under the conventions. Medical stuff is the most obvious, but it includes stuff like vital civil infrastructure, agreed safe routes and zones etc.

    Anyone can use them, so long as they do so legitimately. Even the red cross isn't exclusive to the international red cross organisation (but that's where the idea originates). So Zee is fine.

    Improper use is once again perfidy, which is a serious war crime.

  5. The rules regarding medics are a bit complex. A medic (like a corpsman) who is part of a unit of combat troops isn't entitled to protection and therefore doesn't wear the symbol. Medics though who are separate from combat troops and assist when called in are entitled and that's why they wear those armbands.

    In practice troops have generally avoided firing on people giving medical assistance regardless of status. That's probably part human decency and part good tactics.

    (treating the wounded ties up lots of troops who might otherwise be shooting at you)

  6. Perfidy is a brilliant word, I didn't realise it has such serious connotations. Glad Zee is OK then. Actually that probably explains why the computer game Theme Hospital uses green crosses. You have solved a mysterious gaming mystery for me :)

  7. Yeah, it's the same reason first aid kits are now green.

    The French used to call us 'perfidious Albion' and that was taken as a huge insult.

    Playing possum is also perfidy, ironically it's because it encourages soldiers to shoot the genuinely dead and injured.

  8. Truly covering this series has been an epic learning experience for me thanks to you. And I had actually sketched it into my schedule a couple of months before I started posting on WHTM (yes sometimes I get that far ahead!) so it worked out pretty well.

    Actually med kits being green in videogames does feel more intuitive because Green usually = good and Red = Damage. The rhyme goes something like, "Green or Blue, it's good for you. Is it Red? Then shoot it dead."

    I knew there were quite a few rules of warfare, didn't realise there were so many specific ones.

  9. Heh, I learn a lot more from you. But this has been a good tale for stimulating discussions. Probably because it's so well researched and thought out.

    The laws of war vary between highly specific and completely nebulous.

    "You can't use that bullet the alloy doesn't show on x ray"

    "Can I carpet bomb this city?" "Dunno, it doesn't say"

  10. Oh you *blush*

    Heh, it does sort of remind me of certain tabletop gamers who can bog down an epic battle with constant "Rules Lawyering". I remember having a literal punch-up with my best mate when we were teenagers because he decided you could keep the modifiers for using camouflage AND move with the bush attached to you at the same time.

  11. Camouflage is something else I can ramble on about for ages. It's funny you mention moving whilst pretending to be a tree. There's quite a few real life examples of that. Including an incident where the sentries were sure a tree kept getting closer but it was so realistic they doubted themselves. Also lots of haystacks schlepping around the countryside during tank battles. The Brit WW2 camo unit was staffed with artists and magicians, including the great Maskelyne. He came up with all those rubber tanks and planes they used in operation fortitude.

    You can obviously use camo in warfare. You can even disguise yourself as the enemy to gain a positional advantage. But you must show your true colours (hence the phrase) before engaging in combat.

    And it's true; I love learning stuff from you. You're so bloody interesting.

  12. Well the larnin' goes both ways, I assure you :)

    Heh, so maybe my friend was right all along? I still say he was interpreting the cover rules in bad faith, lol. I refuse to give in on this matter!

    I remember seeing a doco on Maskelyne and all the cool stuff they did. Faking stuff on the scale they did seems impossible but makes me happy it did happen.

    Oooh so that's the origin of the "Show your true colours" phrase. I love finding stuff like that out. How does all this stuff relate to a Civil War, we haven't seen much of the FSA in action but they seem to be made up of National Guardsmen and defected U.S. military. Does that mean the U.S. is right to refer to them as insurgents because they don't have uniforms of their own?

  13. In a civil war (ie not between nation states) the 'rebels' can either be insurgents or belligerents. Now that distinction isn't particularly clear even in international law. Historically that's because the various parties who drew up the conventions had internal conflicts of their own so they never wanted to give legitimacy to their own rebels.

    Basically it's whether you're fighting against a lawful authority (= insurgent) or both parties are on an equal footing (=belligerent). In practice it's how foreign powers view the conflict. So in the US civil war most of the world decided the confederates were belligerents so they could still trade with the south.

    The third Geneva Convention extends certain protections (subject to that 4 part test) so in many ways the distinction isn't that important anymore.

    If you fall outside both definitions then you're an unlawful combatant. And recent history tells you the implications of that.

  14. That probably explains why in the next arc the U.S. military declares whole areas as places only unlawful combatants would be and still has support for taking action. Although it's versus what's left of Parco's miltia they are ostensibly targetting, at least until they make aggressive moves towards the FSA as well. But we'll get into that when I put up my next post.

  15. Ooh sounds intriguing. I'll hold back any further commentary on the status or otherwise of the parties until the next installment.

    I like though that that's where they're going. There is a nice logical flow to this story.

    If they really want to emulate real life they should have the conflict come to a close then realise they forgot to draw up terms of surrender.

