Writer: Brian Wood
Artists: Riccardo Burchielli & Brian Wood
Publisher: DC Comics/Vertigo
This issue is another stand-alone tale before DMZ launches into its second multi-issue arc, and sadly, it doesn’t fare that much better than the last issue’s one-shot story. The entire book is basically one long chase sequence, with embedded journalist Matty Roth hunting down the thief who breaks into his squat at the beginning of the issue, making off with his rudimentary press jacket and official press identification. Whilst some have described this as a whistle-stop tour of the DMZ - and a chance for new readers to get to know the place better - I was disappointed with how little Wood managed to use the backdrop this issue, preferring instead to simply have Matt quickly crash through a few various residencies before catching up with his adversary.
Unfortunately, there’s also a huge plothole - two, actually - in the story which threaten to make the whole premise unravel. The first is Matty’s continuing survival as he chases the thief through the DMZ, which undercuts the very crux of the story: that without his jacket, he’s as good as dead. He avoids snipers, ducks out of the way of belligerent and irate residents, and escapes from booby-traps, all with apparent ease – which does little to convince us of the huge danger that he’s apparently in without his trusty parka. The second storytelling discrepancy comes with two of Matt’s lines early on in the issue: “Press jackets can be faked. Shit, I had to make my own.” If that’s the case, then why would a thief go to the trouble of stealing a press jacket when he could simply make his own by daubing “press” on the back of a standard coat in white paint? To give him his dues, Wood does attempt to circumvent this lacuna with the additional theft of Matt’s press ID, which is apparently equally important in keeping potential enemies off his back. But this extra protection would seem to rely on the DMZ’s snipers checking the tiny badge before opening fire – which doesn’t seem all that plausible to me. What’s more, any close inspection of the pass would give the thief away anyway, as he doesn’t really look anything like Matt (a fact that Matt himself points out earlier in the issue). To top it all, the issue’s resolution relies on the fact that Matty is something of a local celebrity anyway, and that there are enough people who know what he looks like to be able to tell him apart from the thief. It sort of undermines the entire reasoning behind the chase, doesn’t it? But maybe that’s the point.
The more character-based exploits of the first arc are notable by their absence here, and although this issue does give us a chance to see Matt’s new apartment and to get used to what will presumably be his status quo for the 5-issue arc which begins next issue, the story feels pretty hollow and thin as a stand-alone issue in its own right. It’s solid enough action, but it comes at the expense of the more intellectually stimulating elements of the book, and it suggests that the series isn’t going to be as packed with ideas and arresting concepts as the first couple of issues led me to believe. There’s also a noticeable increase in gratuitous (albeit minor) nudity and strong language in this issue, which seems at odds with the mature yet restrained feel of the first few issues. Wood really doesn’t need to try so hard to convince us that the DMZ is cool or exciting: he’s created a great backdrop for the series, and a great concept to explore it – he just needs to get under its skin a little more instead of touching on its most superficial aspects through simple stories like the ones provided by the last couple of issues.
It seems as though Wood also believes that, having introduced him in the first three issues, there’s little need to continue building upon Matty Roth’s characterisation. This is a shame, because over the past couple of issues there’s definitely been a sense of disconnection with him as our “gateway” character, and without continuing to flesh out his protagonist and help the reader to empathise with him, Wood runs the risk of making his DMZ feel like a detached, alien place instead of the relatable and very human warzone which it was in the opening three issues. That said, the brief return of Zee this issue does indicate a return to the more character-based threads which were begun in the first few instalments, and it’ll be interesting to see whether Wood can manage to recapture the atmosphere of his successful first arc in his next big multi-part story.
The aspect of the book which continues to be most successful for me is the overall sense of strong visual design of the DMZ universe, all the way from the attention-grabbing and individual covers to the unique character designs and the consistently and convincingly war-torn urban look of the book. This issue also changes the way the credits are presented, as a single line of credits appears in each panel for the first few pages. It’s clearly an attempt to create a very cinematic feel to the book, and it works to an extent. Whilst I love the occasional visual contributions Brian Wood makes to the title, which stand alone as well-composed pieces of stark graphic art, it’s the solid and consistent work of Italian artist Riccardo Burchielli which has kept me coming back to the book. Burchielli’s style is interesting, mixing a slightly exaggerated sense of realism with a firm grasp of tone and emotional content in a manner which is reminiscent of some of Tim Sale’s earlier work. There’s more action than usual this issue, but Burchielli rises to the challenge, capturing a suitable sense of speed and excitement on the important, tone-establishing “I am so fucked” full page splash and maintaining a kinetic energy throughout which keeps the story moving, even during its quieter moments. However, it’s the amount of detail that the artist manages to incorporate which is most impressive - almost intimidatingly so - as a reader, ensuring plenty of new surprises even on a second and third reading. This issue I particularly enjoyed some barely-visible yet expertly-judged details such as the “Perfect Circle” poster in Matty’s HQ or the ever-present graffiti which plagues the DMZ - and I loved the recurring visual gag of Matt’s Public-Enemy-inspired hoodie: it’s a concept which is undeniably funny, but also plays into the themes of the story too. If Burchelli’s style was slightly more photo-realistic, I’m sure people would be hailing him as the next Bryan Hitch - but the slightly more cartoony sensibilities that he brings to the table suit the world of DMZ to a tee, and I can’t imagine the book capturing the imagination in the same way without his input.
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