Posted - January 6, 2012 | Updated : April 3, 2012 | August 27, 2015

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DMZ Comic : What is it?

It's very possible to enjoy an issue of DMZ without knowing about the other issues or what the series is about. When I got one of the trade paperbacks, I just read right through and enjoyed the hell out of it.

Of course, the question still pops up : What is DMZ? It's a famous term isn't it? Demilitarised Zone. A demilitarised zone is a fixed area considered by opposing forces as "an area of peace", a ceasefire zone. That is a DMZ. Now, what is DMZ the comic? DMZ Comics tells the story of a scenario where militias rise up against the government of the Unites States - starting a Civil War. The island of Manhattan becomes a DMZ, with the militias, called the Free States of America holding New Jersey and other inland states while the United States of America holds Brooklyn, Queens and the other boroughs of New York as well as parts of other states.

Issue 13

Why do reporters do what they do?

I once worked as a reporter. The job lasted all of one month. I couldn't take it. The daily deadlines, the field work. It's not for me.

Issue 13 of DMZ is about undercover reporting and again, I'm wondering why reporters do what they do. Undercover reporting is a 24/7, invent-it-as-you-go, landmine-ridden line of work. In this initial issue of a five part storyline we get to see Matty Roth find the lead that gets him the undercover job; we get to feel his excitement at getting that story and we get to go be with him as he discovers the existence of a terrorist cell inside a mega-Corporation.

Matty finds himself at the crux of several groups. First is the Trustwell Corporation, a corrupt, multi-billion dollar Corporation entrusted with the rebuilding. Then there is the U.N. with its legendarily ineffective peacekeepers on the ground in Manhattan. Last is Matty's work crew itself, seemingly desperate dregs hiring themselves out to Trustwell. Even though he is right in the middle of it, Matty feels locked out - still desperate to "get inside" of whatever is happening; to get the story. Before the end of this issue Matty becomes an insider as he gets "adopted" by a terrorist cell.

Issue 14

Grace Under Torture

Excuse the title. It's a play on Hemingway's definition of courage: "Grace under pressure". In issue 14 of DMZ, the second part of the 'Public Works' storyline, our undercover reporter Matty Roth is captured and subjected to a bout of torture. Let's see, he's stripped, put inside a meat freezing chamber, they douse him with water so that he really gets cold. They dunk him under water, almost drowning him. Of course there are the beatings; and in the end they make him kneel and put a gun to his head.

He's been tough throughout, but in the end, when he knows he's going to die, he breaks down and talks. His captors reveal themselves to be his terrorist "buddies", they smile at him, and tell him he passed the test.

Why did he pass the test? He talked in the end when he thought he was going to die didn't he? Isn't that failing the test?

Then it occurs to me. It isn't. For a man to go through what Matty went through without breaking is enough. It's too much to ask of someone to keep perfect silence even under imminent death. That only happens in a movie. And this isn't a movie. This is Matty Roth undercover. It's real. And in the real world Matty Roth has proven to be tough enough. He has passed the test.

Issue 15

In Too Deep

The real measure of how effective - and therefore how good - the Public Works storyline in DMZ is, is the emotions it draws out from me as a reader.

Lets see . . .

When Matty first goes undercover I feel the weight of being a reconstruction crew member of the Trustwell Corporation. It's a dangerous yet boring job which tastes of hopelessness. The loneliness really comes across. I'm with Matty as he gets accepted by the terrorist cell and I feel how good it is to be accepted, knowing full well that this is a terrorist cell, it's nice anyway, better than the loneliness.

Then in this issue, I feel anxious, with Matty, as he is sent out to do a terrorist act. He's not a terrorist. He's an undercover reporter and he can't do this - this is crossing the line.

These emotions are palpable as I read DMZ. They're real. It's proof of how immersive this story is and how good 'DMZ : Public Works' is.

Issue 16

Why I often tell myself to shut up

Issue 16 of DMZ reminds me that I have blabbed my way to embarrassing situations so many times its, well, embarrassing.

Put it another way, did you ever notice that the people at work whom you consider the most competent are the ones who don't talk too much?

It's not so much because they're competent - it's just that they haven't proven themselves otherwise by talking too much.

This is what Matty does in issue 16. He talks too much and puts lives in danger.

Can't entirely blame him though; he's been under incredible pressure and just had to talk to someone. I have an old formula for that though - I just talk aloud to myself. Too late for Matty; he's moved into panic mode and goes to save his friends. On to the 17th issue and the conclusion of the Public Works storyline.

