Wednesday, 26 April 2017

DMZ Book 6: Blood In The Game (#29-34)

"This is fucking unreal.  I need protection? Me?" - Zee Hernandez

Back in the DMZ, it's the noughties and with the U.S. Governments attentions being drawn away from home affairs by a series of middle eastern wars the unthinkable happens.  A movement in the midwest begins calling themselves the Free States who declare themselves independant of the USA and establish a capital in Montana.  Almost immediately a second civil war begins, and with U.S forces mostly tied up abroad and many in the National Guard sympathetic to the Free States movement soon the US finds itself pushed back to New York.  Manhattan was evacuated hastily anc chaotically as the Free States approached but around 400,000 were left trapped inside as the island was sealed off.  After much fighting which pushed the Free States back to New Jersey a massacre of one hundred and ninety-eight peace protestors by a U.S. army patrol saw them mostly withdraw from Long Island and negociate a ceasefire.  Now with the FSA to the west and the U.S. army to the east, surviving in the middle are the residents of the DMZ, their stories being told by Matty Roth, a journalist who's been embedded in the DMZ for around three years. With this volume we get the first big shake up of power in the DMZ as a charismatic street politician stands in the first wartime elections the DMZ has seen.  With Matty co-opted into his campaign we finally see Matty's journalistic integrity be tested to the max as he himself becomes part of the story...

We begin with a march that is going out of control, people are holding signs saying "DELGADO NATION" and are coming under fire. Men in red wearing red berets fire back saying "Parco's down! Down!"  The man in question is being held up and Matty confronts a news reporter and yells, "get that fucking camera out of here!"
Matty Roth
We then go back to several weeks previously.  Zee is round at Matty's flat, she says he can come live with her he only likes this place because a gangster is letting him live there and it gives him status.  Matty says doesn't he also get cool points for dating her?  She says "you earn those cool points".

The news broadcast speaks of "ongoing normalisation talks" taking place, as delegates come together with talks of setting up a provisional government in Manhattan.   Matty disagrees and thinks that the talks are the "scourge of lower Manhattan".  Any signs of improvement on the ground is "totally manufactured".  The talks are between the U.S. government, the Free States, Trustwell, the U.N. and representatives of the major militia groups although their inclusion is indicated to be purely honourary.  They are expected to lay down their arms and rejoin the population.

Matty is back doing some reporting for Liberty News, he's going to get full access to the normalisation talks and conferences afterwards, "at least this way I can be a player and not some loser behind a security cordon".  The talks are taking place in Cooper Union, the East Village.   The U.N. troops are Thai and Bangladeshi, "nice to see the world hasn't forgotten about us".

He's surprised that the Free States have been invited and treated as equals, is pragmatism prevailing?  He spots the crowd and asks his U.S. army escort what they have done with the people who aren't here.  The soldier tells him "screw you Roth.  You think we're some gestapo, but most of the time we're barely holding on."  He says no one knows what will happen one day to the next, "fucking 'normalisation' - what's normal about this city?"

Matty goes inside into the press pool, catching up with the latest developments he finds out they are intending to set up a provisional goverment and there will be a real election.

Matty: "The remarkable thing, as fucked up and fractured as this country is, it's still not so far gone that it's given up on the notion it's a democracy.  The cynical part of me thinks it's all an act, but who knows? There are lots of ideas being floated recently, on how to fix things, how to end the war.  But so far, just ideas".

The press conference begins and a four week ceasefire to be observed by everyone, even the paramilitary groups and Trustwell will be observed. This will allow the citizens of the DMZ to safely pick candidates for the provisional goverment.
Step forward Parco Delgado.
The Free States spokesman says that a lot of American lives have been lost securing basic voting rights abroad so they want the same here at home.  Trustwell give their support to the U.S. government and think that their envoy would be the ideal person to head the provisional government.  The militia groups start saying who they support when a man steps forwards called Parco Delgado and he says:

Parco: "This city has thousands of people, hundreds of tribal and local groups, and still the best we can give them is a choice between the same two parties?"

One of the men on the podium tells him to shut up, but Parco goes on to say the peace can't work when the delegates are already chosen, "if a ceasefire is meant to allow us all a chance to participate, why can't we put forward our own people?"  Matty smiles to himself and thinks, "I gotta meet this guy".

Later outside, Matty tries to talk to him.  However Parco mocks him for being on Liberty's leash, "you, Roth, are a tool." Then he laughs and invites Matty over, he says Matty isn't a tool but why does he never go above 59th street? Matty says it's "impenetrable".  Parco invites him over to talk to him on his own turf.

We then cut to Matty and Parco listening to a Liberty News broadcast on the fact a tentative list of delegates will be produced soon.  Parco says the DMZ needs its own candidate, "how the hell do you plan on doing that?" asks Matty.  But Parco won't be drawn further. Midnight, and the ceasefire comes into effect. Parco tells Matty to look at his phone.  Outside Cooper Union a compressed air bomb goes off but it's full of five thousand flyers reading "Delgado Nation" announcing Parco's official candidacy for office.
Delgadi throws his hat in the ring.
Three days later the ceasefire is holding so far.  Matty is enraged that Liberty have rejected his Parco Delgado story, Zee asks if they have said why.  He starts yelling that he has no cell signal too.  Zee reads the email Liberty sent him saying they rejected it for the same reason she told him not to submit it, "you wrote an op-ed Matty... It's a puff piece... you're so in love with this Parco Delgado you wrote him a goddamn press release!"  Matty refuses to listen and stomps out.

Liberty News report that both the U.S. and the FSA have dismissed Parco and not a serious contender, while Trustwell accuse it of being a possible terror cell although the blast he announced his candidacy with has been confirmed as harmless.   Matty takes out his frustrations on a mugger, kicking him repeatedly while he's down.
Party time in Delgado's town.
Matty arrives in Spanish Harlem and Washington Heights where Parco is based, there is a street party going on.  Parco doesn't seem to bothered by Liberty not running Matty's article.  Parco then asks if Matty wants to cover his campaign.

Parco: "Before you answer, make sure you understand: we can sit around, have a few beers, eat some food, laugh and bullshit and have a good time, say goodnight, no problem... or you can join the Nation".

A communications satellite is listening in to their conversation. Matty asks Parco about "impartiality and ethics" and Parco asks if he isn't here on Liberty's say so. He says ethics, impartiality and neutrality go out of the window when the bombs start falling. He tells Matty to pick a side.

He tells Matty he's seen journalists come in before, strutting around like they're above it all, "that notion of objectivity or whatever... it's a fucking coping mechanism... it helps them cope with not giving a shit".  He goes on to say journalists have a built in excuse, they "see people suffering and not feel bad about it"  He tells Matty he isn't like that, "you never had the chance to be that guy".

He says he knows Matty's story and how he puts the people first, "you stick your neck out for the city.  The real city, the people who live here".

Parco: "That's when I knew you were all right, man.  You'd make it.  I had that faith, ya know? Even when others didn't".

Matty realises he means Zee and tell him to shut the fuck up about her.  Parco apologises then says it doesn't matter, "all that matters is what you know."  Up in the satellite one of the listeners calls Matty's father saying "we need to talk".
Parco teases Matty.
Then one of Parco's men runs over telling him to listen to the Liberty newscast.  It has breaking news saying Matty filed paperwork detailing Parco's ties to insurgent groups as well as a number of recent contractor slayings. He's now been suspended from Liberty news assignments and is urged to contact Liberty editorial for extraction and debriefing.

Matty takes a rifle butt to the stomach and his phone rings.  Parco picks it up and answers it, then passes it on to Matty saying it's his old man. Matty speaks with him, his dad tells him that Parco is "not some romantic freedom fighter for the people, he's not Che, he's not Mao, he's not Chavez, nothing like that.  He's a gangbanger, a fucking ghetto thug with blood all over his hands".

