Seriously, here we go. Some snippets pertaining to DMZ, but
for Army@Love, Civil War, and World War Hulk, courtesy of Douglas Wolk.
A rocket explodes in a neighborhood in the middle of a war zone, and a U.S. Army division arrives to survey the scene. The commander turns to the embedded photojournalist who’s been traveling with them and suggests a way to characterize the photographs he’s taking: “Insurgent cell defeated en route to engage American forces’ or something. Whatever. And crop out the small bodies.”
It could have happened last week in Baghdad or Fallujah. But this scene is set in downtown Manhattan, in the future—in the comic book DMZ for Vertigo/DC Comics. Writer Brian Wood and artist Riccardo Burchielli’s ongoing series, which imagines a devastating civil war in the United States, is one of a new class of mainstream comics: stories that are clearly responding to the war in Iraq without referring to it directly. Using settings and characters that are futuristic, surreal, or satiric, these new comics go where the network news fears to tread.
One of the chief differences between the current war in Iraq and earlier wars is the way its public perception and media coverage is being managed by the American government. Both DMZ and Army@Love riff on that theme. The protagonist of DMZ is Matty Roth, an embedded photojournalist in a near-future American civil war in which Manhattan has become sealed-off “neutral territory”—one army occupies New Jersey, the other has Long Island. Both sides want to make Roth a mouthpiece for their propaganda, and his friends in the city’s war zone just wish they could get back to their lives. Meanwhile, the Halliburtonian corporation Trustwell is making plenty of money from the conflict.
Every element of DMZ can be understood as a commentary on Iraq. Images of Herald Square as a bombed-out ruin and the Queens waterfront as a confusion of sniper scopes and military satellite dishes transfer the familiar look of Baghdad under fire to a setting that hits home. “You can watch the war like a TV show, if you want, which is an idea I find equally disgusting and fascinating,” says DMZ writer Brian Wood. “But a side effect of that is it can stop feeling real, it can stop seeming like news, and it dulls you down to the point where you stop thinking or caring that real people are being killed and dying, all in our name.”
One of the wittiest installments of DMZ so far also plays with the way the Iraq war’s images have been packaged. “New York Times,” drawn by Wood himself, is a set of war-journalism vignettes laid out with the aesthetic of an urban listings and lifestyle magazine like Time Out. A guide to music venues offers tips on how to avoid snipers while standing in line; a “photo” spread lists its subjects’ names, ages, and militia affiliations.
DMZ isn’t just a critique of Iraq; it’s a commentary on the way a distant conflict is experienced by Americans through media. Wood says the seeds of the series lie in the presentation of the first Gulf War on television. “The thing that struck me was how much access we had at home watching it on TV,” he says. “It was such a media-heavy war that we learned the names of theater commanders. We knew what MRE stood for. Military language became household words—phrases like ‘on the ground’ and ‘shock and awe’ and ‘ink spot’—and with the current war, they evolved into marketing slogans.” He adds, “If the Pentagon can use it to sell their war, I can take it and slap it on the cover of my book.”