Brian Wood’s vision of a modern civil war in the United States takes shape in the form of DMZ, a DC comics Vertigo title that has received much acclaim. The story is set against a backdrop of division and ideological conflict that sees the USA as we know it split into two factions: The United States, consisting of the original federal government and the Free States, a movement intent on re-instigating the basic ideals of America. When the story starts the two forces have been in conflict for years and the USA is in tatters. The Free States were able to get a foothold in the heartland of America because the majority of US Forces were engaged in conflicts overseas and the lack of National Guard presence at home meant that, when the uprising began, huge weapons caches were poorly guarded in Barracks throughout the mainland and were scooped up by the Free States.
The stage for the piece is New York City, where neither side can gain an advantage, and so it has become a demilitarised zone (DMZ). The main protagonist of the piece is a photojournalist intern, Mathew “Matty” Roth, who is stranded in the DMZ after his news crew are killed in an attack shortly after arriving in Manhattan by helicopter. Having lived on the United States side of the sundered country, Roth finds himself completely unprepared for life in the DMZ and the struggles that ordinary people face just to survive on a day-today basis. The concept is a very interesting one. It throws up themes of community, survival and geo-political upheaval set against the development of an initially naive character whose experiences force a massive change in his personal maturation and, ultimately, the fortunes of those held hostage to a war within the DMZ.
The comic is intelligently constructed. The quick paced plot grabs the reader’s attention while a more slowly burning back-story begins to unfold. The politics and history of the conflict are revealed in snippets of information here and there and in the form of flashback to add depth to some of the characters. Wood does not give a full explanation of the circumstances surrounding the start of the war, and it isn’t needed. The main focus of the story is very much the characters, their relationships, struggles, hopes and aspirations for an end to a war that they can neither control nor influence.
The concept and writing are not the only gems to be found in DMZ. Riccardo Burchielli’s beautifully rendered artwork paints a sublime juxtaposition of the iconic images of the world’s most recognisable city and the devastation and despair of civil war normally associated with places such as Afghanistan, Chechnya and Sierra Leone. The fate of the city in the comic is simply shocking. DMZ: On The Ground is a well-written and wonderfully inked graphic novel and leaves the reader wanting more. The good news is that with over fifty issues in the series that have been reproduced into eight volumes (On The Ground consists of the first five issues of DMZ) there is plenty more to look forward to.