Matty asks if he's just saying that because Parco is black?  His father says he should know him better than that, he talks a good game but "you can't seriously see the next leader of Manhattan, can you?"  Parco embraces Matty who says "I'm in man.  I'd never rat you out". Then he has another call come through, it's from a middle-aged woman in an aeroplane. "Don't answer the phone that way, Matthew.  It's rude, and 'yo' is not a word" she scolds him.  "" replies Matty in shocked surprise.
Matty's mum.
Matty's mum is flown into the DMZ by helicopter, "oh my god" she says, "'s so beautiful".  Waiting to meet her is a very freaked out Matty flanked by Zee and Wilson. Wilson greets her effusively, while Zee offers a cold "hi". His mum goes up to Matty and embraces him saying "just shut up and be a good little boy, okay?"

Matty: "America broke her heart and that's why she left, my mother was fond of telling people.  But all the Delgado Nation had to do was whisper a promise and here she is, back again like she never left".

She embarrasses him by acting like a socialite, even though the cab she "hailed" was sent by the Nation.  As he sits in the car with her he feels like he's fifteen again.

She's a political consultant, he didn't know much about what she did growing up, just that she and his dad fought about it constantly.  When people began choosing sides she couldn't deal and bolted to Europe.  He wonders if his dad was always so right-wing or if she drove him to it, "I think I finally got some empathy for the old man".

Parco is on day five of a twelve day speaking tour round the city.  Rallies, block parties, D.I.Y. radio shows... he never seems to sleep.  At one of the rallies Zee comes to see Matty and check out Parco, she's somewhat perturbed by being assigned some of Parco's men as protection because she knows Matty.

She flips out saying she doesn't need protection, "in my city?" Matty says it's just a sort of perk of the job.  She says the whole Delgado Nation sounds fascist and his mum "fucking hates" her.   She leaves saying she'd just like to see him once in a while, "it took a lot for me to get into any kind of relationship.. I'm not ready for it to be over so quick".  She goes home, and Matty goes back to work.
Matty and Zee, under some strain.
Parco is finishing up a speech while Matty is being readied for an interview over the radio but also on camera.  He is asked if he has signed onto the Delgado Nation, Parco being a noted thug and racist has appeared to have elected himself the peoples representative within the DMZ.  So is Matty a resident of this "Nation" or does he just live in it?

Matty: "I live in the DMZ.  Where you don't.  If you did you might have a sense of how someone like Parco could rise up.  He hasn't elected himself to anything... isn't that the point of this all?  To have an election?  Parco Delgado is trying to get on the ticket.  He's got the signatures for it.  Anything beyond that is in the hands of voters".

The interveiwer says this election is symbolic, there is already an envoy and administrator appointed to the borough of Manhattan. Matty responds there was no mention of this person until Parco started gaining traction.  He dug around and this person has never visited the DMZ, let alone administered it.

Because the U.S. thought they had the election in the bag, now it's not so cut and dried, they haul out this mystery admin.  And saying the DMZ has a provisional leader who has been bunkered down for the past five years, now they are downplaying the need for an election which is a slap in the face to the residents of the DMZ, the Free States and everyone involved. The interviewer persists saying he is the presidentially appointed leader of the city, but Matty responds that the "DMZ needs an election. Put this mystery envoy on the ticket along with everyone else.  But he needs to earn his position".

The interviewer goes on to say that Parco Delgado "talks like the bastard child of Hugo Chavez and Al Sharpton.  How is that supposed to resonate with the larger America?  Doesn't the givernment have a responsibility here?"  Matty says to do what?  Rig the election? it's the DMZ's time and America doesn't get a say, these are local elections.  With people so broken and demoralised, the Delgado Nation is a symbol of a unified city, "or the potential for us to get there"

The interviewer asks if he stands behind Parco Delgado?  Matty responds that he's probably going to be the head of the new provisional government because he can't see people voting for the same people who have been bombing them for the last few years. The interveiwer asks about the allegations of his criminal past and racist statements.  Matty says show him a rap sheet and he's not heard Parco say one racist thing.

The interviewer asks him flat, "what if you're wrong?  What if everyone's wrong?"  Matty says Parco is out there and people are getting to know him, "he's easily the most accessible politician I can think of".  He notes that for all their attempts to dig up dirt on Parco they haven't been very successful.  The interviewer hs one final question, the famous Matty Roth is easily Parco's most vauable asset, "so why'd he have to bring your mother in to help?"
Matty goes from interviewer to interviewed.
Matty refuses to answer and brings the interview to an end.  As he ponders how far he pushed it in the interview with Liberty, he thinks he's really "shoving it right in their face".  But it's not a joke, four hundred thousand people will be determining their future and that of the DMZ. 

As he thinks about this, we see a mysterious woman in a non descript uniform getting out a sniper rifle.  She takes aim at Parco meeting and greeting down below and that brings us up to date with the chaotic scenes we saw at the start of this volume.
An assassin targets Parco.
Later that night, a U.S. army chopper is flying over the DMZ.  They can't understand why the Nation of Delgado has just gone to ground following the assassination attempt on Parco.  Then suddenly heat signatures light up all over the city, many fires begin burning and the helicopters are ordered to return to base, "we're fucked."

At Liberty News, Matty's father watches the footage of Matty abusing the cameraman just after Parco was hit.   He says Matty is a kid, "he's a young stupid kid in way over his head... what do you want me to say?"  His boss tells him he needs Mr. Roth to step up and protect the integrity of this operation, shield Liberty News from any blowback, continue the marginalisation of the Free States.  Do his job basically.  Matty's dad says "I know what my job is.  And it doesn't include handing my son over to you fucking wolves.  He's a kid... and he's on your payroll!" He's then shown an image of his wife, "what do we do about this?" he is asked.

Matty is cleaning himself up in a bathroom while a Liberty News broadcast plays. It urges people at the assassination to come forward with information about where Parco is, so he can get proper treatment and CSI can collect bullet fragments to help identify who was responsible as no one yet has stepped forwards and claimed they did it or why.  Matty goes to see Parco but no visitors yet, he's still being worked on.  Parco's men take his phone so they can dump it along with all their others.
Reporting on the assassination fallout.
He then comes face-to-face with his mother.  She asks if they are just going to stand there, Matty says he's here for Parco not her.  She assures him she's not here as competition for him, "I was invited.  I was hired to be here".  And it was Parco who hired her. Matty is silent for a moment then asks why Parco didn't tell him.  She has no idea, maybe she didn't know exactly who she was, she goes by her maiden name now - Madeleine Mastro.

Matty says that is her and his dad "kaput for good, eh?"  She says his father and her were rarely in alignment on anything, "yeah, no shit" agrees Matty. She then turns to Parco saying this assassination attempt can be spun positively.  When Matty says that's pretty cold, but she responds "It's how people get elected Matty".

By not naming who did it they won't risk being aligned with the shooter's opposing side.  Parco in public appearance limbo can help tremendously.  "He's gotta show his face at some point though" says Matty. She says she was hired to get him elected and if he never left the treatment room "this election would be a slam dunk".
Parco under treatment.
At night people hold candlelight vigils for him.  Matty gets a glimpse of Parco on a hospital bed, the doctor treating him says to Matty go home, "I'll call you if he wakes up."  Matty gets dropped off at Zee's place, before he gets out of the car he asks his mum to be nicer to her.  He updates a sleepy Zee on the situation with Parco, she asks him if he is safe.  matty guesses so, no one else besides Parco seems to have been targetted.  Zee says an election is a stupid reason to die.

