Thursday, December 29, 2011

DMZ #72

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Riccardo Burchielli

What a perfect way to end a long-running and complex series.  I feel like DMZ didn't receive enough attention over the last few years.  It's been as good as other lionized Vertigo series like Y the Last Man, but has never developed the same sort of vocal, loyal fan base (although we know they are out there - this comic has had remarkably stable, if not stellar, sales).  Now that the series is over, I imagine that people will begin to re-read and re-examine it as a series that, while consisting of speculative fiction set in the future, really captured the zeitgeist of the last six years.

Six years ago, America was embroiled in two costly, and poorly defined, foreign wars, vigorously pursued by its evangelical neoconservative president.  Its housing market hadn't burst yet.  Right-wing church-goers, racists, and crazies hadn't formed the Tea Party.  Wall Street hadn't been occupied.  The military-industrial complex was only ever gaining in influence and power.  Journalism was beginning its decline towards irrelevance in the lives of the common man and woman.  Income disparity was growing, and the country was increasingly split along ideological lines.  Ground Zero was a fresh wound.

DMZ grew out of the sense that, for the first time in a very long time, Americans recognized that their future was not as bright as it used to be.  It was, therefore, easy to accept a not-so-distant future where the country was split in a second civil war.  It also wasn't hard to accept that the country's greatest city would become an epicentre of conflict, tactically advantageous to both sides, but impossible to hold on to, and populated by some of the toughest, most recalcitrant people in the country.

Into this trashed out city, Brian Wood parachuted Matty Roth, a naive and ignorant kid with dreams of becoming a great journalist.  Over the last six years, we watched Matty grow to love and understand his adopted city, as he tried to use his unique position as a celebrity journalist to try to better things for the people of Manhattan.  He screwed up.  A lot.  There were a number of times where I didn't like, or understand Matty.  It's a good thing he wasn't really the main character of the comic; the city was.

As the series evolved and grew, it continued to reflect the times it was being written in.  Parco Delgado, the New York-born man who became mayor and took the political process hostage emerged out of the optimism and excitement that developed while Barack Obama ran for, and became, President.  The Free States was explained and understood in the wake of the national attention given to the Tea Party.  I always felt that Wood was using this series to, very subtly, inform us of the issues of our day.

Through it all though, he told a good story.  As I said, I didn't always like Matty, but I loved characters like Zee (Matty's on-again off-again girlfriend and medic), Wilson (the leader/saviour of Chinatown), DJ Random Fire, the graffiti artist Decade Later, and Amina, the would-be suicide bomber.  And of course, the city.  I've only visited New York a few times, but I feel like I've gotten a better sense of its neighbourhoods and its people through this comic.

This brings me, finally, to this last issue.  Matty narrates it through the introduction to the 15th anniversary edition of his book.  As we read along with a young woman, she travels through the re-built and redeveloped parts of Manhattan that were relevant to the comic.  We see the shrine to Wilson, and the memorial to the victims of the Day 204 Massacre.  It is a very fitting epilogue to the series, and I found it to be an emotional farewell to characters and places I grew to understand.

Riccardo Burchielli has been a huge part of this series's success.  His art has increasingly grown on me over the years, to the point where I am going to miss my monthly dose of his work, but I have to say that the fourteenth page, which is a splash panel of the young woman sitting on the steps of a building at the Day 204 site, is one of the most beautiful things he's ever drawn.

Wood, Burchielli, and the assorted guest artists and editors who have worked on this book over the years should be immensely proud of it.  It addressed some difficult issues, and became a lens through which we could look at our own world.  It also told some damn exciting and gripping stories.

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