Over the past week I’ve been reading all of Brian Wood and Riccardo Burchielli’s DMZ series, which actually ended earlier this year. I’ve been getting all of the issues of the comic book since the beginning, and for awhile I had been keeping up with it (through the first two or three story cycles). Then I just let it go, due to time issues, and I had every intention on returning to it while it was still being published. I never did, but I continued to get every issue. I guess the series’ end a few months ago prompted me to get back in the saddle and read through it in its entirety. It was a fun, and poignant, experience. Perhaps the most notable aspect of the series is its premise, Manhattan as a demilitarized zone, brought about by a new American civil war. Another thing I appreciated about this comic is that it was difficult to ferret out Wood’s sympathies. His is not a black and white world, and even his protagonist, Matty Roth, comes across as…I don’t want to say an antihero, since that really doesn’t capture it. At times he’s about as bad as any of the violent residents who remain on the island after it was evacuated because of the war, becoming even murderous. He’s a very complex character, full of contradictions, and because of this you’re drawn to him and his plight. There are times in the story when I’m disgusted by his behavior, and other times he’s 100% admirable. He’s not a completely sympathetic character, but for all of the conflicts that define him, I find Matty a compelling construct.
It’s also difficult to tell how Wood feels about the two main political forces in the series, the United States and the Free States. The latter is believed by many to be a redneck uprising, disgruntled U.S. citizens (men) who are fed up with everything that has come to define America: excessive military intervention, increasing taxation, a perceived restrictions on individual liberties, openness to immigration and ethnic difference, among other reasons. These are the typical angry white males who feel that they’re not going to take it anymore and rise up in armed rebellion/insurrection. The Free States movement takes place throughout much of the U.S., beginning in the western states (appropriately enough), but spreading like wildfire. Wood has stated that he came up with the idea for DMZ in 2003, but you can see the more contemporary Tea Party in the Free States movement. Including the guns. You’d think that this political/military body would be draw very unattractively, the target of the narrative’s primary criticism, but that’s not entirely true. Who comes across even more cynically is the U.S., especially its military. In fact, I believe that the U.S. comes out looking worse than the Free States. It’s the U.S. who is primarily to blame for making Manhattan a war zone. And literally at the end, they do make it one, to the point of almost annihilation. Neither the U.S. nor the Free States seem to be viable alternatives. It’s like a pox on both your houses.
Another ambiguous treatment in the series is Parco Delgado, a progressive, yet militant, political upstart who frames himself as Manhattan’s savior. There are times that you read him sympathetically, times where you read him as cynical and thuggish, and at other times where you read him as a combination of all of this, and more. He, too, is a conflicted and complex figure, much like Matty, this adds to the narrative’s strength. By the end of the series, you’re not sure where Wood stands in relation to Delgado, as well as with Matty’s relationship with him.
What you can tell about Wood’s sympathies is with the city of New York. The creator’s love of Manhattan is obvious throughout. This comes across primarily through the figure of Zee, a medical student at the time of the city’s evacuation and who becomes a Florence Nightingale-like figure throughout the run. She’s the series’ moral center, and she is closely associated with New York. In fact, Zee is New York.
Because of the complexities and conflicts of its many players, the lack of a normative center, the resistance to become preachy, a refusal to lazily engage in black-and-white pamphleteering, and the many very contemporary issues it raises, DMZ is one of the best series I’ve read in a long time.