Marlowe Lewis takes a look at DMZ #42 from Vertigo that is on the stands of your local comic book shop right now.
This inaugural part of a planned three issue story is a flashback tale set in the deadly events that occurred during the initial issue of this title. It is a first person account from one of the costumed militiamen who attacked the Liberty News helicopter, which originally brought Matthew Roth to Manhattan. The story goes into extensive detail about the day to day existence of this characters life as an anonymous low level member of a murderous militaristic cult who have their center of operations in the Empire State Building.
After his return from the mission that downed the news helicopter he begins to have personal qualms both about his place in the organisation and the people who are giving him orders. From this internal disquiet we see the beginnings of a rebellion against the stifling status quo that he has been locked in since the death of his family at the beginning of the war.
Brian Woods plot is extremely tightly written. He was obviously trying to portray the sense of claustrophobia that exists inside the cult headquarters and this feeling comes across very well in his scripting. His unnamed main characters story is interesting enough to carry you all the way through the issue and also makes you want to come back again for the next time to see how future events transpire.
Ryan Kellyâ€™s art is competently done with his dense and exciting battle scenes pages being particularly effective. The inking line is perhaps a bit heavy but maybe this was a deliberate artistic choice because the majority of the script is set during night time.
The colorist Mr Jeromy Cox has also had to confine himself to the tenebrous range of his digital pallet: deep blues, sepia browns and pea soup greens to interpret the darkened Manhattan that this story is set in but he does his job well and I particularly liked how he handled the last page.
Right from the get go of this issue, Brian Wood is playing with our minds and our sense of time.
Itâ€™s no accident that this story kicks off with a group therapy session where we are introduced to our leading man telling his companions his tragic life story. It is only after we are four pages in to the story that we realise that these events happened in the past because in pages five and six we are suddenly brought shockingly back into the present day with a teaser of forthcoming dramatic events, which are then never referenced again in the rest of this particular issue. From that point on, even though the visuals we are seeing depict events that happened months ago, the exposition dialogue paragraphs are written in the present tense. We are experiencing the comic in two different time streams.
Itâ€™s also not an accident that the majority of the main characters speech bubbles are shown when he is inside the Empire State Building because when he is out on a mission he is required to be focused on the task at hand and not to allow any personal considerations to cloud his judgement. Extraneous speech is neither required nor permitted. Extraneous questions are also not needed or permitted. He will be told what to do when he needs to know it and not before.
Anyone familiar with cult behaviour will instantly recognise both these conditions. The changing of a new memberâ€™s linear time frame and the severe restrictions of placed on any personal choices that they are allowed to make are classic indoctrination techniques. That Mr Wood and Mr Kelly were able to convincingly convey both these states in a comic script is very impressive indeed. I believe that this is the first time that these creators have worked together since they produced the well received â€˜Localâ€™ comic book but they have obviously fallen right back into the old talented groove.
It was also no accident that the main man has no given name because in a cult what you are called is not important just as long as you precisely follow instructions. It would have been easy to let this man be a sympathetic character but Mr Woods never falls into that easily avoided trap. He shows us all the sides of his protagonist; both good and bad; and then lets us make up our own mind whether to like him or not. This personage was deliberately created to be a cipher into which we could pour all our own prejudices about cult behaviour and because of the two page flash forward sequence we are left with the hope that this man can break his conditioning and rebel against his faceless authority.
I know that this book has left than 18 months to go but this is one of the finest Vertigo titles and the line will be poorer for its loss.
I give this book three and a half stars.