Issue 17

Now that we have come to the concluding issue of the "Public Works" story arc, lets do a brief recap of the issues that came before :

What I found interesting about DMZ

Real Life

We began with Matty the journalist and we end with Matty the journalist. It's amazing really, I'm so used to reading superhero comics where there are good guys and bad guys that I tend to look for the same black and white characterization even when I'm not reading "cape comics" like DMZ. DMZ has no heroes and no villains. Just like real life.

The Journalist

Up until more than halfway into the story arc I kept stubbornly equating Matty with the concept of the "good guy". But I just realized that Matty is not the good guy; neither is he a bad guy. Matty is a journalist - that's either good or bad depending on who's looking. Matty is a journalist because he has a lot of opportunity to show what is important to him as he goes through the events of 'Public Works'. In the end, what is most important to Matty is the story. He is a journalist in the strongest sense of the word.

How Terribly Unfair

As Matty's ordeal winds down, so does Amani's. But what happens to her is a terrible tragedy. Matty must feel good that he saved her - but he shouldn't. Amani ends up homeless and rooting around in the garbage. Matty "saved" her from blowing herself up. Think about it. Would you rather be dead or dumpster diving with no home? Matty has a self-serving, knee jerk kind of compassion; an unthinking compassion and it is a measure of the richness of Wood's writing that such subtleties can be seen in the work.


The first layer comprising 'Public Works' is the relationship formed by the big interest groups : Trustwell Corporation, the U.N., the United States Government and the Free States. Within this relationship are motives both overt and hidden. Just under this layer is the terrorist cell and the dynamics within that group and then, later on, another group composed of Matty's friends and the dynamics within this group. Then there is the news organization Matty belongs to and Matty himself - his strong identity as a journalist cuts through all layers and ties the story together.


'Public Works' feels compelling because it feels real. There is not one aspect of this tale that is off; The dialog, the motivations, all participants are three dimensional and the way they interact with each other is genuine and unforced. Everything just clicks together, it reminds me of The Walking Dead with how good a the writer is in portraying people. There are no heroes in the 'Public Works' arc of DMZ; there is only us. People. And for a comic to represent "us" so accurately makes for a truly riveting tale.

DMZ Comic : The Collection

The complete DMZ collection spans 72 issues. Brian Wood originally planned it to be a 60-issue collection but I guess he had a few more stories to tell. The whole collection is collected in 12 trade paperbacks. Let's take a look at each of these trades:

DMZ Vol. 1, On The Ground - Collects issues 1-5.
Anti-establishment militia stage a civil war while the U.S. Military is occupied overseas. Manhattan becomes the DMZ. Matty Roth begins his adventures.

DMZ Vol. 2, Body of A Journalist - Collects issues 6-12.
Roth delves deeper into the Free Armies.

DMZ Vol. 3, Public Works - Collects issues 13-17.
This is the one I reviewed. Roth is embedded inside a terrorist cell in the DMZ.

DMZ Vol. 4, Friendly Fire - Collects issues 18-22.
A U.S. soldier goes into a killing spree inside the DMZ - Matty Roth interviews.

DMZ Vol. 5, The Hidden War - Collects issues 23-28.
Character studies of different people inside the DMZ.

DMZ Vol. 6, Blood In The Game - Collects issues 29-34.
What happens when a leader rises up in the DMZ?

DMZ Vol. 7, War Powers - Collects issues 35-41.
The ambitious plans of the new Governor of New York.

DMZ Vol. 8, Hearts and Minds - Collects issues 42-49.
A new direction for Matty, but it's still all about the DMZ

DMZ Vol. 9, M.I.A. - Collects issues 50-54.
The solitary ponderings of Matt and a recap of sorts.

DMZ Vol. 10, Collective Punishment - Collects issues 55-59.
The bombing of the DMZ.

DMZ Vol. 11, Free State Rising - Collects issues 60-66.
Battleground DMZ, Matty Roth reporting.

DMZ Vol. 12, The Five Nations of New York - Collects issues 67-72.
Concluding arc. What happens to New York now?

DMZ Comic : The Creators

DMZ is the brainchild of Brian Woods - it was his umpteenth pitch to get into DC's Vertigo line. While in his editor's office Brian looked at some sketches he really liked. Enter artist Ricardo Burchielli.

Brian Woods is an excellent creator and this is not the first time his work has made a good impression. You might want to check Supermarket out.

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