She drifts off back to sleep with the words "It's not going to change anything" on her lips.  Matty can't sleep thinking what if she's right?   Will it change anything?  If Parco wins will they even give him the office?

Matty: "We have a long, ugly history of unseating democratically elected leaders... when people have voted 'wrong'.  Can they handle a Delgado government in the middle of this war?  Is this just pissing in the wind?  Fuck.  Long night".

Next day Matty is summoned by one of Parco's men.  The United States wants a sit-down with the Delgado Nation.  Zee tells Matty to be careful, he tells her not to worry, "Liberty still has me under contract".

Matty asks "hook me up" and one of the men gives him a gun. The "sit-down" actually takes place standing in a subway station. A man flanked by two soldiers says the United States is prepared to withdraw its envoy and agree not to put forward another candidate if Parco signs on under the United States ticket.  That's quite an offer says Madeleine. 

She goes to make a phone call. Then Matty gets called up onto the street, the Lincoln Tunnel FSA commander is holding one of Parco's men at gunpoint saying not to take the deal.  They can go one better, he can give them the girl who did the shooting.  "Hey mom... got a sec?" calls down Matty.
The Free States stick their oar in.
Madeleine calls a press conference, she tells the assembled press that Parco is still alive and being treated at an undisclosed location.  The shooter's identity is still unknown and separate investigations are being conducted by the U.S. government and Trustwell as well as Parco's own people.

Madeleine: "Neither Mr. Delgado nor the democratic process itself will be subject to mischief or manipulation for political gain.  Nor will we allow ourselves to live in fear of some lunatic with a rifle".

Delgado remains a viable candidate with a full recovery expected. On behalf of the Delgado Nation she asks for the ceasefire to be observed even though emotions are running high.

She goes on to say that Delgado has made a historic bid for office in a pivotal time in the city's history.  Out of respect to "a great man wh has brought so many people together... and to a true son of the city who has shed his blood in an effort to serve it.. this election will continue".  She finally appeals to the city to not give up hope, and to not place their fate in the hands of those "who would rule them with violence and murder".  Support Delgado on election day and make the city the "shining beacon it once was and will be again".

Matty thinks to himself that with his mum there Parco had someone to handle the press, which freed him up for other duties.  As he gets hands on with weapons helping out the red clad soldiers of the Nation, one day a package arrives at his place in Chinatown. 
A mysterious gift.
Matty thinks it's from his dad, Zee tells him not to open it until Wilson takes a look.  Inside is a laptop, phone and batteries, Wilson checks them and finds them clean even though Zee is surprised to find Wilson is Matty's "tech support".  There was one bug but it was so super-obvious it was meant to be found.

Matty gives Wilson the laptop and calls his dad on the phone on the speed-dial number stored in it.  His dad warns him the U.S. deal is "garbage", Matty says he knows.

Mr. Roth: "They call politics a game, but there's blood in this game Matty.  This is gonna get ugly.  You think it is already... you think Parco getting shot is the worst thing that's going to happen, but it's gonna get fucking. Ugly."

Matty wants to know why he's telling him this.  His dad says he's on forced leave at home, "and I don't think I'm meant to leave the apartment".  He advises Matty to crawl into a hole and stay there until after election day, "maybe there will still be a city left when you do".

In Washington Heights Parco is still on life support.  In Midtown Matty and his mum are looking at the body of the assassin being held in a U.S. army morgue.  She's been tortured.  Matty asks what did she promise to the Free States to get them to hand over the body.  She touches the dead woman's face and says "I promised them Parco would win... and he will win".
The assassin.
Soon election day rolls round. Liberty News report that at stake is the title of Provisional Governor of the city of New York.  Parco Delgado's Nation of Delgado is leading in the polls.  The U.S. and Free States are a distant second and third respectively. After many weeks of hard campaigning and the attempt on his life making him even more popular the question on everyone's lips is "Where is Parco?"  Will he finally make an appearance now it's election day? 

They contact "Liberty's own Matty Roth" for a report.  He says "'No comment'.  Or 'I quit' sure, that works too."  The ceasefire that made the election possible is still holding.   The U. N. has been redeployed to support international election observers. The eyes of the world are on America today, "let's show them how the greatest democracy this world has ever seen does an election, free and fair and for the people."

Some men dressed in black dismount from the back of a van.  One of them yanks the I.D. out of the pocket of another telling him he'll get them "busted".   They are to stay cool, blend in and remember their orders.  "You've all been trained for this" says the leader, "let's keep it clean and professional". As they arm themselves and split up, we see the I.D. that was tossed aside.  It's a Trustwell one...
Trustwell still up to no good.
A car comes screaming up to Matty driven by one of Parco's soldiers.  Inside is Parco himself, flanked by two more and hooked up to an I.V. bag.  "Hey Matty.  We got some work to do" he says.

Matty: "Even before the voting opened, the trouble started. The intimidation, the irregularities, the breakdowns...the fear... and the violence.  But the DMZ's a warzone, you could say. So what else is new?  Today, on this day... it shouldn't happen on this day".

The international observers were soon in way over their head, and there were rumours of bounties being offered for any blue helmets.   You couldn't have blamed people for staying away and not voting, choosing to live another day, "but they didn't".

Every vote that ended up getting counted probably represented three more thrown in the rubbish. "But they voted.  And cried and bled and fell and died in the streets for that vote". Even intentions to vote counted though the paper record had disappeared. It's soon obvious Parco Delgado's Nation of Delgado has won.  He drives with Matty to their rallying point.
A winner is Parco!
Madeleine says he shouldn't appear looking weak and ill, they'll need his image of strength for the legal battles ahead and actually getting him into office.  Parco asks Matty what he thinks, Matty says his people came to see him, they stood by him "after all this, last thing they deserve is another politician letting them down." Parco says Matty's right, he lives here, "he knows."

He walks out under an umbrella held by Matty, still wearing a robe.  He sits down and says to the crowd, "yo, so how you all doing?!"  And the crowd erupts chanting his name over and over. He is handed a megaphone and starts making a speech.  He tells the crowd:

Parco: "You bled, we all bled. We as a community cried out for some change, for a chance, for a moment to speak. The thump of mortars, the crack of gunfire, the hum of the drones, the sound of indiscriminate fire that's plagued us for years.  Drowning out our voices.  But no more!  Your voices, the beating heart of our community, for the first time... we drowned out the war!"

He goes on to say that today came at great cost, but they must show forgiveness.  That is not the same as forgetting and what went down here today they'll never forget.   But they musn't squander what they have acheived on senseless revenge.  Picking up a gun and going toe-to-toe with a Trustwell merc won't do anything other than add another body to the count.
Parco inspires the crowd.
He was stomped on and nearly snuffed out himself but is still here because he has incredible faith and trust in his people, "you have my thanks and my loyalty forever".  In two months he'll assume office and "set about fixing this city, reversing this fucking nightmare that's gripped us for so long". The forgotten population will determine the future of the city.

He tells them finally not to be afraid. They can't be challenged now, the occupying powers will not try and overrule this election.

Parco: "How can I be so sure about people so untrustworthy?  I'm looking at the reason.  I look at this crowd of New York City's sons and daughters, and three simple words come to mind. They. Wouldn't. Dare."

Days later Zee and Matty are chatting and eating Chinese food in bed.  Matty says the DMZ might become it's own country.  Then his mother phones and appears to offer him a book deal he turns down then another call comes through.  We get a brief flashback to election night, as Liberty News reluctantly reports that even with all the violence, fraud allegations and corruption, Parco's win won't be overturned.  No official statements have come from either the USA or FSA, but the USA is considering endorsing the Delgado Nation to help maintain the moral high ground.

