By Todd Allen
Today, the final issue (#72) of DMZ shipped. With a quiet epilogue, a series that started as a love letter to New York City ended as a love letter to New York City. This time, a bit more literally as the narrative was driven by excerpts from protagonist Matty Roth’s prison-penned book.
You will hear people describe Gotham City as a central character in Batman. New York City and its various neighborhoods were central characters in the DMZ. A “fifteen minutes into the future” type of series set during a second American Civil War saw the “Free States” rebels occupying the Jersey Shore, the federal government occupying Long Island and the Manhattan caught in the middle as a shooting gallery. A demilitarized zone, or DMZ in military parlance.
DMZ follows the rise and fall of Matty Roth, an intern with a journalist crew whose helicopter is shot down over the Lower East Side. As the sole survivor, Roth becomes the only journalist in Manhattan and a sought after pawn by the Free States, United States and anyone with political ambition still on the island.
The brilliant part of DMZ, particularly in the early issues, is the exploration of neighborhoods. The various neighborhoods became their own functional entities under the fog of war. Chinatown operating under the protection of Triads, Central Park watched over by a rogue special ops unit and so forth. You had some warlords pop up. You had some neighborhoods just looking after their own. Moreover, you had exploration of the neighborhoods of New York and it felt like New York. Perhaps a mildly post-apocalyptic New York, but New York all the same.
Another winning component of the series was the political satire. Not comedic satire, but taking political events to their logical conclusion. The Free States, protesting against a controlling federal government harkens back to the earlier days of the Tea Party. The villain for the first half of the series was Trustwell, a private military/security firm that harkened thoughts of Blackwater, the private military/security firm that was the subject of negative attention and lawsuits for their work in Iraq.
DMZ progresses from adventures with Trustwell sabotage and skullduggery to the establishment of an independent government and the absorption of NYC into the Union. Along the way, Matty becomes a media celebrity, part of the provisional government and a war hero.
For my money, the series lost its way a little bit as Trustwell faded out and the provisional government arc wore on, but it got back on track and ended strongly, if with a decidedly bittersweet ending. That it ended with Matty’s somewhat twisted tourism pitch for NYC, really did bring it full circle for me on an emotional level.
72 issues by the same team, Brian Woods and Riccardo Burchielli (with a few guest artists), is a pretty good run. Especially in this era. It’s also rare to see what’s really an extended novel run its course like this, without an obvious mad dash to tie things up before the rope runs out. Vertigo has had its share of these series: Sandman, Preacher, Transmetropolitan and 100 Bullets are the big names for series that have run to their intended ending. As DMZ closes and Scalped nears it’s end, we see a changing of the guard with Spaceman and Saucer Country rotating in.
Todd Allen wears a lot of hats. At various times he’s been (alphabetically), a bouncer, college professor, humor columnist, Internet producer and an NBA/WNBA Beat Writer, among other things. He’s the author of Economics of Digital Comics. You should probably read it.