Welcome to the world of DMZ.
What if Manhattan sat on the front line of an American Civil War? What if the citizens of a country that hasn’t seen warfare on its doorstep in almost one-hundred and fifty years found itself once again rent asunder and the greatest city of the 20th Century was caught in the middle?
Imagine that, for a moment, all the images you see on the news of war-torn third-world nations were filled with some of the most famous landmark buildings in the world, except you don’t get to see them at all.
Brian Wood crafts an utterly enthralling world of characters who feel all the more real for being almost indistinguishable from the people one meets on the street of just about any city in America. The only difference is that these people have been battered, bashed, beaten and stripped of nearly every semblance of normalcy. They are caught in the crossfire of a war they neither asked for nor expected.
Through the eyes of Matthew Roth, lowly unpaid intern for Liberty News, DMZ takes the reader on a tour of a New York that seems just over the horizon. The first volume doesn’t explain the whys and wherefores of the schism between the United States and the “Free States,” only that there are armies on both sides, as well as rebels who have chosen to aid no cause but their own.
The city, as depicted by artist Riccardo Burchielli, is brutally menacing. Violent death waits around any and every corner. The walls of the city are plastered with terrifying messages like “MASK,” “DOWN KIDS,” and “TOO LATE!”
This is not a story of the war. It is the story of the people who are marred by war. For every soldier you see in the blood-spattered pages, there are hundreds huddled behind sheet-metal reinforced apartment walls, fearful that the next salvo between factions will literally bring their roofs down on their heads.
The most frightening part of the book is the contrast between the brutal honesty with which Roth reports on the surroundings in which he finds himself and the sanitized way in which those reports are presented to the viewers “back home.” The ability of the media to distort reality for its consumers is concurrently abhorrent and intriguing. It is here where DMZ presents its most biting commentary on the state of the real world. Matthew Roth is a stand-in for every imbedded journalist who’s thrown on a PRESS-stamped flak jacket and kevlar as they strove to report on the real-life struggles of the people who have to live in war zones. As such, the seemingly intentional mischaracterization of his experience calls the veracity of those many years of reporting into question.
When all we know is what we’re told, we rely on the tellers to speak the truth. If they cannot be trusted to do that, how are we, as a media-consuming public, to know what to believe? Short of entering a war zone and seeing things for ourselves (an action frowned upon by the State Department and United Nations) there are few options for the average citizen when it comes to verifying the veracity of mainstream news.
What DMZ teaches us, if anything, is that when push comes to shove, the most reliable source of information is one’s own eyes and ears. In DMZ, it’s New York, but in reality it is any of dozens of places outside of the United States where people must fend for themselves, lacking clean water, medical supplies, and many other basic necessities that we here take for granted. DMZ beseeches its readers to venture outside of their safe little bubbles and experience all that the world has to offer, as scary as it may sometimes be. Once that step has been taken, then perhaps those stories will be told, and all the world will be richer for it.