Liberty News: "America's greatest city stands poised to be ruled over by a new government, an untested and unproven regime that, for the rest of the country, is little more than a question mark... Is the battle for New York now moving into the political arena".

We then return to Matty taking the other call, it's from Parco who wants Matty to lay low for a while.  He has political stuff he needs to do now and he needs to not have a press guy with him.  Just business, just politics he says. He tells Matty to chill out and write something but, "when you come back, wanna help me run this city, Matty?" Matty thinks for a moment then replies, "absolutely". And that brings this epic arc to an end.
A new dawn for Matty and the DMZ.
So in the space of six chapters we are given a new fully fledged power player in the DMZ.  It also makes for an interesting midpoint for the series overall, with Matty moving away from unbiased journalist and voice of the DMZ into someone who has chosen a charismatic demagogue whose spell he falls completely under and is working more as an enforcer for than as a reporter.  It also shows how clever it was to make Matty a rookie, a more experienced journo might have kept their distance from Parco thanks to general callous like cynicism. As for whether or not Parco will be a good or bad or simply another shade of grey for the DMZ, well obviously there is more to come from him.  It's interesting seeing Matty's parents here, both seem to care about him even if they have strange ways of showing it and you can see why Matty became so keen to strike out and prove himself capable of existing outside their shadows.  There is much talk of this being a healing moment for the DMZ despite the violence on election day, and how fascinating to have an election on contested US soil suffer the same problems as we see in warzones and countries riven by civil strife in our world. Writer Brian Wood once again gives us believable scenarios transplanted to the DMZ where we can see them play out under the assured pen of artist Riccardo Burchielli.  Now Matty is so closely associated with the Delgado soon-to-be-administration how will it affect his relationships with the other DMZ factions and is his independant journalistic integrity blown for good?  Find out soon in a few days time.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

DMZ Book 5: The Hidden War (#23-28)

"You have not. Made. A. Mistake" - Soames

DMZ is a story of what happens when America is plunged into a second civil war and the two sides come to a halt at Manhattan which has been declared a dmemilitarised zone and both sides observe a ceasefire while the citizens still trapped there after the disasterous evacuation at the start of the war attempt to carry on and survive best they can.  We've been following the story of Matty Roth, a former newbie journalist, he's been embedded in the DMZ for two years making friends and following the big and small stories.  However in this book we step away from him and explore the lives of various DMZ inhabitants, some of whom we have already met, in a series of one-shots called "Decade Later",  "Amina", "Wilson", "Kelly", "Random Fire" and "Soames".  Brian Wood is still the writer but there are a few different artists working here, regular artist Riccardo Burchielli is joined by Danuel Zezeuj and Nathan Fox.  So without further ado let's explore The Hidden War.

DECADE LATER: We start with a grafitti artist known as "Decade Later", or Decade for short with a friend in the DMZ running and avoiding fire to collect a box full of spray paints.  "Before you ask, yeah, it was worth the risk" he thinks. as he sprays the number ten in a circle and arrow.
Decade Later makes his mark.
We then flashback to the start of the war, he is being beaten up by one of the neighbourhood militia for being a "fucking fag artist".  He thinks that he grew up with them and they havn't realised how "stupid and pointless all this is".

Decade: "Whatever happens, even if it's full-on war, the city will still be there when it's over.  You can't kill a city...I don't want to die. I'm not finished yet".

We then flashback to "way before the war".  A young Decade, not known by that handle yet is discussing the train times and the fact he has a plan for them.

He and a fellow artist spray some art, Decade's friend wants to know why he only sprays messages not art.  Decade says he wants people to look out of the window and be affected by his messages on the subconcious level.   He wants to leave behind "some kind of knowledge".  It's not about claiming territory, he wants his messages to make sense in the future.  His friend says he needs a tag, Decade says he'll work on it.

We then return to the present, Decade has painted another message and then goes and attends a "War party".  A group of people have gathered on a rooftop and are boozing away.  A woman says to Decade that she is lucky to be in his presence.  Her older brother worshipped him, "you're one of the few working artists from the old school".  Decade says sometimes he feels like a jackass doing what he does, but she says it matters to her.

Then she exposes a breast and asks for his autograph.  He signs it and they kiss, and she asks him "you got something else to do right now that's as fun as this?"  While they kiss he thinks:

Decade: "I've been living tense for so long.  This fucking war's been wearing me down for so long.  The adrenaline doesm't hit me like it should, or the buzz from creating something new... nothing. She's still young enough to get excited about life and she helps me to remember."

Flashback to before the war and he's on the run but gets caught by the cops and beaten. Present day Decade thinks it was life and the risks you took, "in this for life".
Decade works on his masterpiece.
We then see him before the war working on top of the parked up subway trains, he wanted to leave his mark for the future.  In the present he's on bed with the woman he met at the party. He tells her he painted train roofs, it took years.  It was like a puzzle, painting in squares and matching the numbers up, "eventually the big picture comes together".  He didn't just want to paint a mural on one train but on all the trains.

Later he's accosted by the same militia as before, they tell him he should be grateful to them for keeping the neighbourhood safe for him to draw. They tell him he's getting old and might not ever come around to their way of thinking.  One puts a gun to a bored looking Decade's head then suddenly a U.S. army chopper drops a gas grenade on them and he gets picked up by the soldiers as a suspected militia member.  Naked in a cell he thinks:

Decade: "That was it.  I don't have decades anymore.  And I'll never get a chance to finish it. The project.  The big picture".

He's being choppered out of the DMZ, he has a hood over his head. When he is told they are flying over Queens he pleads to have his hood taken off and the soldier grants his request.
His ultimate artpiece.
He looks down and sees all the trains parked up in the trainyard and painted across them, perfectly lined up, in huge letters is the word "MINE". Decade smiles and thinks to himself, "my decades are over... but this was enough.  Bam".  And that brings his chapter to an end.

AMINA:  Amina is a returning character from Book 3, groomed to be a suicide bomber, Matty saved her but left her bereft of purpose and living aimlessly on the streets. We join her wearing ragged clothes and no shoes in a high rise apartment where a similarly attired woman called Tina with a baby asks "did you get it?"  She says "something happened."
Amina and the King of Soundview.
As she picks glass out of her feet she thinks about how she is going to go back out and do something for the "King of Soundview".  While she was out looking for food the King and his goons confronted her saying he'd never seen her round there before.  He tells her he wants "runners" and if she works she'll eat. Left with no choice she will work for him.

Amina: "The war was miles away.  But living here was no less a battleground.  They fight with fear and intimidation.  The targets are your self-respect, identity and safety.  And they make you complicit, right off the bat.  That's the leverage.  I witness this guy take a life, and he's gotta put me hip deep in his shit".

She's told to take something to a man and he'll give her something in return to be brought back to the King. He tells her "eyes on the door numbers.  Not in the bag, right?"

She thinks back to when she slept with Matty, he told her the only rules she needs to follow are the ones she sets herself.  With one life to live, the "question is how you choose to live it". He told her her destiny was hers to control, "blah blah blah" she thinks bitterly.  He talked for hours like it was all so easy, "like he wasn't every bit as trapped by it as I was".

She disobeys King's orders and looks in the bag to find many bundles of cash.   She is briefly paralysed by her thoughts.  Why her?  Does King want her dead? What's in room 178?  Who's Len?  Is this a test?  Is it all of the above?  Should she take the money and she and Tina buy their way downtown, "grow vegetables on our roof and turn fashionable? See Matty Roth's face everywhere I look?"

Amina: "If it's not the King, it'll be just another man I'm paying protection dues to. Who might decide that, yeah, maybe I'm clean enough. Pure enough.  Or naive enough.  Or maybe not worth enough of anything at all."

