A Slice of Fried Gold

The future is now

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

One of the ongoing themes of my blog has to be the struggle to prove that there is a place for the comic book medium next to mainstream literature. Most people look at comic books and assume that there is no real gravitas or substance, that within their pages are just people in tights running around and "POW!"ing or "ZAP!"ing each other. 

Of course, you have to remember that we're in an age in comics where heroes fight civil wars, that national icons are assassinated, that actual philosophical questions are posed to the readers. Of course, there is the occasional scantily clad superheroine (or near constantly if Greg Land is doing the pencils) and the massive brawl from time to time. But when even mainstream comics are stretching to put readers in a place that was often reserved for books, you have to wonder what the more niche, edgy works are doing.

For one of the best examples of what those works are doing and one of the best examples of the legitimacy of the medium, we have Vertigo's DMZ. This comic was created by writer Brian Wood (a rising star in the industry) and artist Riccardo Burchelli and it is the story of photojournalist Matthew (Matty) Roth. Matty is on his first assignment working for Liberty News Network, an assignment in which he is being taken into the demilitarized zone that is Manhattan. The setup for the story is that the nation was torn apart by civil war, and is best saved for Wood himself to say (taken from an interview he gave):

Midwestern militia groups revolt against their local governments in protest of rampant U.S. adventurism overseas and, in the absence of the National Guard, are able to gain far more ground than they thought possible. Small insurgent groups pop up in towns and cities across the country, and a sizable force, the Free States Army, pushes toward Manhattan. The city proves too big for them to take, and also for the U.S. Army to defend. The war stalls there, a stalemate, neither side being able to shift things.

This book is incredibly interesting, especially right now, because of the fragile environment we exist in following George W. Bush and his eight years in office and leading into the most tense presidential election I've ever experienced. The disparity between the two primary parties has never been so great, and this type of civil war is not that unbelievable when imagined in today's context.

Ultimately though, what makes this book so great is the human angle. Wood takes a unique angle that really doesn't show any political leanings or take sides, but really shows how wars (and especially the civil variety) can affect the people caught in the middle. How when it gets down to it, neither side in a war is ultimately right, both just end up being incredibly wrong because of the tragic cost of human life. We really get the perspective of what it's like to be on the ground and the daily struggle a person has to go through to just survive the day. Not only that, but you get perspectives into government, the control of mass media, and opportunistic corporations trying to get the easy dollar. This is not your grandfather's comic book by any means.

The characters are very three dimensional and believable (all the way from Matty to small supporting characters - especially after Wood's six issue vignette series about supporting characters that was collected in the trade paperback "The Hidden War"), and Burchelli does a masterful job of conveying what it takes to survive through his art. It's his first work for an American released publication, and the guy is just knocking it out of the park.

It's a remarkable story that really shines because of the allowances the comic book medium provides it. I greatly encourage anyone and everyone to check this out, as I honestly feel as if it is an important story to be told for people in America today. Of course, ultimately I know only Erik is going to read it (you better! this recommendation is for you!) but it's worth a shot for even non-comic fans.


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