    (seriously, in Iraq they had to draft one on the hoof)

  16. We're definitely galloping towards a final resolution now, but even then Wood stops and has us check in with all the various characters we've met along the way in volume ten. It's one thing I really like about this series, it shows us interesting support characters who genuinely grow and change independently of Matty.

  17. Heh, I just went to copy the relevant rule about journalists, but I found an entire annotated explanation, so permit me to be lazy. Probably makes more sense than any commentary I'd write.

    Rule 34. Journalists
    Rule 34. Civilian journalists engaged in professional missions in areas of armed conflict must be respected and protected as long as they are not taking a direct part in hostilities.
    State practice establishes this rule as a norm of customary international law applicable in both international and non-international armed conflicts.
    International armed conflicts
    The protection of civilian journalists is set forth in Article 79 of Additional Protocol I, to which no reservations have been made.[1]
    This rule is set forth in numerous military manuals.[2] It is also supported by official statements and reported practice.[3] This practice includes that of States not party to Additional Protocol I.[4]
    Non-international armed conflicts
    Although Additional Protocol II does not contain any specific provision on civilian journalists, their immunity against attack is based on the prohibition on attacking civilians unless and for such time as they take a direct part in hostilities (see Rule 6). This conclusion is borne out by practice, even before the adoption of the Additional Protocols. Brazil in 1971 and the Federal Republic of Germany in 1973 stated before the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly that journalists were protected as civilians under the principle of distinction.[5] The UN Commission on the Truth for El Salvador considered the murder of four Dutch journalists, accompanied by members of the FMLN, who were ambushed by a patrol of the Salvadoran armed forces, to be in violation of international humanitarian law, “which stipulates that civilians shall not be the object of attacks”.[6] In 1996, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe reaffirmed the importance of Article 79 of Additional Protocol I, “which provides that journalists shall be considered as civilians and shall be protected as such”. It considered that “this obligation also applies with respect to non-international armed conflicts”.[7]
    The obligation to respect and protect civilian journalists is included in other instruments pertaining also to non-international armed conflicts.[8] It is contained in military manuals which are applicable in or have been applied in non-international armed conflicts.[9] It is supported by official statements and reported practice.[10]
    No official contrary practice was found with respect to either international or non-international armed conflicts. Deliberate attacks on journalists have generally been condemned, in particular by the United Nations and other international organizations, regardless of whether the conflict was international or non-international. Most of these condemnations concerned non-international armed conflicts such as in Afghanistan, Burundi, Chechnya, Kosovo and Somalia.[11]

  18. Now we get to the bit that's relevant to Matty...

    Loss of protection

    Like other civilians, journalists lose their protection against attack when and for such time as they take a direct part in hostilities (see Rule 6). This principle is also recognized in Article 79(2) of Additional Protocol I, which grants protection to civilian journalists “provided that they take no action adversely affecting their status”.[12]  This also implies that journalists, like any other person entering a foreign country, must respect that country’s domestic regulations concerning access to its territory. Journalists may lose their right to reside and work in a foreign country if they have entered illegally. In other words, the protection granted to journalists under international humanitarian law in no way changes the rules applicable to access to territory.

  19. And just so we can engage in some pedantry about Matty's status...


    Civilian journalists are not to be confused with “war correspondents”. The latter are journalists who accompany the armed forces of a State without being members thereof. As a result, they are civilians and may not be made the object of attack (see Rule 1).[13]  Pursuant to Article 4(A)(4) of the Third Geneva Convention, however, war correspondents are entitled to prisoner-of-war status upon capture.[14] 

  20. Great info, the comments on the subjects each volume has covered make great footnotes! I'm guessing the DMZ's messy legal status and the attempt by Parco to declare things a sovereign state might have given Matty the idea he could still claim the protections of a journo while working as an "enforcer" for Parco. As I said up thread, he was lucky to escape with a beating.

    Actually to get a little ahead of ourselves, Matty's time in the wilderness next arc does make him realise he's in very serious trouble. When he gives himself up to the northernmost U.S. army checkpoint he says he expected to be thrown directly in Guantanamo. He's quite surprised at what happens instead....

  21. Ooh you tease. I am finding myself anticipating the next installments in this tale very much though.

    It's a great story for commenting on. But that's a testament to the care that's gone into making the series realistic. It can be fun discussing the implications of more fantasy based work. And often fantasy is a great way of addressing real world issue by analogy.

    But here we can look at the situation as if it were real. The scenario may be unlikely, but it's not implausible. And within that the characters behave in a generally authentic way. So the story works on both levels.

    But yeah, Matty is well in bother in a legal sense, but of course realpolitik often prevails. Ideally he should turn himself into a figure of fun. Remember 'Comical Ali' from the Iraq war? Not only did he face no consequences, he went on to quite a good career in TV journalism based on his fame.

  22. Well it'll be going up tommorrow depending on when I am awake.

    When I first read the series I really enjoyed it, but covering it for this blog and being filled in on how accurate it is has increased my enjoyment exponentially.

    It does deal with the trouble Matty is in very well, it sort of manages to have it both ways as it were. Teasing again ;)