Friday, July 22, 2011

Why I dig Vertigo's DMZ

As any of my children will tell you, I am not a big fan of DC comics. With that being said, I am a huge fan of their Vertigo imprint. Vertigo has bought us such phenomenal stories such as Y: The Last Man, Preacher, and Scalped. One of my favorite comic books out now is Brian Wood's DMZ.

The story centers around freelance journalist Matty Roth who sneaks into a besieged Manhattan during the second Civil War. Manhattan has become a demilitarized zone of sorts. The Army of the Free States are camped out in New Jersey while the federal government is setting up shop in Staten Island and Brooklyn. Roth encounters the diverse community of New York City.

What I love the most about Wood is that he uses many urban myths about NYC and makes stories out of them. There are stories of graf artists, local politicians, clubs, and restaurants that Wood fleshes out into stories of war, redemption, and oppression. Wood also uses stories from headlines but instead of depending on sensationalism, he focuses on the stories of the people most affected by the war.

DMZ is much different than your average dystopian story. NYC is not completely wiped off the map. It's not like Escape from New York. Wood's NYC is still a vibrant community despite the siege. People still have hip hop shows, art galleries, restaurants, and frequent landmarks. Like people in any war zone whether it's Baghdad or Mogadishu, continue to strive. There are no gun toting, ex mercs turned heroes who can kill you with a toothpick within these pages. It's real people. Sometimes Roth wins the day and sometimes he loses. When he loses, he loses big.

I enjoy DMZ because it demonstrates how quickly one group on one side of society “other's” another group. While on one hand, the media portrays citizens of NYC in DMZ as monsters who don't care (sounds real familiar when we discuss Iraq and Afghanistan) Roth goes out of his way to introduce the reader to the average head. Wood's NYC is rich but not in a “noble savage” kind of way.

Take Parco Delgado, a former gang warlord turned politician. He runs on a populist platform and refuses to bow down to the feds, corporations, or the Free States of America (FSA) – and yes that sounds familiar. Roth takes a liking to him and signs on to his campaign knowing that doing so would violate his journalistic integrity. Roth encounters people who see Delgado as the future. They see him as a hero. Roth has no choice but to get caught up in this. The reader does as well. You can't help but feel for the people of NYC and yes, you sign on as well. Yet Delgado convinces Roth to help procure a nuclear bomb. Strategically it makes sense. Conventionally, Delgado can't win against the FSA, the feds, or the corporations so the nuke gives him leverage. Roth, not the most politically savvy of them all, realizes that he has made a huge mistake. The reader feels duped.

That's what I love about DMZ. You can't help but get caught up in the madness with Roth. I know eventually the series will end. It makes sense to do that. I am sure Wood has more up his sleeve before he ends it. Can it become a cable series? I think so. It is devoid of action in the comic book but the political intrigue is killer. HBO can do so much with it. Who knows, they might pick it up.

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