She runs to where Tina and the baby is and hands her some of the cash, telling her to take it and hide it.  She won't be coming back, forget her face, forget she existed, "it'll make the lie easier."

She leaves and carries on to where she's been told to go, as she walks she thinks how the DMZ is a great leveller of people, no one cares what colour you are there.  She thinks back to when she was a kid and after the towers fell, "you were your colour... and whatever baggage that came along with it".   She remembers how no one would sit next to her on the subway once travel in New York started up again and she was worried that "any second I must drop dead."
One of many unhappy memories for Amina.
After the war started, the enemy was mostly white and spoke English even class distinctions seemed silly when they were all picking through rubbish for food.  Her and her friends formed communities uptown away from the hot zones. The war was mainly in the south and they avoided bombs coming down on them while they slept.  She remembers when she was about to set off the bomb strapped to her and how Matty stopped her.  Then she remembers seeing Matty kissing Kelly and how used she felt.

Back in the present, she arrives at room 178.  But her contact Len is dead.  A man, Danzinger from Book 3, is waiting there for her who seems to know her, although she doesn't know who he is.  He checks the bag of money and says "Barbaro's really making something of himself since he went A.W.O.L". She asks if he means The King and he tells her yes, the man is a "twisted, degenerate fuck" who was a member of the Free States Army up until a few weeks ago.

Apparently Barbaro saw more opportunities as a wannabe ghetto player who sends waifs to run his errands.  He doesn't know what the money was for, Len had nothing of value on him. He hands Amina a gun, to shoot the King with.  Danzinger was planning to do it, but if he's expecting Amina to come back she may was well do it, "you better not fucking miss."
Danzinger gives Amina her orders.
He tells her it has three bullets but if she tried to shoot him she wouldn't have the ammo to fight her way past the people Danzinger came in with.  "Welcome to the shit Amina" he says, "the war's just come to the Bronx".  Amina can only think she's "complicit.  Hip deep. Expendable enough" and that brings her chapter to an end.

WILSON: Wilson is another familiar character.  An aged Chinese-American mob boss who is good friends with Matty and has provided a useful sounding board for him in prior volumes. It's pouring with rain as Wilson and one of his "grandsons" go and meet with a woman called Sheila Chang who has a baby boy with her, Wilson's son.

She asks for help, but Wilson says they had an agreement, if he helps her he has to help everyone.  He gives them his card and tells her to call him when the boy is twelve, "I can use him then".  He has people positioned around the buildings to watch her and the man who told him about her and the child is to keep his mouth shut.
Wilson is inspired.
We flashback to Chinatown before the war.  Wilson thinks how he was a low level Triad who peaked a decade earlier.  He was eating in a restaurant when the war came to Manhattan and he was caught up in a huge bombing.   This inspired him to shoot his superiors as the bombing showed him what real players do.

Wilson: "The audacity.  The manipulation of the media.  The... bluntness of it all.  The fearlessness. I'm not a gangster.  This war is going to be gangster".

We then see him organising the protection of Chinatown as war officially begins.  He has a message for the other inhabitants of the DMZ.  "No rules. No manifestos.  No websites.  Only one message: leave us alone".  They are not part of New York, no one fights in their name, "you don't represent us. And you'll never take us by force.  You can't own us. But try if you want."

We see an incident where he was caught in a bomb blast while out in the open trading some money.  He was wearing a bullet proof vest which caught all the shrapnel.  He stood and showed he was the "great immortal leader." The bomb should have killed him if he hadn't seen it coming, "heh.  Gangster".
Wilson survives another bombing.
Then we see what he was up to on Day 204 when one hundred and ninety-eight peace protestors were massacred by a squad of U.S. army troops.  He was hosting a banquet and refused to get involved.  Summers pass, winters are endured, he gets richer and finally is able to buy a tank.

Wilson: "I'd say it was the American Dream.  But we were never American.  America's boring anyway.  Boring itself to death."

We then see him sitting on a roof bemoaning how bored of the war he's getting.  Then he spots Matty through his binoculars and is curious as to who he is.  Zee is with him and tells him he should steer clear of Chinatown, and to not try and enter unless he's desperate for a bullet between his eyes.

We close this chapter with Wilson alone thinking how the strongest army will win the war, and while the meek might inherit the earth, "when all of this is said and done... I'm gonna own this city".
Wilson makes his plans.
KELLY:  Kelly Connolly is another returning character. She is a journalist who works for the Independent World News network and hooked up romantically with Matty a few times and helped him break the Trustwell scandal detailed in Book 3.  We open with Matty holding her dead body lying in a pool of blood. He has officially identified her corpse for the benefit of the U.S. soldiers who take her remains away.  One of them says to Matty, "Your friend is already long gone... what that is Mr. Roth, is just another corpse on the street".

We flashback to two days earlier.   She is hiding along with a U.S. soldier while under fire by snipers as they work their way through "the corridor of death".  As we see her out in the field we get Matty's thoughts on her, that she was fearless but not reckless.  She thought out everything first, potential risks explored and assessed.
Kelly Connolly and Matty.
We see her and Matty sleeping together, he thinks "if she was using me I preferred not to know.  Or even think about it, to be honest.  And I shouldn't have even cared if she was.  But I did care".  Back in the field she is taking photos of U.S. army soldiers, then she hears a kid crying.  She takes a photo of him them turns and walks away from him without a word, much to the disgust of the soldiers with her.

Matty narrates that she won an award with that photo and also caught a lot of shit about it to the extent she thought it was the worst mistake of her life.

Matty: "I'm not sure she would have ever forgiven herself for leaving the child there.  But all that came later.  In that moment, she was just doing her job".

She later asks Matty is she is a horrible person?  When he says no, she says "wrong answer" and tells him to "come back tomorrow. Or next week, next month, next year. Whatever".
Objectivity taken too far?
Back in the present, Kelly and the soldiers come under fire from a helicopter, one of the soldiers has his limbs blown off.  But oddly Kelly drops her press badge and camera and walks out into the open.  We don't see her final moment of death but that's when she died.

Flashback to when she came to see Matty at Jamal's camp after breaking the Trustwell story with him.  She and Zee discuss Matty having slept with Amina.

Kelly: "People need to find their intimacies when and where they can, Zee, especially in a place like this.  People are here one day and then they're not.  It's all too uncertain and fleeting to be stubborn.  You just end up sabotaging yourself that way".

Zee is dubious, but Kelly says she believes that completely.  Matty tries talking to her and tells him they don't need each other anymore and walks away.  Matty thinks how he couldn't find the words to say to her it had stopped being about need for him a long time ago.
Kelly commits suicide.
Back in the present, Matty is informed of her death by a co-worker at IWN. She had specific instructions on what was to be done with her after her death.  He tries not to think about why she was so sure she'd die in the DMZ.  Her body is put on a small boat and Matty fires a flare gun into it setting the boat and her body ablaze in a Viking funeral.  The dead is sent onto their journey to the next life, "we live in a world of fire and death and funerals.  But Kelly made us feel alive". End of chapter.

RANDOM FIRE: A new character this time, a club kid called Random Fire, or R.F. for short.  He wakes from a nightmare and as he gets ready for the night he is told it's calm and clear out and his flatmate wishes him good luck.  He runs through the nighttime streets and finds a hatch which leads to an underground nightclub.  Unfortunately he won't be Deejaying tonight as he's been bumped for a celebrity DJ called Grendel who is from Tokyo.
Club kid Random Fire.
He sulks at a table and when a woman comes up to him and asks him what's the matter he says "fuck Grendel". She says he should be careful what he says, Grendel's security is all over the club, that's why there is more white faces than usual, they're Trustwell people.  She recognises them because she used to be Trustwell herself, although she wasn't involved in anything to do with the scandal exposed in book 3.

