In the future, Manhattan isn’t a maximum security Federal penitentiary, nor is it ruled by costumed street gangs. Instead, The Big Apple has become a Demilitarized Zone, the neutral no-man’s land in a second American civil war. That’s the provocative premise of DMZ, Brian Wood’s long-running Vertigo comic-book series. A rookie reporter named Matty Roth is our hapless tour-guide. When stranded in this hellacious concrete jungle he has no choice but to navigate a warren of shifting alliances and ulterior motives. Matty isn’t an iconoclastic gonzo-journalist like Transmetropolitan's Spider Jerusalem. He’s a confused kid who has bit of more than he can chew, and is forced to man-up or be put down. Elevated by Riccardo Burchielli's distinctive art-style, the story investigates Matty's struggles as an embedded journalist in a terrifying what-if scenario, but it also chronicles the war for the soul of an entire city.
To put it in no uncertain terms, DMZ is a masterwork of speculative fiction. But it’s also Wood’s gut-reaction to the events of 9/11 and the fallout of the intervening decade. While Matty trudges through scorched boroughs and desolate hoods, interviewing survivors and documenting the lives lost, Wood is free to explore hot-button topics like the War in Iraq, Homeland Security, Blackwater, Halliburton, Hurricane Katrina, and Red-State/Blue-State partisanship. But with an emphasis on character instead of situation, DMZ becomes a reflection of modern America and the cacophony of voices that are clashing when they should be melting.
Readers who prefer trade-paperbacks will welcome the recent release of The Five Nations of New York, which collects the final pages in DMZ's epic 72 issue run. Action-packed and politically-charged, DMZ resembles the best episodes of Battlestar Galactica. It raises more questions than it answers, which is what any storyteller worth a damn should strive for. More than just a love-letter to NYC, more than just another comic-book, DMZ is a riveting cautionary tale that kicks ass and takes names, and broke my heart along the way.