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Comic Book: DMZ
I <3 NY

Imagine this for a second: in an Alternate Universe, the US expanded The War on Terror far beyond the what it actually did under George W. Bush. Now does anyone remember the Vietnam-war-esque domestic political shitstorm that the USA's piss-poor handling of those two wars - Afghanistan and Iraq - stirred up? No?

Well in DMZ, after three decades of "three different wars on as many continents", and all the accompanying economic and social strife that came with that, the USA tore itself apart in a second American Civil War.

It began with large anti-government/secessionist militias sprang up - starting mostly in the Midwestern US, but spreading quickly. And with most of the Army and National Guard overseas, there was no one to stop these forces. Small insurgent groups popped up simultaneously all over the country, while a large cohesive fighting force who declared themselves the "Free States of America" rolled through the nation. Most times when the National Guard units left in the country confronted the Free States Army, they either refused to fire on their countrymen or joined the Free Staters, swelling the ranks of and adding more material to the rebellious forces.

It took just weeks for what was derided as a "redneck rebellion" and "pickup-truck army" to take large chunks of the US. Finally realizing the danger posed, Army units began returning home from overseas to attempt to stop the Free State 'Army', but lost their first battle in Pennsylvania. As the Free Staters continued pushing northeast, plans were made to evacuate the island of Manhattan. Unfortunately, the plan failed horribly. Many New Yorkers refused to leave, most of the city employees supposed to help people get out deserted their posts and ran for the hills, and soldiers closed the bridges to the mainland after only a few hours. Nearly a million people were caught in the middle as the US Army and the Free State Army clashed. The US Army finally halted the 'Free-Staters', but was unable to drive them back - resulting in a tense, years-long stalemate where the US holds the lands to the east of Manhattan and the Free States forces hold Jersey to the west. Inbetween, Manhattan is No Man's Land where the people left behind scrounge a living out of the ruins of the old city.

Skip ahead about a decade or a little more. Matty Roth is fresh out of college, and doing a photography internship with Liberty News, the news/propaganda network which has all but merged with the US government. On the job less than a week, completely untrained, Matty winds up accompanying famous war correspondent Victor Ferguson to do a story on life in the De-Militarized Zone (or DMZ) of Manhattan and the conditions there. Within minutes of landing, however, their group is ambushed by the natives, (who despise both sides and just want to be left alone) and the helicopter is shot down while attempting to escape. Suddenly Matty, who is completely ignorant of politics and life on the ground in Manhattan has to survive in what author Brian Wood describes as "equal parts Escape from New York, Fallujah, and New Orleans right after Hurricane Katrina."

His first major piece of luck is stumbling into the house of Zee Hernandez, who was a med student before the war and refused to leave the people in her hospital behind. Zee becomes Matty's guide to Manhattan, showing the surprising ways that people have adapted and how, contrary to rumors about their savagery, most of them are still just people trying to live their lives. However even Zee's help might not be enough to let Matty survive the multiple different street gangs and factions vying for resources and control within Manhattan, or the fact that both sides of the war are now keenly interested in manipulating the only embedded journalist in Manhattan, and what he has to say to the public.

Caught between both sides and being exposed to the best and worst parts of each, how long can Matty last before his luck runs out? The series started in January, 2006 and lasted to 2012. Issue #72 (February, 2012) served as the finale.

