DMZ is easily seen as a love-letter to New York City. And it probably is. But it’s much more important than that. DMZ was the centerpiece to a time in comic books, an era. It was the heart of some thing, some time, some way of seeing the world. When Matty Roth, the protagonist of DMZ literally exploded into his version of New York City, the real United States was knee-deep in the reign of a conservative president, terrorists had brought their war to the US of A in the form of 9/11, the opulent housing market was about to boil over and everyone was afraid of the decline of their western civilization.
Comic books were reflecting this nigh-post-apocalyptic world with titles like The Walking Dead, Scalped, Wasteland, Y the Last Man, DC Comics was counting down to another crisis, and Marvel Comics was in the middle of reinvention by creating “New” and “Ultimate” titles. To properly critique this world, Art and comic books needed something classically American, patriotic and actual.
Comic books was gifted this necessary icon in DMZ, a comic book that was rye with a hint of self-destructive self-examination of this nation. DMZ was rebellious and punk rock, nearly stylish but still edgy because it pulled no punches in its focus on a no-superheroes version of New York City, the place that many if not most of the world sees as the logo for The United States.
DMZ was not always great but that was itself a reflection of those days. And like The United States, like New York City after 9/11, DMZ kept going, building and rebuilding to find something sublime and cathartic in its execution. DMZ was a necessary medicine, a “forever” recorded, distorted reflection of the times and it was eventually exhausted. At the end of the DMZ’s run, it had become mired and beaten but it still kept fighting to be what it needed to be.
It the last trade of DMZ, loose ends were as tied up as they could be. But our protagonist, Matty Roth found himself having to pay for his actions – it was wonderfully sad and that’s good. The United States is at least to some degree beyond that time, that world. DMZ and what it became is no longer necessary and so it’s passed, gone to the library to be read by future generations who can only imagine what it was like to live in those times.
Thank you to the author/creator Brian Wood and all of the amazing artists that were able to visualize what was in his brain, the New York, New York that was the heart of these United States.