R.F. asks why she's telling him this and she whispers that she needs a pissed off person to help her tonight.  Trustwell security do one thing and that's maintain the status quo.  R.F. says they keep the lid on "just enough to keep us all jumpy so we'll want you around still".

She says he's right, but she's ex-Trustwell as they purged all the native New Yorkers from the workforce before the reconstruction began, "they didn't want no one getting emotional on the job while they tore the city apart".  But now she needs R.F's help.  She says ask why Grendel is coming here now, when he has that answer add Trustwell to the equation and "hit enter.  See what the answer is."
Random Fire and Ingrid.
So he looks around and finds out Grendel is doing a live webcast worldwide, with a quickly released official bootleg.  "Live from the DMZ.  Webcast.  Promotions.  Album release. Bonus tracks.  Does he not get that people die here?"  He spins because it makes him feel good, the club is an escape from the horror above.  It never crossed his mind to get paid, "this is my family". 

R.F: "But at that moment I felt completely disconected from the rest of the world.  What do that think is going on in this city?  Do they think about it?  Does anyone care?  Do we even make the news anymore?  Or will our struggle be summed up in a tag line on the cover of a CD somewhere?"

He returns to the woman and tells her he's angry and ready to "kill some motherfuckers". She introduces herself as Ingrid, she's seen him spin before and likes him.  She's here to save the club, show respect to the city and screw over her former employers.  R.F. says he's with her, before realising "wait... save the club?"

She tells him that the plan Trustwell have is to attack the club while Grendel is performing live, and having him escape would make him even hotter than he is now.  Outside Trustwell are gathering while Grendel says how cool it all is.  They go to plant something in the bathroom but Ingrid is there pretending to be clueless, catching them off guard she disables them and taks their guns.

R.F. goes up to meet Grendel who hugs him and whispers to him, "I need this, please... please just let me have this".  He asks R.F. to introduce him and R.F. takes to the mike and yells for everyone to get out.  People won't move and tell him to "shut the hell up!  Turn the music back on!"  He pleads with them, and then Ingrid fires on the Trustwell security. 
Ingrid dies taking out Trustwell.
Everyone starts to clear out and a Trustwell security member holds a gun to R.F's head.  But someone holds a gun to his head and tells R.F to get losts.  With the club empty of patrons, a mortally injured Trustwell soldier detonates a grenade.  R.F. turns to see the blast and thinks how he'll remember Ingrid's pride in herself and her city and "fuck anyone who tries to take that away".  End of chapter.

SOAMES:  Our final story is about Soames, who we met in Book 1, an A.W.O.L soldier who has, along with many others, become the ghosts that haunt Central Park. They have covered over the zoo there and created a self sustaining eco-system underthe ground they pulled in over the top.  This is the story of how he came that place.

We start with the revelation that he was a member of the Free States Army, as they have arrived in New Jersey he's been getting an earful of what they believe in.

Soames: "What they believe in is hate. Never been round so many pissed off rednecks in all my life, and that's saying something considering where I come from.  I signed up outta love.  For my country, the land of free men.  Laugh if you want. 'cuz what's not to love".

The Hudson river was full of bodies when they got there, the air was like poison.   The only way was forward, into the belly of the beast.  "But my path was not with these men.  It never was" and we see him jump off the boat he was travelling on and swims to land.  For four days he's unconcious with the disease he picked up from the water and when he wakes up he can't stop vomiting.
Soames escapes via the contaminated river.
He thinks techincally he's a turncoat, but the men back in New Jersey were "ignorant sons of bitches couldn't see past tomorrow". He makes slow progress through the warzone thinking "people live here?" He rises up to take a shot and sees a deer through his scope. A bullet grazes his head and has a vison of masses of deer skeletons which he ends up lying in the middle of.

He wakes up to find a couple of people trying to rob him.  He stands and finds a flyer aimed at Free Staters, with instructions on how to defect to the USA.  "I didn't think I'd need a goddamn ticket to get in" he thinks.

Soames: "What was I even doing?  I felt like I was drifting... not only was I in a land between nations, but that I was in a certain state of being, trapped between life and death".

He is jumped by some militia who asks who he is, "a friend!"  They try and shoot him anyway, but are out of ammo and run away. "Why do I gotta belong to one side or the other?" he thinks. He spots some birds and thinks they have the right idea flying above the mess.  He keeps forging on towards Brooklyn wondering if it'll be any better, he left the Free States to be "rid of ignorants, polluters and murderers".  Will the USA be any different?

He comes face to face with a U.S. army patrol who tell him to lay his weapon on the ground when suddenly a herd of deer come running past, "hahaha beautiful!" says Soames.  The soldiers tell him to come to them, but a joyful Soames says "no thanks! I'm good! I'm staying here" and he turns away and walks with the deer, bringing his chapter and this volume to a close.
Soames is inpired to take a third option.
Moving the focus away from Matty for a while was an excellent idea, although inevitably we get to see how interacting with him changed things for Amina, still trapped in terrible choices and Kelly, a guilt ridden deathseeker who wouldn't let love get in the way of bringing her life to an end on her own terms.  It's also interesting seeing the backstory of various characters and how the war affected them, from Decade finding a way to make his mark in spectacular fashion and Wilson using the giddy atmosphere kicked up by the outbreak of war to kill his superiors and take control of Chinatown where he has made a great success of keeping the place safe for his people despite his somewhat questionable methods.  R.F's story shows Trustwell is still up to no good in the DMZ, resulting in the destruction of a place where people went to avoid that kind of static.  Probably the most touching story to me is Soame's as he realises almost right away he made a mistake joining the FSA and has a spiritual experience with the animals of the DMZ that gave him a firm purpose in life away from either side of the war. Amina's tale is probably the saddest, no matter what she tries to do she can never catch a break and her past with Trustwell catches up with her in the form of Danzingers ultimatum.  Still she has enough kindness left in her to risk her life giving her friend money for a chance at a better life.  As ever the writing is sharp, perceptive and humane and the art superb, Danuel Zezelj's work on Wilson's story which is almost chiascuro-like is especially worthy of praise. We'll be back with Matty again in the next volume in a few days time.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

DMZ Book 4: Friendly Fire (#18-22)

"This war doesn't even have a name.  Did you ever realise that?" - Sergeant Nunez

Time for more DMZ, a comic set in a version of the noughties where an isolationist, let's say "America First", populist movement sprang up in the American midwest.  They were disillusioned by the way the government was ignoring the people at home for various wars it had going on in the Middle East and declared their own government based in Montana, now known as the "Free States".  This immediately brought them into conflict with the US government and a second civil war soon broke out, a total fantasy of course but go with it.  With many of their soldiers still serving oversees and having never had to fight a war with people who looked just like them, the US was pushed right back to New York. Manhattan was partially evacuated but around 400,000 civilians remained trapped as the bridges, roads and tunnels were sealed off. Fighting between both sides took place there up until what is known as the "Day 204 Massacre" occured, which is what we will be finding out about today as embedded and independent journalist Matty Roth is hired by old station Liberty News to cover the story of the people involved and affected by that terrible event, the soldiers involved are going on trial, and we'll see how it was this event most of all that helped turn Manhattan into the DMZ and force a stalemate there between the US and the Free States.

