Writer: Brian Wood
Artists: Riccardo Burchielli & Brian Wood, Jeromy Cox (colors)
Publisher: DC Comics/Vertigo
Now this is much better. In the earlier issues, I’d enjoyed the little snapshots of war zone life, showing how strange and demented things can get, but they were all too infrequent in an arc full of empty rhetoric and embarrassing grabs at “coolness.” Here, Wood tones down on faff and nonsense (although there are a few cringeworthy moments) and instead devotes the majority of the issue to one of his weird urban survivor tales, and it makes for a much more enjoyable comic. Yes, it’s the kind of thing we’ve been seeing in Judge Dredd since the Seventies, but it’s still fun to see an AWOL special forces unit occupy and violently defend a metropolitan zoo apparently out of altruism.
That said, Wood does stumble slightly in a couple of places: it’s not entirely clear whether it’s supposed to be obvious that the “zookeepers” are more than they seem, and if it is, the final couple of pages come across as a hollow attempt at poignancy. Similarly, the protagonist’s first encounter with the combat ready environmentalists is something of a contrivance considering what they tell him, and what he witnesses, later on.
Also unclear is just what Wood contributes to the art, but whatever he’s doing, he’s helping to make a great looking comic. This issue is particularly impressive in that regard as a number of scenes feature white-clad characters in snowy white environments, which is not the easiest combination to depict effectively.
For me, this is the best issue of DMZ so far, but it seems like very much of an aberration in that regard; I’m not confident that future issues will be more like this than the profoundly irritating first couple of episodes, but this issue at least is an entertaining read.
DMZ has disturbed me emotionally in its first four issues. Brian Wood has made me think of some scary future scenarios and the possible impact. What if the underground militant factions of our country decided to attack the U.S. one day? What would life be like, and which side would you choose? Or, would you even choose a side? DMZ shows the bravery and willpower of those people who are caught in the middle, those who don’t want a war in their backyard. For these denizens of New York City, there are no political motivations to their actions. Their only desires are survival and, hopefully, peace. Our hero, Matty Ross, has been thrown into this war zone and finds out that everything he knew about this place was wrong. This DMZ is a Hell on Earth, but the people that remain here are not freedom fighters, terrorists, or revolutionaries. Rather, they’re residents who want their homes back, and they’re willing to wait it out or use force to keep what’s theirs. Mr. Wood, both in this series and the excellent Local, stresses the importance of home in one’s identity and livelihood. It’s an important lesson that all of us should take to heart, and has made me think about my hometown in a much more positive light.
Now, in regards to the specifics of this particular issue, Wood and Riccardo Burchielli have once again crafted an excellent tale, making this series probably the best of the new batch of Vertigo monthlies. Wood, of course, is doing a great job with showing this future New York City through the eyes of Matty Ross, an innocent outsider who is getting an education in war first hand. But, I was also very impressed with the art in this issue, particularly the gritty lines and the startling contrast of white in this war-ravaged land. I have really liked the “photos” that Matty takes in the past few issues, with the muted colors by Jeromy Cox. Truly, these still shots really bring a sense of realism to the whole tale and the captions offer us some great insights into Matty’s impressions. In this issue, one caption reads, “It’s not that black and white” as we our looking at the stark landscape of a black and white photo. This small aside seems to sum up the series so far. Nothing in the DMZ is black and white, and the two groups of residents that are fighting for the firewood of Central Park are equally to blame and equally innocent. The war, a war these people never wanted, has made survival the only factor in their lives, and these denizens can’t simply be explained in words and pictures.
It would be an understatement to say that I have loved this series so far, and I have to give Wood and Burchielli major kudos for a job well done. The only element of this issue I could have done without was the clichéd ending, which seemed a little too neat to sum up this stand-alone story. However, if you’re a fan of Vertigo or a comic book reader who loves a compelling, thoughtful story, you need to jump on this series NOW, before you can’t find the first few issues.
I’ve been quite enjoying DMZ so far, a relatively new book from Vertigo which explores the day-to-day effects of war on a populated city environment. Whilst the first three instalments explore a civil-war-ravaged Manhattan through the innocent eyes of rookie photo-journalist Matty Roth, this stand-alone issue is a far smaller story, taking Matt on a journey to Central Park in search of its fabled “Ghosts.” It’s an interesting idea which comes as a fairly unexpected left-turn for the series, but it somehow didn’t grab me quite as much as the opening arc. This doesn’t make it a bad comic by any means though, and writer Wood clearly has a wealth of material which is ripe for exploration in this book - but Matty’s investigation this issue into an environmentally aware group of what may be rebel commandoes keeping guard over a snow-blanketed Central Park just didn’t intrigue me in the same way as his urban tales of civilian life from the first few issues did.
I vaguely remember Zee (a strong supporting character from the first few issues, sadly notable by her absence here) mentioning that Central Park had become something of a no-man’s-land and a gauntlet of snipers in a previous issue. Here, however, Wood finds a more inventive use for the location, depicting a snowy wasteland – a particularly timely visual, given New York’s current spell of harsh weather - which is a breeding ground for scavengers and violent gangs, as well as the urban legends which are the titular Ghosts. This band of ex-military “tree-huggers” hides out in the buried remains of Central Park’s zoo, growing their own supplies, and although Matt sets out in search of them to cover their story, he stumbles across their hideout almost by accident. The following sequence in which a confused Matt wakes up in a jungle environment is a fun little scene, after which we get to see Matt meet the inhabitants of the group’s hidden, self-sufficient hideaway. I quite enjoyed the scenes which explored the mechanics of how a rebel group of trained soldiers might choose to hide out in Central Park, and the big reveal of their underground bamboo plantation is an impressive visual moment, but the concept is let down by the relatively mundane nature of the story which springs out of their situation.
Matt’s initial discussion with the inhabitants of the zoo feels a little out-of-character, as his confident journalist persona jars with his wet-behind-the-ears characterisation from the title’s first arc, and he’s less sympathetic as a result. What’s more, the soldiers are presented more as sketches than as well-defined characters, the group’s motivation is never made clear enough to make their story compelling and the reasoning behind their use of Matt’s journalistic abilities to “sell” their lifestyle is never really explored sufficiently to make the plot work in any kind of interesting manner. With the space that would have been provided by another issue’s worth of story, Wood could have fleshed out the “Ghosts” into more rounded personalities and made their story far more fulfilling as a result; as it happens, a bloody and relatively pointless firefight at the end of the issue removes that possibility, as well as suggesting that these hardened military men aren’t really the formidable fighting force that Wood sets them up to be.
I don’t mean to sound too down on this issue, because the book as a whole still stands as a fairly original concept which holds a lot of potential. Unfortunately, the last couple of issues haven’t lived up to the standards of the first two, and I can’t help but feel a little disappointed as a result. I hope that writer Wood returns to a more relatable urban environment next issue, as I feel that he has far more to say when dealing with the effects of war on a civilian population. This was an interesting little excursion into a slightly different arena, but it definitely doesn’t stand as the strongest issue of DMZ so far.
What did you think of this book?
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