DMZ (comics)
January 29, 2022 2:20 AM - Subscribe

Brian Wood & Riccardo Burchielli's 2005 to 2012 Vertigo comics series DMZ has just been reprinted in two giant compendiums, collecting the full 72-issue run between them. I've read both of these in the past month - my first time reading the book - and enjoyed them quite a bit. The original series ended long before Trump announced his Presidential run, but it's impossible to read it now without having his MAGA thugs and the January 6 Capitol attack in mind. Anyone else have opinions on this book and its new context in 2022 America?

The premise is that Manhattan Island is now a demilitarised zone, the product of an uneasy stalemate between US Federal forces and the "Free States" army. About 400,000 people remain living there, making the best they can of a city now full of half-wrecked buildings with power and water often out. The main character is Matty Roth, an inexperienced young journalist who champions the DMZ and becomes enmeshed in its politics.

Wood's best known for his gritty, grounded crime comics and brings the same approach here. This is his own description of the series' premise and tone: "Midwestern militia groups revolt against their local governments in protest of rampant U.S. adventurism overseas and, in the absence of the National Guard, are able to gain far more ground than they thought possible. Small insurgent groups pop up in towns and cities across the country, and a sizable force, the Free States Army, pushes toward Manhattan. The city proves too big for them to take, and also for the U.S. Army to defend. The war stalls there, a stalemate, neither side being able to shift things. [...] Think equal parts Escape from New York, Fallujah, and New Orleans right after Katrina".
posted by Paul Slade (6 comments total)
Is that what Brian Wood is best known for?
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:42 AM on January 30, 2022 [2 favorites]

Yeah, unfortunately it's not, which pretty much killed my interest in DMZ back in the day.
posted by praemunire at 8:32 AM on January 30, 2022

This is one of my favorite series. I reread it recently and some of it misses nowadays, but most of it still hits, and some of it seems downright prophetic.

I think I can fully give credit to Wood and this series for radicalizing me into leftist politics. Prior to this series I would probably describe my political beliefs as 'liberal' with a side of anti-authoritarian instinct. Seeing some of the ways the characters come together and accomplish their goals via free association, syndicalism and direct action really opened my eyes and got me reading more left-oriented (specifically anarchist and communist) things. I'll always have Brian Wood to thank for that.

Also, Wilson is amazing.
posted by kaiseki at 2:48 PM on January 30, 2022 [1 favorite]

I remember following this when it came out, the writing and art really worked well together. I had a lot of time for Brian Wood back then, Demo, Local, and this were all solid titles.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 12:06 PM on January 31, 2022

I first started reading Brian Wood in his zine and Channel Zero days and felt like DMZ was a culmination of a bunch of tropes that he was working through when he was getting started. Urban grit filtered through independent journalism with a bad ass female partner/protagonist written in the age of Giulani's authoritarian regime in NYC. Channel Zero's Jenny 2.5 became Special in the Couriers became Zee in DMZ.

I remember being excited to see him land in the spotlight with DMZ and I read it as loose issues before eventually switching to trade paperbacks as my comics habit waned. At the time, it very much felt like taking what was happening in Baghdad and recontextualizing it for America. In some cases it worked out really well, especially in setting up the militias (which feels prescient now) and having the government's failure be less about corruption than bureaucracy, complacency, and just general exhaustion. The different autonomous societies and tribes were pretty fascinating and felt real, drawn from people and places that Wood was familiar with in NY. They also reflected for me, an emerging network of mutual aid and community support groups that spawned from the anti-globalization protests of the 90s/2000s, hit one peak during the Iraq War protests of 2003, and then landed a decade later as Occupy.

I liked that he depicted the abandoned portions of Manhattan as largely POC and assumed that most of the white folks would've fled to Long Island or other safety nets, whereas most of the people who stayed reflected folks that we, as a society, tend to abandon.

The bits that stretched my credulity were some more fantastic things, like the Central Park Ghosts, and I haven't read it in a decade, but I think this thread is a good prompt to come back to it.
posted by bl1nk at 9:59 AM on February 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

I also want to add that HBO/Max just recently produced an adaptation of the series. It's a very loose adaptation in that the protagonist is a medic named Zee, there's a populist thug named Parco, and a Chinatown crime lord named Wilson, but there's no Matty and the relationships are very different. I'm only one episode in, and I generally like some of the updates, but it's also only four episodes, and feels like it's only going to skim the top of the themes that were featured in the comics.
posted by bl1nk at 7:41 AM on May 12, 2022

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