Matty walks through the U.S government checkpoint to some hostility, "the prodigal son returns" he thinks to himself. Once inside the Liberty News building he bumps into his father who sits on the board of Liberty News.  Matty tells him he won't pull his punches, his dad says he doesn't want him to. "The eyes of the world are on this tribunal, and it has to be transparent and fair" he says.  Matty is then left in an interrogation room with Private First Class Stevens.  Stevens ask if Matty will get him on the six o'clock news, Matty says maybe but right now he wants to listen, "where're you from Stevens?"
Matty meets PFC Stevens.
Stevens tells him he joined up at the start of the war, we see him attending a party and huffing chemicals at his hometown in South Dakota, he'd been arrested and given the option of 18 months in jail or joining the U.S. army.   He figured it was safer to be deployed in some police action in Africa than face the prison showers.

Stevens: "And the idea of a full blown war here, in this country? Even with those militia freaks recruiting anyone they could, there was just no way it could happen... someone would stop it before it got too far.  The lies lies lies we tell ourselves".

After six months of bootcamp he finds himself deployed in Brooklyn, New York.  It's chaos, nowhere to hide, no idea who was firing, what they looked like, the maps were "shit" and everywhere looked the same.  "What the fuck kind of war is that?"

In the initial fighting they droves the Free States back to New Jersey, "it felt good, like we were winning".  The calm lasted a month then fighting started up again, but it was different then.  The Free Staters blended in with the population striking behind human cover.   Some said it was the population rising up against them, or some third enemy joining in, "we were on the fast track to something horrible.  But at the time we couldn't see it coming".
Stevens' squad faces the peace march.
One rainy day his squad was holed up waiting, "we'd sit around until something happened".  And something did happen.  A large group of Manhattan citizens all wearing rain ponchos silently marching, "it was the most goddamn spookiest thing I'd ever seen".  Stevens had the bug and began to see things, blood running in a lake, pooling round his feet.

Stevens: "I couldn't think, I couldn't speak, I couldn't tell the others what I was seeing.  All I could do was watch, helpless."

He staggered fowards to reach for one of the marchers and the person turned, reaching inside their poncho and Stevens's sergeant yelled "gun!" and opened fire on the marchers.  We return to the present and Stevens is silent.  Matty brings the interveiw to a close for now. Matty asks him if there is anything he can do for him, "probably nothing" says Stevens sadly, "but thanks for trying".
A just like that, a war crime happened.
Matty leaves and thinks about what happened. On day 204 of the war, U.S soldiers gunned down and killed one hundred and ninety eight peace protestors.  This resulted in the U.S. government quitting Manhattan and entering into ceasefire talks with the Free States, "that's how much moral high ground was lost that day". 

The tribunal was opened three years later, and just the soldiers.  It's always been maintained that the sergeant saw a weapon being pulled and ordered his squad to open fire. Stevens is the only soldier who has stepped forwards and challenge the established defence, "to reopen the most painful wound of the war".

Next day Matty returns to talk Stevens again and his face is bruised and battered, but he doesn't want to talk about it. They continue on with the interview, Matty thinks "if he talks or doesn't talk... he's probably facing the death penalty either way".  Back on the day of the massacre, they returned to base and were debriefed then returned to active duty as if nothing happened.

Sergeant Nunez checked their ammo and Stevens was the only one who didn't fire a round so was immediately suspect.  He was removed from the unit and reassigned.  He tells Matty he replayed every moment of that day, if there was anything that justified the order to fire, "I always come up zero".  When the criminal investigation was opened, Nunez sent his buddies to beat Stevens to "make sure I remembered that day correctly.  Precisely".  But this made him think finally "fuck Nunez".

Day 204 wasn't a bad day anymore, "it's symbol of a broken county and a discredited military.  Lost trust.  Unhealed wounds". It meant the U.S. army would never be welcome back in the city.  The war would never end.  Who the fuck was he compared to that?  Just a burnout-turned-private first class "and I had no right to anything anymore".

Sergeant Nunez comes to say his piece.
Matty mulls this over and Stevens is taken away to be replaced with Sergeant Nunez.  He thanks Matty for the Trustwell thing, so he guesses he can spare Matty a few minutes "you know, for your little bullshit witch hunt investigation".

He tells Matty that he was born and raised in New York, "so when the Free States arrived I took it pretty fucking personal".  He was out in Iraq when war broke out, he was transferred back home when he'd "killed enough ragheads".

Nunez: "I've been to Haiti, I've been to Somalia, I've been to Afghanistan, Pakistan... and three tours in Iraq.  But this is my war.  I was born for this shit... You'd have to kill me to get me away from it".

He recalls the day of the march, he tells Matty he doesn't give a fuck about what we know now.  What matters is "what's going on right then".  He held his fire as he discussed with the rest of the men who they were.  Then he saw one of the protestors pull a gun and gave the order to open fire.
Nunez, not the most sympathetic of characters.
Afterwards, he told Stevens to start picking up shell casing and told him there was a gun, "are you crying Stevens?"  Later they went back to base and everyone backed him up about seeing a gun.  They were cleared and sent back to active duty.  Nunez says it was the start of the war, they barely knew who and where the enemy was and orders were kept simple "to allow for a broad application".

Nunez: "It was an armed mob in a warzone with unmistakable hostile intent.  What the fuck do you want from me, huh? You gave us the tools... get out of the fucking way and let us do our job."

Later Matty thinks that Nunez stuck to the script he'd heard many times, he could have recited it himself.  But Nunez truly thinks he did the right thing.  He's trying to be objective, but it's been debated over and over, "most of us have already made up our minds".

Matty goes to leave the U.S. outpost and sees on the TV that the trial testimony will be reached the next day and the verdict by the end of the week, "what's the fucking rush?" he says.  As a boat takes him back to the DMZ he reflects that Zee has told him it's tensing up as people there expect the worst.   He is now going to interview the people left behind.  Survivors and the friends and family of people killed.

Zee takes Matty to where it happened, he asks why there is no marker.  Zee says metalworkers made a plaque but soldiers stole it.  Anyway, everyone knows it happened there.  She asks him if the kid Stevens did it, "I honestly don't know" he thinks. Technically he's guilty, but can he be blamed for his role in the massacre?  Zee takes him to meet Dina, a survivor of that day.
Dina, one of the peace marchers.
Zee introduces her as a peace protestor, but she says "I was a fool in a crowd of fools.  I was feeling half my age that day.  I was feeling invulnerable". She has a scarred face  because by the time the bullets reached her they gas slowed considerably and Zee patched her up.  She asks Matty to put his journalistic objectivity aside, "the people who did this... don't you think they should die?"

Later he is having a meal with his friend Wilson and his grandsons.  Wilson says it's none of their business, the war is not their war.  "We sit, we wait.  We stay alive.  We position ourselves for end of war.  Can't last forever, you know... someone gotta inherit what's left, right?"  He declares himself the future king of New York.  Matty laughs while thinking "Ah... he's not kidding is he?"  As he sits outside with Wilson, drunk, he wonders why those who ordered the patrol aren't on trial. Then he throws up.

Next day he speaks to the leader of a right-wing militia group called The Nation of Fearghus. The leader says he lost brothers that day, Matty asks why members would join.  Turns out it was the leaders actual brothers, "the stupid little fuckers" says the leader bitterly.  The Free States don't respond to Matty's request for an interview.

Matty then goes to Soho to speak with the ex-U.S, army gunner living in self-imposed exile.  He says day 204 was the "day America died".  With public support "down the crapper" the U.S. never recovered.  The message was that the U.S. kills its own which helped the FSA propaganda, even though this is a civil war so all they are doing is killing their own. With a show trial and a few heads on the chopping block, a sense of closure and a fresh round of regret from the brass, it'll go no higher than Nunez. "It's become a truism of modern American warfare" he says, "you fix old wounds with new ones".
Zee has no answers for Matty.
Later Matty tells Zee that he doesn't know a "single fucking thing more than I did yesterday.  Except that everything about this is still shit".   Zee says she was one of the first people on the scene and has had years to think about it.  She says she has about as much to show for it as Matty does.  He says there has to be answers.

