I first started reading DMZ almost seven years ago, early into my second year of university. I had, at the time, just recently started reading comics after nearly a decade-long hiatus and I found myself, an English & Creative Writing major, trying to get my hands on anything and everything I could absorb and dissect. The Iraq War was still relatively fresh, Barack Obama had yet to make Presidential history, we were post 9/11 but pre financial crisis and here was DMZ – a fresh series that came along with a tragic and terrible vision of a future not so different than the present we were living. And that was frightening: to see the near “possible” future and the current present were so interchangeable.
By 2009 I had collected five volumes of this astonishing comic. I had reread the 30-or-so issues twice or thrice and each time I found something from the current world news that could be put inside the DMZ, at least parallel if not directly similar. I had graduated University and moved enough times in previous years that all my books and comics were in boxes and I had forgotten to keep up with DMZ. But I hadn’t forgotten about it. Frequently I would tell people about this amazing, poignant and shockingly real series that they just had to read. And now here I am, over four years later, nearly seven years since starting it, finally finishing this series that has been nestled in my mind as calmly as a megaphone at a protest.
The plot follows, as the main artery of the series, Matty Roth: the every-man journalist who becomes embroiled in the second American Civil War, dead smack in the DMZ that is Manhattan. He becomes the only source of “unbiased” news from the front-lines between the United States of America and the Free States, but quickly comes to the realization that war and politics aren’t black and white: “up to the minute” isn’t even current enough. Matty’s evolving journey follows alongside that of the war itself; he goes from being likable, to detestable, to a character you want to pity, but all along you can’t blame him. War is war: a series of mistakes piled on other mistakes. It’s easy to blame and point fingers when looking from the outside, but to reference the cliché, there are no real winners in war.
DMZ is, beyond everything else, a brilliant, heartfelt, character-driven love letter to New York City. But it is still so much more than that. It’s a sometimes uplifting, frequently depressing, constantly exciting, downright intelligent and bitingly accurate portrayal of how destructive radical political ideologies are and certainly can be. Brian Wood’s stark and truthful words combined with Riccardo Burchielli’s gorgeous street scenery and war-torn faces paint an image of New York City that makes every reader at most a resident and at the least a wide-eyed tourist.
DMZ stands tall alongside the likes of The Sandman and Watchmen as essential reading, period. Not just in the vein of comics. It’s a series that needs to be read slowly and thoughtfully. And not just because it’s exciting, or well written, or well illustrated, or even because it’s something you’ll enjoy, but because it’s not just a vision of an alternate future but a potential one. Read it with open eyes and mind, because in every terrible bit of news you see on TV, or unfolding on your street, or read in the papers (or internet), there are people it’s happening to. And people need to recognize that. People just like You and Me and Matty Roth.