DMZ: America’s Second Civil War

With DMZ, Brian Wood and Riccardo Burchielli have created one of the best comics of this decade. While it’s just as good as Y: The Last Man or 100 Bullets, DMZ is almost patriotic, albeit in a very subversive way.

The story takes place in an alternate-present or near-future setting, whichever makes you more comfortable. An army calling themselves the Free States and espousing a return to the true democratic principles of America has come from the Midwest. On the other side of the line is the incumbent, the good ol’ United States of America, which goes about things just as you’d expect our current administration to.

The Free States swiftly took over much of the country before they were taken seriously by the entrenched powers and stopped cold. Now there’s a line between these two nations – with a demilitarized zone in the middle. That no man’s land is the island of Manhattan, where soldiers from both armies fear to tread. Where the population that still resides there is rumored to survive on pigeons and rats.

This is the world that photojournalist intern Matty Roth is about to enter. His well-connected dad has hooked Matty up with a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist about to make history as the first civilian news team on the ground in Manhattan. When the news crew comes under sniper fire after it lands, Matty is stranded in the DMZ. What’s worse is as he watches the helicopter abandon him, he sees it rocked by an explosion, presumably killing everyone inside.

Trapped alone in one of the most dangerous war zones in the world, Manhattan, Matty decides to continue with the job he came to do: report on the reality of life in the DMZ.

Brian Wood’s writing is spot on. The people we meet seem fully fleshed out from the moment we meet them. His mastery of slang and jargon is superb and I often caught myself ignoring Riccardo Burchielli’s beautiful art, having been caught up in the stream of his dialogue.

Ignoring Burchielli’s art is a mistake you don’t want to make, however. If it’s Wood’s dialogue and narration that give weight to the personalities in DMZ, it’s Burchielli’s art that breathes life into its world. Despite the shattered buildings and cratered roads that make up his backgrounds, his Manhattan still maintains a sense of vibrancy.

His characters complement Wood’s dialogue very well. We can see the fear and horror as Matty’s only ride home leaves him and is then destroyed. Burchielli imbues the denizens of Manhattan with a sense of harried desperation and quiet determination that we would expect from a New Yorker trapped in a war zone.

And just as real New Yorkers are, the people Matty meets are a motley bunch. There’s the AWOL US Army sniper who maintains a relationship with a Free States sniper through his old rifle scope. There’s the former med student who braves walking the streets every day to bring medicine to those too injured to help themselves. Manhattan itself is a varied tapestry of feudal neighborhoods, each a law and community unto itself.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking this series will pull any punches. It’s brutal. Wood and Burchielli seem to have an uncanny grasp of the nature of war, especially urban warfare, and its effect on the soldiers and civilians touched by it. Violence and death are simply facts of life for the residents of Manhattan, and Burchielli and Wood force us to bear witness.

Of course this series can’t help but make a social commentary on our current culture. Brian Wood has no love lost for the USA of DMZ. In fact, he seems to identify more with the Free States. This is most obvious when one of their officers tells Matty, “You’re looking at the truest, most bluest motherfucking Americans you’ll ever meet.” Add to this the fact that US forces routinely fire indiscriminately into civilian areas and distribute patently false propaganda through media outlets and it’s clear that DMZ is not afraid of criticizing the actions of both the media and the government that controls it unchecked.

Remember, this is a comic written for adults, so expect the adult themes. It also is one of the best things I’ve read in the past year in any medium. Find and read DMZ right now.