Zee: "Does there?  What if it's just one of those horrible thing that happen in a war?  Wouldn't that be answer enough?  Why does day 204 get to be different from all the other times innocent people have been killed in this war? Or any war?"

Matty says this is different.  Why though, asks Zee.  When Matty is left alone he thinks that it's because it was when the war changed.  It put the U.S. on the defensive and gave the FSA a chance of maybe taking the country.  It created hundreds of survivors and put a dozen shell shocked soldiers in front of the TV cameras and called them murderers. It swayed public opinion around the globe and created funds for insurgents and funding for opposition groups. 

And no one is asking who the soldiers are and why it happened, no one is digging deeper.  Soldiers did it and will be punished, "doesn't everyone deserve better than that?"  The tribunal is hearing the final arguments, the city is holding its breath, what will happen after the verdict is announced?

The next day Matty is woken by a phonecall from Liberty summoning him to the Manhattan Bridge checkpoint. There he is met by a U.S, army general who tells him, "I thought I'd clear up all the bullshit for you, once and for all." He drops a bullet casing in Matty's hand which is from the massacre.  He tells Matty he can keep it, he has a couple of dozen. He tells Matty it's just a bullet casing, the city is carpeted in them, this one is no more special than others.  Matty says "that's not true. I wouldn't be talking to you if it was."
Matty meets one of the higher ups.
Matty says he's taping it, the general says he's being very careful about what he says.   He then asks if he knows what asymetrical warfare is? 

General: "It's when the small guy breaks the rules so he can try and kill the big guy.  Pretend for a moment that you're the big guy.  What do you do about it?  We had plans and scenarios on the books for just about anything you can think of.  Except this war".

But war is what they do, so they deployed the troops and maintained the moral high ground, "the enemy was scum.  White trash. We just had to show the world that".

He says that they'd been fighting trash all over the world, but trash that spoke American? "Even the best of the best has trouble with that" he tells Matty.   But they figured it was only a one hundred and fifty years since the last civil war, they'd remember.   On Day 204 most squads in the city had been out of contact for hours and days, "communications infrastructure had taken a hit".  They had soldiers reporting in from payphones, you can't jam a landline.
Pretty awful being a soldier in Manhattan really.
They had to trust in the men, trust the squads to complete their patrols, trust the training, trust the men to do their jobs. Did they do their jobs asks Matty?  "Yes" says the general.  Matty asks him if he'd accept or even order another Day 204?  "I'd have to" says the general.

General: "Day 204 was a bad call. But you have to be ready to live with a bad call if only for all the other times when you get it right. We train these men to follow procedure.  To do thi shit by the book.  Over and over again.  We don't train them to second-guess".

Then suddenly a soldier comes to the APC the general and Matty are in, while Matty gets a phonecall from Zee.  Turns out the general was distracting Matty while the tribunal announced the results, which was guilty and dishonourable discharges for the men involved as punishment.

As the U.S, soldiers retreat from the checkpoint while coming under fire, Matty races back to where a crowd in an ugly mood has gathered.  He thinks about how the citizens of the DMZ deserved justice, but they got nothing. "The soldiers take the fall and get to go back home.  And the DMZ keeps on bleeding".

The final chapter begins with the DMZ full of rioting. Matty and Zee are out on the streets as Matty realises the tension he's always felt in the DMZ was building to this day,  "I didn't recognise the place anymore.  Or the people".  A U.S. army patrol trapped in the DMZ is murdered by the Nation of Fearghus and the pictures emailed to Liberty News. it reports that the death toll resulting from the riots will skyrocket and the U.S. military is helpless to intervene.
Matty and Zee finally bond romantically.
Hiding out in a deserted restaurant, Matty is patching up a wounded Zee has recieved to the back of her head.  As he does so he thinks on how his story was "fucking pointless" now with the verdict being read so early, "but could anything I learned have made a difference?"  Was there some great conspiracy, or was it just everyone's word against the others?

Stevens gave compelling evidence including the planting of a weapon and picking up of shell casings, Stevens with multiple convictions for possession, substance abuse and theft on his record.  Or Nunez, telling him how they were confronted and outnumbered by an unknown mob, a weapon pulled on them and the righteous order to fire.  Nunez, a decorated soldier who risked his life hundreds of times in the service of his country.  Stevens, who suffered abuse on a daily basis because he wanted to tell the truth.  Nunez, who racked up an impressive body count over the years.

Nunez's squad backs him up as does the military leadership.  The residents of the DMZ see things differently although they have no love for Stevens either.

Matty: "Are they right?  Is the warrior culture created by the United States government to blame? Is sending roving packs of young soldiers out into a civilian area with shitty training and no intel and expecting results a defensible act? Is it intentional?  Or is this world so fucked up that no one has a handle on what they're doing anymore?"

As he reflects some more we see him and Zee kissing as the DMZ burns.  Next day Matty is writing the story on his laptop while Zee tells him she has to be out there to see what she can do to help.  He joins her and once outside she says Dina texted her to tell her to get over to The Bowery.

They get there and see a crowd has gathered and a helicopter is hovering overhead.  Zee says to Matty, "I think something really fucking bad is about to happen".  Then a man with his hand tied behind his back is tossed out by a man who yells "you want him, you got him!"  It's Stevens.  And when the crowd realise who he is, they start beating him.  Matty and Zee fight their way to him and get the crowd to stop, but it's too late, Stevens is dead.  Zee look around and sees Dina standing there with blood spattered on her face.

Matty sheds a tear as he thinks about Stevens, "a dumb kid from South Dakota who had nothing to offer anyone but his life.  And we were more than happy to take it".  He called his mother, finding out his first name was Chris, and wasn't able to lie and say he hadn't suffered.  He emailed her his finished story, "if Liberty News or the military want it, they'll have to go ask the mother of the soldier they murdered".
There are no happy endi... you know the rest.
Lying in bed with Zee we finish the story with Matty's reflections that with Stevens's death a bit of poison bled out, "everything felt sunnier, somehow.  Happier" He decides no more working for networks, no more working for a paycheck.  He wants to do right by the city, the armies and corporations and politicians "can go fuck themselves for awhile".  And the story ends with the image of Stevens standing over the New York skyline.

Another depressing story from the DMZ, but adds in some vital backstory to the war including how hard it is to effectively war against your own people and the problems faced by the modern U.S. soldier attempting to take on a well armed militia army in a warzone filled with the people you're ostensibly supposed to be fighting for.  It's interesting that in this story the Free States don't actually appear, because this was entirely about a U.S. military fuck up even though it was fear of the FSA that caused it. Matty's search for the truth and his feeling that someone higher up should be held accountable seems from the point of view of a cynic to be somewhat naive.  There never was going to be a wider investigation into the culture that produced both wet-behind-the-ears new meat like Stevens nor hardened career soldiers like Nunez. Really his investigation was a fig leaf covering the fact the trial was pretty much a forgone conclusion, a sop to the residents of the DMZ in an attempt to prevent violence erupting when the verdicts were announced.  And in the end Matty didn't even really matter except to us the reader.  The citizens of the DMZ don't get let off either with the beating to death of Stevens without whom the trial would never have come about, and yet showing that the comic operates in the greyest of grey areas, Matty admits that Stevens's death lanced a boil that had been festering away in the DMZ since the event occured.  Superb writing as ever from Brian Wood, backed up with fantastic art by Riccardo Burchielli, Nathan Fox and Kristian Donaldson.