52 weeks. 52 different writers. 2 trade paperbacks or hardcovers a week. Each week I’ll take a look at a different writer and read two different collected editions from within that person’s repertoire to help in the examination of their work.
Brian Wood is a creator who has loomed within comics since the late 90’s, truly breaking out as a creator in the early to mid 2000’s. A writer, artist, and graphic designer, Wood worked a day job with the popular video game publisher, Rockstar Games, before leaving the job to create comics full-time. His first truly successful comic was Demo, working with artist Becky Cloonan to create a unique series for readers. In 2006 Wood signed an exclusive contract with DC and Vertigo comics, which gave way to today’s book, the critically acclaimed series DMZ.
DMZ Volume 1 – On The Ground
America is waging a war on many fronts, becoming so distracted by its actions overseas that it misses what’s happening in its own backyard. The second American Civil War breaks out in violent fashion with Manhattan as the ground zero for this country altering event. America stands splintered with Manhattan as the war zone for the battle between the United States of America and the freshly minted Free States of America. From the outside looking in, the USA spins a tale of how crippled and decrepit the Free States and Manhattan appear, using media to cloud the minds of those safely outside of the region now known as the DMZ. Five years into this war, photo journalist Matty Roth gets the opportunity of a lifetime, interning for a news station that is about to send in a famous battlefield journalist. Everything changes when Matty ends up stranded in the DMZ, choosing to take on the task of showing the rest of the world what the DMZ is truly like by himself. Along the way he is enlightened to the surprisingly diverse life styles of everyone living and surviving within the DMZ, radically changing not only how the world see Free States but how Matty sees himself as well.
You have to stop whatever you’re doing and go read DMZ right now. I genuinely feel as though I could end the article after that sentence and feel satisfied with my work on this piece. I’ll still go into great detail to tell you all about this story, but be forewarned, I’m going to lob praise all over this series for how utterly brilliant it is. After reading this first volume (I’m ashamed to admit for the first time ever) I nearly altered my year-long plan for this challenge so that I could just read the other eleven volumes of this series with haste. There’s something to be said about the consistent, quality work that Vertigo seems to produce, allowing creators to do their absolute best with whatever story they want to tell. Brian Wood’s “DMZ” is no exception, as Wood crafts one of the best first volumes of a series I’ve ever read.
Let’s start with the absolute best part of the series and work our way down. Brian Wood is a man who knows how to world build. The environments that he gleefully just throws readers into are always so disgustingly immersive that you can basically smell and feel the world at the tip of your fingers on the page. In just the first issue alone of this collection you’re thrust into this entirely new world that sucks you in and shakes you. At first you’re shown a decomposing Manhattan, a city that seems on the verge of collapse but as the story progresses you realize that Manhattan (now the DMZ) still has a functioning society holding it all together. It’s almost reminiscent of a favela you’d see in Brazil, looking like a gross back alley world that still has incredible amounts of culture packed into the massive community surviving in a tiny place. Wood shows us how in the five years since the war has started, neighbourhoods and blocks have become like the new borders within the Free States’ territories. Each new region of the Free States has its own set of rules that must be followed, with someone who doesn’t know the DMZ well easily stumbling into enemy territory without even being aware. Wood could write an entire series based off of just the first region you encounter as a reader but quickly shows he has far more interest in showing you as much of the DMZ as possible in the short time he has with you for this first volume, evening going as far as using the final issue in this collection as a whirlwind tour of where Matty has been as well as where he may be going. With this first volume alone, Brian Wood easily makes a claim for being the pound-for-pound world building king of comics. Go read this first volume and good luck trying to argue that fact.
Another brilliant step that Wood takes with DMZ is how he frames his characters, specifically the lead in Matty Roth. Roth is an intern photo journalist who gets the opportunity of a lifetime to experience this changed world that is the DMZ. He’s a man who comes from privileges in the sense that he is living outside of the horrible, war-torn conditions that the people inside of the DMZ have to deal with each and every day. In that regard, a lot of people who read this story should immediately relate to Matty as he’s getting thrown into this whole new environment at the exact same time the reader is, learning the rules and limitations as he goes along trying to survive. Matty is a character who doesn’t so much evolve as he does adapt, adjusting how he lives to the conditions around him. Wood does take the time to peel back and show some other characters important to the story but in this first volume they’re present so that they can establish a connection to Matty as opposed to actually having them effect the story dramatically. It’s all about setting up a future for Matty within the DMZ, something that Wood does easily with this first volume.
In a post 9/11 world, this series feels like it naturally carries so much more weight than just being another slanderous, politically motivated comic. Wood shows the reader that life still goes on after such a dramatic change, going to great lengths to build a series that isn’t reliant on cheap tricks and shock value. The shock value comes from how real everything feels, chilling you to the bone with how socially aware and politically sound every bit of the story comes off as. DMZ in a nutshell is raw, intelligent, and startling in its bold approach.
Collects: DMZ #1-6
Best Character: Matty Roth
Best Line Of Dialogue/Caption: “This couple, on opposite sides of a civil war, literally looking down the barrels of their guns at each other, writing love notes. Both of them traitors. Neither of them care.” – Matty Roth
Best Scene/Moment: Any scene where you learn more about the DMZ – every single issue.
Best Issue: Issue 1. Issue one is easily the best issue of an incredible solid collection of stories. The tense, futile nature of this first issue will have your pulse pounding as everything descends into anarchy quite quickly for Matty Roth. It’s fast paced, on the nose, powerful, and stunning all at the same time. This issue is an impressive opening note from Brian Wood, one that resonates throughout the remainder of this collection.
Why You Should Read It: Read this because it’s a simply brilliant series. DMZ is a master class in world building, as within just a few short pages Brian Wood shows you everything you think you need to know about this setting before drastically changing it with the simple act of having a character walk one block too far down the street. The rules, the characters, the setting, it’s all not only breathtaking, but stark, grim, depressing, and shockingly eye-opening. This might not be the type of comic we as humans deserve, but it’s definitely one we all need to read.