Where strange fact and stranger fiction collide
There are a handful of comic books that capture elements of our present political zeitgeist. Most were written years or even decades ago. They include Tansmopolitan, The Watchmen, Army@Love, and Nightly News, but by far the one that hits home the most in Brain Wood’s DMZ. It is hard for me not to see parts of it when I look at the political world around me.
DMZ was written by Brian Woods and Ricardo Burchielli supplied the art. It ran from 2005 to 2012, composing of 72 issues, and has been collected in twelve graphic novels. I picked up DMZ #1, because of all the hype and I was looking for a non-cape and tights comic book title. I was not impressed. I thought there was too much cursing and that it seemed to follow the story of Escape from New York. It wasn’t until 2010 and a local book store was closing that I gave it a second chance when I picked up the second graphic novel Body of a Journalist at a discounted rate. It might be the best of an incredible run of arcs and I was hooked.
In the world of DMZ, the US is fighting a second Civil War. The sides in this conflict are the federal government and an amalgam of militias, Second Amendment fanatics, the disenfranchised working poor and extremist groups, called The Free States Army. The US Army is to thinly spread in multiple Middle Easton countries, so it falters in the beginning against FSA. Both sides meet in a battle in borough of Manhattan, to a draw. In the chaos the army botches the withdrawal of the civilian population. NYC is turned into a quarantine zone, where neither side holds sway.
The protagonist of DMZ is Mathew “Matty” Roth, an intern for Liberty News, (a Fox News expy) who only got the job because his father is a company executive and Matty has no real political affiliations. The story follows him in a classic hero’s journey, when his helicopter is shot down behind the lines in New York. Trapped he learns to survive the urban warzone, till the people of New York trust him enough to tell him their stories. Eventually he turns his celebrity into a seat in the power table. He goes from reporting the news to a power player. Blinded by power, one of his orders is misinterpreted causing people to get killed. He hits rock bottom when his political coalition’s hopes and dreams become ashes when a tactical nuke believed to be in their position goes off. Now a pariah Matty has to start from the bottom again, to find the truth.
If Matty is DMZ ‘s main character, Zee Hernandez is it’s heart. She was a medical intern that was trapped behind the lines during the government’s withdraw of Manhattan. She is the one who rescues Matty when he first crashed. She introduces him (and us) to the urban hell of New York. She becomes Mattty’s sexy and streetwise tour guide and survival mentor. Unlike Roth however she never sells out. That she can stay true to her morals, makes Matty’s fall from grace even more heart breaking. She is by far my favorite character in DMZ.
There are however a gaggle of supporting characters in the book. Wilson, the wise yet comic Asian man who is secretly the bad ass gang lord of China Town. The Commander of the FSA, who was a two bit hustler who was truly converted to the cause in the middle of a fire fight. Martel, a private gun who is saved by the people she is sent to kill, only to bail when she gets a chance to escape the hell of the war zone. Victor Ferguson, a star in the news media who becomes a pawn in the war. Kelly Connolly, a Canadian journalist and the third angle in the Zee/Matty love triangle. Amina a woman so trapped by the war she considers becoming a suicide bomber to escape. An army sniper left behind who falls in love with a female sniper from the other side across town that he could never be with. As much as he can Wood tells as many people’s story, even when he focuses on Mat.
New York is also a character in DMZ, just like it is in the TV show Law and Order. With his deft writing Wood gives the city personality. Even though the war is happening all over the United States, I get the feeling that this particular story could only be told in NYC. I have never been to New York but I fell if I had I might be able to get even more from the story.
I remember twenty years ago having the discussion can a reporter truly be neutral about the stories he is covering? In the world of reporters being embedded with troops it even more difficult to keep ones feelings out of the story. How do you not become part of the news when people are shooting at you? This legitimate question has been taken to the extreme where people call things they disagree with ‘fake news.” DMZ brings this issue to life. Matty abandons his journalistic integrity to support a cause. He started out trying to help people to make the world better, but is seduced in to the world of power. Yet he never doubts the higher calling of the press.
DMZ does not capture the Trump years exactly (not yet) but were it is eerily similar, is when it shows how people become so deeply connected to their side that they will not compromise. It shows what happened when people are caught in the middle of two sides who refuse to back down. What happened when a side thinks it right, and all others are wrong. Not only wrong but think that the other side is dangerous because they disagree with them.
I wrote this about the above picture on Facebook after I recently post it — In 2011 Brian Wood began wrapping up his comic book series DMZ, this is the cover of Issue 66. I wish I could just open peoples mind up and data dump, five years of issues in to their mind so that you could feel what I feel when I look at this picture. About the role of the press in history and politics. What happens when you began to believe in a cause more than you believe in people, what fear and hatred does to a nation. What happens when people begin to compromise their conscious for a cause. The feeling of loneliness for those who do not sell out. Maybe a comic book is a low form of art, but right now it looks like Wood had a crystal ball.
This cover is as important to me as the picture of Captain Hitler hitting Hitler. Here we see two people standing a distance apart from each other who should be embracing. The cover is in fact misleading, Zee and Matty’s reunion actually takes place on a dock on the Hudson. The picture however captures everything that the meeting represents. The helicopter evacuation behind them reminds one of the Fall of Saigon, how America and the DMZ has become a Third World nation. Each of them has bandages, Matty’s trademark nose covering and Zee’s wound on her arm. Symbolic for the moral and emotional scares they carry. They each carry the weight of their profession’s, Roth’s camera and supplies, and Hernandez has her medical pack. Neither one can look each other in the eyes. It worth reading every issue just to understand the meaning of this picture.
I urge everyone to read DMZ every year it seems to become more and more relevant and possible. So go out and read DMZ, before it is too late.