DMZ: On the Ground

By Brian Wood (W) and Riccardo Burchielli (A)

Published in 2006, comprises issues 1-5, Vertigo. $9.99

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingThe Plot: Matty Roth has a well connected dad who’s gotten him an internship with Liberty News, which sets him up as an assistant to a big shot journalist who’s going into Manhattan. This is newsworthy because Civil War (in the very non-Marvel sense) has erupted and the Free State army and the United States army are massed on either side of the island, rendering it a great unknown amid the warring sides. Supposedly it is a de-militarized zone, but Matty quickly learns that to be false when his crew comes under attack and he’s left behind.

This first collection follows Matty as he starts to acquaint himself with this alien version of New York, and starts to report the first news stories out of the DMZ, spreading the realities of war to the outside world.

The Good: As I read through this first volume of the series, I made it about half way through when I realized how unsettled it made me feel. It wasn’t the violence (of which there is plenty. This is war, after all) that bothered me. Instead, it was a sense that I couldn’t get a handle on where each issue was taking me, or where the series as a whole was headed. You’re thinking, “That doesn’t sound like a compliment.” Well, hold on. What I realized is that Wood crafted this first part of the series so well that I, as a reader, was feeling the instability that kept rocking Matty in the strangeness of the DMZ. It felt like falling into a war zone.

As many have pointed out before, Wood has set this battleground amid one of the most hallowed lands of America, which conveys to Americans the pain of war in a freshly familiar way. In a sad way, it’s more gripping to see an apartment-turned-ER filled with wounded American children than it is to see yet another bit of footage of an Iraq bombing or starving child in Darfur. But this book is far too complex to be a simple parable on war. It’s also, as the New York Times stated, a love letter to New York. In the DMZ, Matty sees the city responding with a desperate hope to all the atrocities. All the city’s eclectic sides shine through all the stronger when held against such a bleak background.

On that note, Burchielli deserves a hell of a lot of credit for the success of the book. He does the war scenes well, and gives plenty of uniqueness and personality to each character. For a foreigner (he’s Italian), he nails all the little details of the Big Apple. While there are some nice scenes of the familiar skylines marred with fighter jets and explosions, what Burchielli really does well are the micro scenes – street corners and alleys and tenements all recognizable behind the compost of war.

The Bad: There is very little wrong here. I could’ve used a little more background mixed in with the very personal stories, a little more building of Matty’s character. Some might complain that the trade isn’t printed on glossy paper, but personally, I almost prefer the more textured paper (it definitely doesn’t negatively impact readability). Also, it keeps the cost down, since this trade costs about half as much as similar books.

The Grade: A This is just one of those books that you should read. It’s good. It’s relevant. It’s touching. It’s painful. And, this is just the beginning.