Sunday, February 20, 2011

DMZ: The Hidden War

I’m finally returning to reading DMZ. Brian Wood’s Northlanders is one of my favorite books, so I had picked up the Demo trade and the first four DMZ trades, as long time readers might recall. The problem was, the fourth DMZ trade delved more into the origins of the Free States/United States conflict. The idea that a bunch of rednecks could take over military installations throughout the US was just too fantastical for me. Ironically, it was also in keeping with Second Amendment fantasists, which Wood is not, so far as I can tell. Regardless, I had to take a step back from DMZ for awhile.

But now it’s sale season at Cards, Comics and Collectibles, so I had a coupon for 50% off on a trade or HC. Cheap bastard that I am by the profligate standards of Jim and Lee, I went with the trade.

I’m glad I did. A lot of books do single issue stories between larger arcs. Some do two issue stories between arcs. Wood does this in Northlanders, where he’ll often have a two issue story between longer issue arcs. It works very well there, providing a nice respite between larger investments. The well planned book has these flowing freely and doesn’t have them showing up in the midst of other story lines which haven’t been completed. But I digress.

This trade, nom du guerre The Hidden War, is six single issue stories. There is no larger arc tying them together, other than each being about a person who lives in the DMZ. Each can be read in isolation, although it obviously helps to have some knowledge of the DMZ universe. Still, Wood provides plenty of flesh to each story so that it can be read without having read the 4 preceding trades. All of the stories are written by Wood. Series regular and co-creator Riccardo Burchielli does the pencils for Decade Later, Amina, Kelly, and Soames. Danijel Zezelj does the art for Wilson, and Nathan Fox does the art for Random Fire. Jeremy Cox is the colorist throughout. All of the original single issue covers were done by Wood.

Decade Later is the first story. It follows a graffiti artist who refuses to join any of the militias no matter how many beatings his former friends give him and becomes a local celebrity for his work in the war zone. It starts following him a decade earlier, before the war. Since the war he’s been working on a big project that involves specific subway cars and painting on the roof of each. When the cars are parked in the holding lot at night they have specific spaces, allowing the painted segments to come together to form one piece. It’s a story about the dedication of an artist to his craft and has the requisite unhappy ending.

Amina picks up the story of the failed suicide bomber befriended by series hero Matty Roth. It goes a bit more into how she came to be a suicide bomber and her life before 9/11. She ends up involved in a larger plot of some quasi government operator. This story appears to be leading to something more down the road.

Wilson tells how the man who controls Chinatown in the DMZ attained his position and what he’s about. He has lofty goals and was early in on the recognition of the complicity of the media with the military and various factions. It’s a bit fantastical, though, that a media outlet would broadcast a story about a bombing moments before the bombing actually occurred. Treading toward the ground that set me off in the first place and a little too James Bond.

Kelly’s a sad but not unexpected story. It’s also a bit brief for the importance of the character to the series hero. Kelly and Matty had been lovers and partners on stories, so I thought maybe she’d get more of a multi-issue arc for her demise. Granted, she was the star, not Matty, but I felt like she remained more a cypher when the story was over than the other five individuals featured in this trade. Or maybe it's that she's more of a caricature of the hard charging, damn the consequences media personality. In any case, I felt this was the least of the six stories.

The last two stories are the most interesting. The first is Random Fire. It’s about a club DJ who gets involved with a former employee of a security firm, a la Haliburton, to try to prevent the destruction of the underground club he’s supposed to play but is pre-empted from in favor of a celebrity DJ from Japan. I love the name DJ Grendel and lots of conspiracy on a small scale but most interestingly the creation of new character, Random Fire. I expect he’ll be showing up in future stories. Doesn't look so good for his partner, though.

The final story is Soames. He’s a soldier with the Free States army who defects into the DMZ. His perspective will be quite different from the bulk of those occupying the DMZ. This story is simply his journey there, nearly making it to US territory but then deciding to remain in the DMZ with its ragged survivors. His choices in joining the Free States army and in staying in the DMZ are different from any of his fellows, so I’m looking forward to see where his character goes. As someone who grew up in both suburbia and a rural environment, I expect the persective of this man who's not a city denizen will add some new light.
As much as the series normally is about life in the DMZ, this is taking a look into some of the side characters and some new characters to get different perspectives than our usual, which is that of Matty Roth. In fact, Roth only appears to any significant degree in the Kelly story. It's a good tactic for expanding the story's universe without moving too far afield from the lead character.
I still have problems with some of the deus ex machina that moves the larger story forward, but the stories of the people are very much ringing "true". Perhaps, if I view the deus ex machina through the lens of the imperfect characters instead of reading it as an imperfection in the deus who is the author, I'll enjoy it even more.

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