Tropes used in this comic series

  • Action Survivor: Matty, and many other Manhattan residents.
  • Alternate History: The War On Terror is no less than six conflicts, and the strain on the government's approval by the public is far worse for it.
  • Ambiguously Brown: Zee's skin color varies based on who's drawing her that issue, from lily-white to dark pure-African black, but the most common portrayal of her is as a mixed-race individual whose exact ethnicity is indeterminate though her last name of Hernandez would imply Hispanic.
  • Animal Wrongs Group: The Central Park Ghosts, From a Certain Point of View. They're actually outright heroic relative to many of the other factions, but the fact remains that they still kill people to protect trees.
  • Armies Are Evil: Although there are plenty of decent ex-military characters, the active-duty soldiers depicted thus far have been almost uniformly complete and utter bastards, no matter which flag they serve under.
  • Badass Grandpa: Wilson, literally - he has many, many grandsons. It's never made clear precisely how old he actually is, but he's clearly no spring chicken. He also rules Chinatown, and his 'grandsons' are actually his private army, one of the most powerful military forces in the city.
  • Balkanize Me: Actually averted - although the US is caught in a civil war it has not actually split into separate countries per se. The FSA makes no claims to being an independent state, styling itself as a revolutionary movement instead, and even the DMZ itself is still technically United States territory. The operative word there, however, is 'technically' - once you're outside the relatively tiny USA zone of control in New England the rest of the country is all but explicitly stated to be in a permanent state of asymmetrical warfare.
  • Batman Gambit: Trustwell pulls off a sweet one. They create and supply a group of terrorists for hire from within their own ranks of overworked, underpaid construction crews. They then set these cells to making numerous attacks on Trustwell... and one attack that assassinates the UN Secretary General, because the UN was keeping Trustwell from gaining total control over the DMZ. The UN promptly pulls out, and Trustwell sinks its claws into Manhattan.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Matty has to live with the mistakes he's made in a federal prison for the rest of his life. He even lets the government pin some of their crimes on him, like killing Viktor. However, the war ends and fifteen years later, New York has been rebuilt.
  • Black and Gray Morality: And a lot of the time the gray is pretty dark.
  • Bomb-Throwing Anarchists: The 'street crazies', a nebulous mass of disorganized armed lunatics who have a tendency to appear out of nowhere and indiscriminately attack pretty much everyone.
    • Every faction in the city treats them as more of a natural hazard than an organized military force, since that's pretty much what they are in practice.
  • Brooklyn Rage
  • Bystander Syndrome: Wilson keeps his grandsons out of several encounters by just saying it's not their fight/war/whatever, and focuses on consolidating China Town.
  • Child Soldiers: At one point Matty interviews a Thompkins Square Militia soldier who also happens to be an 11-year-old girl.
  • Crapsack World: And how.
  • Death from Above: The USA resorts to this very, very frequently, courtesy of their effectively total air supremacy, one of the few military advantages they have left.
  • Deconstructor Fleet
  • Deus Ex Nukina: The USA neutralizes the Delgado Nation's nuclear device by dropping another nuke on its hiding spot.
  • Divided States of America: The United States in this universe is for all intents and purposes a failed state. The legitimate government only maintains solid, definite control over parts of New England, with the entire rest of the country actively disputed between the government, the Free States, and other, smaller militia groups.
  • The Don: It takes awhile to dawn on Matty that his elderly neighbor and protector Wilson is this. Their relationship starts to change after that happens.
  • Drunk with Power: Matty increasingly became this before it seriously bit him in the ass. Parco may well have been there, but it's hard to say exactly, because we have relatively little insight to him.
  • Due to the Dead: Matty's dead girlfriend gets an improvised Viking Funeral using an inflatable raft and a Flare Gun. Surprisingly, it actually goes off without a hitch; bribes were paid where necessary to keep violence off it, and the respect Matty had at the time probably helped.
  • Eagleland: Type 2. What remains of the US government is corrupt and repressive, their troops have very lax rules of engagement, and their leaders have no qualms about killing American citizens by the thousands for relatively little strategic gain. If the New York we see in the epilogue is a fair estimate of how the entire country is post-war, it gets better.
  • Election Night: The power of an election is shown when Trustwell's massive voter intimidation campaign fails to stop Parco Delgado from being elected, and then it's subverted when it turns out electing Parco was the worst thing the population of the DMZ could've done for themselves; their elected representative pushes the government too far.
  • Face-Heel Turn: Matty, who starts helping the United States, believing he can't stop them but at least help minimize the damage before it's over. In the end, he's right.
  • Fallen Hero: Matty, as of the end of the eighth volume Hearts And Minds. His response to an American soldier asking how they can possibly trust that his intel isn't going to lead them into an ambush set up by his 'DMZ buddies is simply, "I don't have friends here anymore."
