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Comic Book: DMZ
I <3 NY

An Alternate Universe dystopic comic book series created by Brian Wood and Riccardo Burchielli

The comic takes place in Manhattan in the midst of a civl war between the United States government and the Free States of America, a grassroots insurrection. Manhattan is now a demilitarized zone (or DMZ) between the two factions vying for control of the country. Isolated from the rest of America and caught between rival armies, the 400,000 remaining residents of the DMZ are struggling to stay alive in what writer Brian Wood describes as "equal parts Escape from New York, Fallujah, and New Orleans right after Hurricane Katrina."

Into this quagmire arrives Matty Roth, a fresh college grad and aspiring photojournalist who is stunned when he gets picked by Liberty News to accompany famed war correspondent Victor Ferguson for the very first field report into the DMZ. The trip immediately turns into a disaster, and Matty becomes stranded in the DMZ alone. With the help of a friendly local, Zee Hernandez, Matty soon manages to establish himself as the only journalist to begin reporting on life in the DMZ. Matty must navigate warring DMZ factions and protect his journalistic integrity as outside agents attempt to control his message. Along the way, he gains a new perspective on the civil war as well as an opportunity to shape its future.

The series started in January, 2006 and completed on February, 2012 after 72 issues.

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 appearance varies a bit based on the artist, but she's usually got narrow eyes, black hair (when it's seen undyed) and a freckled skin tone. As such, she's apparently of some mixed extraction, though her surname Hernandez implies some Hispanic or Latino ancestry.
  • 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 are almost uniformly complete and utter bastards, no matter which flag they serve under.
  • Asian Speekee Engrish: Wilson and a few of his grandsons speak this way. They're the only people in the series to speak with an accent.
  • Astro Turf: After a fashion. It's strongly suggested that the Free States spent years, if not longer, gathering a fighting force, planning, and then seizing the opportunity to strike. In particular, the soldier involved in Day 204 talks about young men of fighting age being steered away from the US military at home and towards anonymous militias, and how he was assaulted and berated by one of the militia organizers when he did join the Army regardless, including a line that more or less went "You want to fight? You come see us, soon enough you'd have gotten your fight!"
  • Axe Crazy: "Street crazies" who seem to attack anyone they encounter. Even the sane residents of the DMZ kill anyone in their territory that they don't recognize.
  • 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 when the UN tries to step in, a single attack that assassinates the UN Secretary General. Due to safety concerns the UN removes its presence from the DMZ entirely, just as Trustwell expected them to do, and Trustwell suddenly has nothing to stop them from sinking its claws into Manhattan and doing whatever it wants in the name of security.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: The only executive of Trustwell we see is fat and ugly.
  • 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, Manhattan 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: It practically oozes off many characters, including Marty, in spite of the fact that they're in Manhattan.
  • Bystander Syndrome: Wilson keeps his grandsons out of several encounters by just saying it's not their fight, 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: A nation divided in civil war, and a city constantly beset by atrocities.
  • 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
  • Depending on the Artist:
    • Kristian Donaldson's guest renditions of the main characters look very different and are more conventionally attractive, with smoother complexions, larger eyes and more angular features. Zee is also more Ambiguously Brown.
    • Kristian Donaldson does not draw Matty with his trademark nose bandage. After she filled in for Burchielli on issue 20, Burchielli apparently did homage to her choice by not drawing it on Matty's face for issue 21. In issue 22, however, it inexplicably returns.
  • 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.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Matty's forces mistakenly attacking what turns out to be a wedding reception obviously evokes the Mukaradeeb wedding party massacre in Iraq.
  • 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.
  • Every Helicopter Is A Huey: A Huey being purchased is a plot point.
  • 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."
  • Fictional Counterpart:
    • There's the super shady and murderous company Trustwell, an obvious joining together of Haliburton and Blackwater.
    • Liberty News stands in for any of the other 24-hour news networks.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: Wilson went from a mediocre Tong street thug to the uncrowned emperor of Chinatown virtually overnight.
  • Ghost Town: Less than 400,000 people remain in Manhattan, which had a population of slightly over 1.6 million in 2012.
  • Hollywood Healing: A notable inversion. Matty spends most of his six years in the DMZ with a bandage over the bridge of his nose, for some reason.
  • 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.
  • Human Interest Story: The initial reason Matty, Victor & crew go to the DMZ is to find these.
  • Idiot Ball:
    • On a day in which American soldiers are rampaging through the DMZ, Matty gives an order to kill "bad guys" in a specified area. His security team, led by the veteran officer Angel, interpret that order as slaughtering a group of civilians at a wedding party. Angel, who knows Matty well, never thinks to question his understanding of the order.
    • 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.
    • The Free State Commander all but admits that he felt his side grabbed it after their victory against the US Army in Pennsylvania and the subsequent advance towards New York. Until then he was sure that his side would eventually be defeated, it was just a question of when. With that first victory against a real fighting force, however, he realized that they had a brief window of opportunity to capitalize on while the US Armed Forces were frantically regrouping, and that if they could just grab enough territory or at least prevent the US from finding a place to make a stand, the Free States could legitimately win the war. Here, however their nature as an amateur guerrilla movement worked against them, as they lacked the discipline or coordination to seize their chance and the US was able to make a stand, resulting in the current stalemate.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Matty becomes this. And abandons it in favor of becoming Parco Delgado's Press Secretary, then a revolutionary working under Parco.
  • 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."
  • 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.
  • 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 your bosses or your contract more than death, 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.
  • The Main Characters Do Everything: Matty is at the center of every major event that occurs in the DMZ for the entire six years of his presence. Matty is the sole reporter giving first insight into the DMZ to the rest of the world. The presence of the UN and Trustwell in the DMZ hinge on his actions. Then he helps elect the new leader of the DMZ and becomes his right-hand man. Then he acquires the nuke. Then he becomes single-handedly responsible for ending the war and brokering a peace deal with all of the factions of the DMZ.
  • 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 or 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 Name Given: The Free States commander at Lincoln Tunnel. He's not even given an official rank or job description. He's just referred to as the FSA commander.
  • Occupiers Out of Our Country: 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. It's all the worst stories about Blackwater times ten.
  • 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. Soames says that the Free State Army getting cocky and engaging in purposeless, petty destruction and pillaging was what slowed them down in approaching New York and gave the US time to regroup, the FSA Commander's frustration at the missed opportunity seems to be corroborating evidence. As always for the FSA though, precious little of their villainy is shown.
  • 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.
  • Right Wing Militia Fanatic: While Wood is careful to avoid specific political issues and keep details vague, the FSA are clearly modeled on them and are their inheritors.
  • Screw the War, We're Partying:
    • The US Garrison on Staten Island has a permanent version of the World War One Christmas Truce 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 is a government-run propaganda network. It's also apparently the only news organization in America.
  • Strawman Political: The FSA is characterized as a bunch of rednecks, gun-nuts and racists from America's heartland, while America is characterized as a corrupt and brutal dictatorship from Washington. These are extreme versions of the "big government vs. small government" debate. In the process, neither side is presented as correct.
  • 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.
  • Unsound Effect: When the residents of Chinatown all kowtow to Wilson, it's accompanied by the massive sound effect, "KOWTOW!" over their heads.
  • 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.
  • 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 discusses the trope when talking about the two sides of the war.

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alternative title(s): DMZ
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