Monday, May 4, 2009

DMZ #41

Set on the island of Manhattan in the very near future, DMZ examines how the lives of New Yorkers have changed since their town was designated a demilitarized zone. When a freethinking revolution passes through the hearts and minds of Middle America, the concept takes hold and manifests itself in the form of a full-scale revolt. With the majority of the country's national guard overseas, the Free State movement moves quickly, overtaking the vast majority of the US landmass in the blink of an eye. The battle stalls in NYC, however, and with neither army able to maintain control, it's labeled a no man's land and summarily evacuated. Now, years into the conflict, rookie journalist Matty Roth has begun to make a name for himself through a series of stunning reports from deep within the DMZ.

This month we spend some time with Zee, DMZ's foremost supporting character. A roving field medic with no real affiliation among the various throngs and factions inside the metropolis, Zee was the first local we met in Manhattan way back in DMZ #1. She's a kind of poster girl for the bold, righteous, DIY nature of the more humane communities within the city: tough and intimidating on the outside to protect the warm soul hidden underneath. This isn't the first time the book's focus has shifted her way, nor is it likely to be the last, and she doesn't flinch under the spotlight.

She's Brian Wood's most relatable, down-to-earth character – more so than even his protagonist, Matty Roth. Where the majority of the city's residents have lost their minds in the chaos of anarchy, Zee keeps her head and wits about her at all times and manages to act like a reasonable human being, even under the constant threat of sniper fire. But although she may sound like an inspirational figure, that doesn't make this an uplifting story. Zee might be one of Wood's best characters, but his most deeply developed creation remains the city itself, and it's in no way as rational an individual. While this issue may be about hope in the face of great adversity, that doesn't mean the right people always come out on top.

Temporarily filling in on the visuals this month is Nikki Cook, whose loose, quick brush strokes provide a noticeable change of pace from the rough, gritty work that usually typifies the series. I didn't care much for her efforts at first glance, but as the story bore on they did begin to grow on me. While her imprecise cityscapes and almost flippant approach to the issue's sparse action scenes left a bad taste in my mouth, Cook makes a strong impression with the facial expressions and body language she grants the cast. As a primarily character-centric issue, that kind of focus works for the most part this month, but I can't see her being a long-term fit for this series.

Although the services of regular artist Riccardo Burchielli are a big missing piece, Brian Wood's storytelling is able to pick up the slack. His ability to make readers care, one way or another, for new characters with just the slimmest of introductions is a godsend, especially during the "down periods," so to speak, between major story arcs. Longtime readers will be pleased to note that DMZ is still going strong, and those unfamiliar would do well to catch up as soon as they can. Buy it now, or pick up the first trade if you haven't already. I regretted waiting so long to do so myself.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 8.5

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