Thursday, March 25, 2010

Review: DMZ: On the Ground

DMZ: On the Ground is the first graphic novel in writer Brian Wood's DMZ series. The story takes place in the near future, and follows Matty Roth, a young journalist, into a hard to imagine war-zone: New York City. With U.S. imperialism bogging down the military machine in overseas interests, middle America decides to rise up and begin the second Civil War. With the so-called Free States army pushing their way towards the oceans, they come to a stand-still in Manhattan, or as the world now calls it: The DMZ.

The story focuses on Matty Roth, a young and inexperienced journalist, who gets the gig of a lifetime due to a sweet hook-up from his Dad, who has connections which are never fully explained. Matty, along with a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, choppers into the DMZ. Upon landing they are immediately attacked, and surprise, surprise, Matty is the only survivor. Now he has to survive in the most dangerous place on Earth. Luckily he meets Zee, a doctor of sorts who shows him the ropes and Matty must make the choice of getting the hell out of the DMZ, or seizing the opportunity of a lifetime to become the only reporter in a deadly war-zone... buuuuut of course he stays, otherwise there wouldn't be a story to tell.

The actual nuts and bolts of the rebellion; which states are on which side and what territories each group controls are never fully explained, and was confusing at times. The whole history of the situation is never fully explained, and I often found myself thinking: "Maybe Wood just had a cool idea to turn NYC into a war-zone and never really got any further than that." Because that is how it feels. I kept hoping for a map that would give me a better idea as to what the hell was going on in the U.S. but never got one. Hopefully things get explained in greater detail as the series goes along.

Which brings me to my favorite thing about DMZ: On the Ground, and that is that I care a lot about the dilemma that Wood sets up. I was immediately intrigued by the whys and hows of a second Civil War. I wanted to know the politics behind it, and the arguments for each side. I found myself wondering: if this really happened, which side I'd be on, and while Wood didn't divulge much information in this regards, my curiosity is sufficiently peaked, and I love the basic premise.

All that being said, Matty isn't the greatest lead character. I never found myself caring for what happened to him. He initially comes across as a young dip-shit journalist, who is completely naive. By the end of the first book, he had matured quite a lot, as he would have to given his situation, but I felt like Wood could do more with this character to make him more realistic.

The artwork by Riccardo Burchielli is solidly done. Seeing New York City as a bombed out war-zone was pretty cool. The drawings contain a fairly high level of detail, and he gives a real sense of place with all the dirt, grime, and graffiti in the DMZ.

Even though I've made my share of gripes, this is simply the first volume in a multi-volume story, so there is a lot more still to happen, and Wood may easily wipe away all my gripes in the next volume with some back-story and further fleshing out of Matty's character. This first volume did feel like it was all about set-up and that the next installments would really kick things into gear. The ideas in DMZ are cool enough to keep me around for at least one more installment, but I feel like I'll need to see more if I am in for the long haul.

Grade: C+

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