The Exception to the Rule: DMZ

I just can’t get myself to like Brian Wood‘s work. It’s not really bad, and I can see why some people like it, and even I like it a bit, but I’m usually struck in the realm of like, instead of love. It’s not that I haven’t tried. I’ve read Channel Zero, Fight for Tomorrow, Pounded, Demo, and Northlanders, among other things. None of them really grabbed me.

So who the hell is writing DMZ? Because it’s easily one of the best and most relevant comic books being published today.

If you want to talk about a book that’s both incredibly intelligent and very exciting, you’d be hard pressed to think of a better candidate than DMZ. For me, it touches on a bit of everything I want out of my fiction. It’s political, but not preachy. It feels current and yet, it’s completely fictional. It is a world that does not exist, but doesn’t really seem that far fetched. I have not been able to get enough of DMZ, and am just so thrilled whenever I get a chance to read more.

In a nutshell, DMZ depicts a United States either in the present or near future where the red/blue divide got a little out of hand, and a partial revolution took place, resulting in a civil war between the United States government and the militias of the Free States. Manhattan falls right in the middle of the two nations’ territory, and gets cut off from both sides, essentially becoming a demilitarized zone, and cutting off all the residents of the island from the rest of the country. While war between countrymen surrounds them, everyone in Manhattan is left to adjust and fend for themselves.

It’s a situation that should seem impossible, but given the right series of events, the book isn’t that implausible, and one of the main strengths of this title is that Wood has really built a world where it’s an entirely believable outcome. By placing his story in what is ostensibly our world, in a place that is completely real, and filled with completely realistic characters, the scariest thing about this book is that it’s not all that far fetched to think this scenario could happen if things got out of hand. Every time I watch the news, or read about conservatives vs. liberals both acting as if their opinions are fact, and seeing a palpable divide among the American people, this kind of schism seems all too real. The streets are real streets, and the effects are a simulation of what would happen if the bridges were cut and Manhattan went on its own.

Brian Wood makes his story all the more credible by the fact that he doesn’t really take sides. Through the characters, you see both sides of the argument, and there are no clear answers for these people who, like us, live in a world of grey. I have strong political beliefs, and it’s very easy for fiction authors to put all their opinions on a page, hoping to cater to one side or the other. It’s the braver writer who really examines why we do things and the consequences of our actions from all sides. There are certainly things decried as universally bad in DMZ, but many times, it’s rightfully so. Corporate interests in the book, much like in our world, corrupt and take advantage of the situation, costing the most helpless citizens the most dearly. Soldiers in the book don’t know what to do when they’ve been trained to kill, but they’re not sure who the enemy is. There are certainly parallels to our current situation in the world, but it’s vague enough that I don’t feel like I’m being told how to think.

The story is largely told from the viewpoint of Matty Roth, a journalism intern who became the only embedded reporter in the DMZ when his new boss was killed after they arrived on the island. Matty quickly learns that there are no easy answers, and the idea of good and bad guys is almost entirely irrelevant in a world where people are struggling to survive. There is certainly the idea of the corrupting influence of media playing a part here, but Wood chose to make Matty more or less impartial, as a good journalist should be. He’s doing his damnedest to be objective, but use the power he has to help as many people as possible. He’s a good guy, but not a great guy, and for the most part, he’s a bit of a blank slate, so it’s easy to have him the be the center point of our experience learning about the world of DMZ.

Art is handled mostly by Riccardo Burchielli, an Italian artist. This is notable mostly because New York City is depicted so well that you’d think he’d grown up on the streets of Manhattan. But as we’ve seen with so many foreign artists, it often takes an outsider to depict as we really are. I imagine that Brian Wood spent a lot of time walking the streets where his stories took place, snapping pictures of the buildings which Burchielli would then render as destroyed, or badly damaged. He also creates a really nice multi-cultural cast of characters who make up the inhabitants of the DMZ, and the general gritty, desperate feel of the artwork really helps land you right in the correct mindset of what it feels like to be there are you’re reading the story. The art is sad, energetic, and urgent, rendering a tone that’s perfect for the world Wood has penned.