  • Ghost Town: Less than 400,000 people remain in Manhattan, which had a population of 1.5 million in the 2000 census.
  • Human Interest Story: The initial reason Matty, Victor & crew go to the DMZ is to find these.
  • Hopeless War: For everyone. The USA doesn't have the manpower to retake their old territory, the FSA's numerical superiority is countered by the superior US firepower and defensive position, and the Manhattan militias are too busy killing each other to fight back against either side in any meaningful way. It's a bloody stalemate with absolutely no end in sight.
    • Actually discussed in-story. When it's brought up to the FSA commander that there's no chance of his forces ever winning, he comments that he's leading an insurgent movement, not an invading army. As such, it doesn't matter that they can't win - all they have to do to achieve victory is not lose.
    • In the end, everyone has to compromise, and the country is better for it.
  • Idiot Ball: Both Matty and his security force grab it hard towards the end of volume 8, when Matty, who has come increasingly close to cracking, gives kill orders for a group of soldiers who beat the crap out of him. His security forces either interpret or execute the orders extremely incompetently, and kill a bunch of Innocent Bystanders. Well done all around, guys.
    • Parco Delgado seriously thought having a nuke would provide a deterrent against the government acting out any further against him, and further legitimize the DMZ as a nation. Boy, was he wrong.
    • Free States Rising shows through flashbacks how the government's response to unheard of levels of civil unrest prompted their reaction of sticking their heads in the sand as deep as possible, not only as the United States declined into a third-world country but as the Free States started taking territory on their way east.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Matty becomes this. And abandons it in favor of becoming Parco Delgado's Press Secretary, then a semi-independent power of his own.
  • Kick the Dog: Many, many instances. The biggest are probably 'Day 204' (an incident several years before the comic began in which US soldiers gunned down 200 unarmed peace protestors) and the much later saturation bombing of Manhattan, including incinerating Central Park with napalm and leveling Chinatown. The most personal for Matty is when his own orders get civilians killed.
  • Karma Houdini: Arguably the government; they never have to answer for killing Viktor, framing Parco for setting off his nuke when they just dropped their own on it, and they lay all the blame on Matty in addition to the things he's actually guilty of. However, they end up negotiating with the Free States instead of decisively defeating them to put things back exactly as they were before the war. Matty specifically seeks to avert this for himself, partly because he doesn't want to avoid the consequences of his actions, and party because accepting amnesty which would save him from both his own crimes and the ones the government pins on him would kill the legitimacy of anything he reports on afterwards.
Matty Roth: "I can't be the guy that busted Trustwell, or the guy that broke Stevens' story, or the guy who helped end the war without also being the guy that sold Parco that nuke, or caused the deaths of those innocent civilians. The two go hand in hand."
  • La Résistance: What both the Free States Army and the Manhattan militias originally were. The FSA has since become an N.G.O. Superpower, while the militias are increasingly starting to resemble native tribes.
  • The Last DJ: Wilson urges Matty to become this, telling him something along the lines of: "Be afraid of death Matty, but never be afraid of your bosses, your contract, whatever. The second you fear that more, you become irrelevant."
  • Land of One City: Inverted - Manhattan Island may technically only be one city, but it's divided into literally hundreds of tribal enclaves, petty dictatorships, communes, republics, zones of control, gang territories and the like.
  • Manipulative Bastard: The Free State commander. Parco Delgado as well; it's hard to peg his motives and whether or not he's Drunk with Power, but he's unquestionably charismatic and able to convince people to join his cause with very little effort, Matty included. When Matty calls him on this, Parco doesn't deny it but also tells Matty right back that he wasn't mind-controlled and on some level, Matty still had to choose to follow Parco.
  • The Medic: Zee, to everyone, regardless of what their side of faction is. As a result Zee is about as close as you can get to being untouchable in the DMZ. (Which isn't all that close, really).
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Matty after his squad accidentally kills fourteen people at a wedding party. He even suffers a Heroic BSOD after, for a given value of 'heroic' anyway.
  • Naïve Newcomer: Matty is a huge case at the start. Even after years of living in the DMZ, he was far too naive about Parco Delgado, a charismatic man from the DMZ elected to be its new governor.
  • New-Age Retro Hippie: The old Meat Packing district is now the territory of an entire several-thousand-strong nation of them, the 'Independent Artists Collective Protectorate'. They're packing guns. Lots of guns.
  • N.G.O. Superpower: The degree to which the Free States Army is actually a 'government' is debatable, but they've spent years fighting the most powerful military in the world to an absolute standstill, are formally recognized as an independent power by the UN, are absolutely filthy rich in secret, and despite being an insurgent movement are able to field multiple divisions of troops for military campaigns when necessary.