I’ve always wanted to like Brian Wood’s work. He’s clearly conscientious and intelligent, and seems to be working to tell stories with gravity and relevance, rather than a guy who’s just working his way to be considered for writing X-Men eventually. Now that’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s more rare that you’ll see someone working in mainstream comics, or the fringes thereof who’s working so hard to tell thoughtful stories. Yet, for me, many of those attempts fell a bit flat. So when I picked up DMZ for the first time, I expected to feel the same way. But I was shocked at how perfect this series is. It’s like nothing I’ve ever read before, and all 4 collected volumes have improved on the building of this fictional, but very real world. I don’t know what special sauce Wood cooked in this concoction, but I’m desperate for more like it.



  1. I really like DMZ and I am reading it in trades. The art isn’t particularly my style but the story is great.

  2. Just when I think I’m caught up on the Books You Should Be Reading, someone reminds me about DMZ. Demo did not do it for me, but this sounds right up my alley. (I wonder how my perception of the book as a lifelong midwesterner raised in the conservative burbs will differ from yours as a New Yorker.)

  3. Ahh, DMZ… One of the very first books that iFanboy got me into, way back in the day (well, a couple of years), and it has remained nothing short of fantastic. Even the stand-alone stories that came out recently, despite getting some criticism from folks, were brilliantly written and reall helped flesh out the world of the DMZ. And then Wood hits us with this new ‘Blood In The Game’ story, which is absolutely gripping so far.

    I have to agree with you, Josh, in that DMZ is the only work from Wood I’d consider crucial reading. The guy’s a great writer, clearly, yet something about his work outside of DMZ just doesn’t do it for me. I was really excited when Northlanders was announced, but dropped it after 2 issues. Not that it was bad, it just moved really slowly and didn’t grab me.

    Does Wood’s stuff read better in trades then? I found myself thinking this, saying I’d pick up the Northlanders trade? Not really, as after catching up DMZ in trades I’m been getting it monthly and it’s still as exciting and intriguing

    DMZ is just one of those stories that you can’t put your finger on. It’s a tentpole in my comic reading experience, one of the few titles I can’t do without. In fact, I’d rank it up there with Y in terms of how vital this book is. And I bet the movie’s not far away.

    (By the way, Josh, thanks for the Transmetropolitan tip… it’s awesome so far!) 

  4. Well, I’ve only lived in New York City for less than two years, and and I don’t particularly like it here.  So there’s that.  Don’t forget I grew up in Maine.  You don’t have to like New York, or even be that familiar with it to appreciate how fascinating it is culturally.

  5. I read this in trade and tremor with anticipation at the release of every new one.  Dying for Vol. 5.

  6. Ummmm, Local?  Anyone?  Another amazing! Brian Wood book that shows another whole side to his writing.

  7. Local is my holdout.  I really don’t want to be disappointed, and he’s one for…well, a bunch of them with me. 

    I’m very much aware of it. 

  8. I know, I just never pass up a chance to shout Local to the world.  Any spotlight on that book is great.  It may seem like a stretch to some, but I think there is a similar journey going on between Local and DMZ.  Both Matty and Megan are trying to find understanding and community in a world that is no longer familar to them.  The major difference in those journeys is that Matty’s is a restricted, compacted journey with extreme geographic limits and Megan’s is open ended and expansive without geographic limits.  It is that journey and searching that I latch onto in Brian Wood’s work.  A similar theme is present in Northlanders, but with a much harder edge. 

  9. I am a Brian Wood fan.  And DMZ is one of those books that I recommend to people that don’t "get" comic books.  Its timely, topical, really well written and more than a bit scary.  Plus the artwork ROCKS!.

  10. Lewis, I glanced at your post and at first thought it started with the sentence "I am Brian Wood."  And my esphogus jumped out through my brain. 

  11. By the end of the collection I really ended up enjoying Demo. And DMZ is great, but for my money Northlanders has become my favorite Brian Wood book. That probably has a lot to do with my intense, burning passion for viking history/literature.

    Issue #7 was teh awesomz 

  12. I love this series, but only read it in trade.  It’s been consistently good, and it’s definitely one that I always pick up the day it comes out.  I found Demo to be interesting, but only really liked 70% of the book.  Northlanders didn’t really do it for me.  I’m really looking forward to that Local HC though…

  13. As an aussie can i just say i have no idea why New york has any strategic value in the world of DMZ. What? Are they fighting over who gets to be rude and obnoxious?

     Just kidding. Anyway Wood wrote a four issue story called Supermarket. I get little DMZ vibe from that, it’s good

  14. I was just about to Suggest reading Supermarket for those who like Brian Wood’s work, but LOVE DMZ @edward beat me to it 🙂