  • No Companies Were Harmed: There's the super shady and murderous company Trustwell, an obvious joining together of Haliburton and Blackwater. Liberty News probably = Fox News too.
  • Not-So-Harmless Villain: For much of the series, the USA is brutal and violent but generally ineffectual. Then they decide to wipe out the Delgado Nation, and we see exactly what they're capable of.
  • Occupiers Out Of Our City: After years of being treated as the enemy, most Manhattan citizens see the USA and FSA as invading foreign occupiers.
  • Offstage Villainy: The Free States are usually labeled as being just as bad if not worse than the US, but we have almost no concrete examples of that that aren't provided by the Commander, whereas we see the US being bastards constantly.
  • Private Military Contractors: Trustwell's private army is amoral, brutal, and very dangerous.
  • Rape, Pillage, and Burn: Happens often. Trustwell actually had cells in the city whose sole orders were to do this as much as possible, some of the more violent militia groups do it regularly, and it's standard procedure whenever the US military makes a move in the city. Presumably the Free States do the same as well, but they have yet to actually perform any hostile actions in Manhattan (that we've seen, anyway).
  • Redemption Equals Death: Almost; Matty is initially sentenced to death by the military tribunal. For his help ending the war faster, it's taken down to life in prison.
    • One of the Fur Hats finds a certain amount of redemption in his death. He was going to die anyway as a suicide bomber, but warned the surrounding people and waited for them to run clear first.
  • Relative Button: The Free States commander does this to Matty, by taking a cheap shot about Matty's dead reporter girlfriend.
  • The Scrappy: In-universe; PFC Stevens makes himself a massive hatedom out of the entire US Army just trying to do the right thing.
  • Screw The War We're Partying: The US Garrison on Staten Island has a permanent version of the World War One Christmas Truce (see the trope or google the term for more info) with their Free States counterparts, and both sides cover it up to their superiors. That is, until the US Commander's souvenir vial of Ricin goes missing. The Commander quickly turns to torture and murder in looking for it. Things don't improve even though the Free Staters, moved by a plea from one of the US soldiers, finally help the US Soldiers find it.
    • And there's also the fact that people in the DMZ still relieve stress by hitting the clubs, or throwing a war party when they survive a bombing, and so on and so forth.
  • Sociopathic Soldier: A whole lot of them. The mistreatment and eventual fate of a soldier who essentially rebels against this is downright horrifying.
  • Strawman News Media: Liberty News, albeit justified in that it's effectively a government-run propaganda network.
  • Strawman Political: Averted. Real-world political leanings are rarely even mentioned - at this point in the war labels like 'liberal' and 'conservative' are mostly obsolete, and the Free States and USA are actually mostly identical ideologically.
  • The Triads and the Tongs: Wilson and his army of "grandsons"
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: There are no pure heroes in this series, so this is to be expected.
  • The War on Terror: The strain of the USA's endless intervention throughout the Third World have caused the country to come apart at the seams.
  • Unfriendly Fire: Victor survives the crash and being taken captive by the Free States, only to escape and be killed by the US so they'll have an excuse to go on the offensive again.
  • Vestigial Empire: The United States still has one of the largest and most powerful armies on the planet and a fully functioning government structure, but they also have solid control over less than ten percent of their claimed territory and actually administrate even less than that - in practice much of the country is either governed solely at the local level or just not governed at all. The government would certainly love to retake all the old territory, but from what we've seen it's obvious that they simply can't - they're having trouble maintaining control of what little territory they still have.
    • On a smaller scale, the Fur Hat raiders, who lack any other given name. They're the remains of the New York City government and emergency services, and their territory now consists entirely of the upper floors of the Empire State Building.
  • Voice of the Resistance: Matty begins as one, and when he abandons this role he sets up a replacement in volume 8.
  • War Is Hell: The comic could be renamed to 'War Is Hell: The Comic' and you wouldn't have to change anything.
  • With Us or Against Us: Both the US and Free States use this logic. The people in the DMZ tell them both to go to Hell, but the New Yorkers sometimes do this too, just usually on a more local level.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Both major factions and most of the minor ones. The only people seen thus far who don't qualify for this label in at least some way are Trustwell and the Fur Hats.
  • Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: As far as the news, Army, and US is concerned, everyone on Manhattan who just wants to be left alone is an insurgent. Also, the Free States Commander mentions the trope.

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alternative title(s): DMZ
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