So we come to the end of the series I have spent the last two months covering. A series devoted to the city of New York, Manhattan, a Demilitarised Zone between two forces in a second US Civil War. Our main protagonist, a journalist called Matty Roth has been given the task of covering the end of the war as the U.S, bouyed by world opinion fully on their side after a nuclear blast, (blamed on the the governor of New York but initiated by the U.S.) and with their soldiers now recalled from overseas, pushed their way through the DMZ taking on and defeating The Free States army as they go. When Matty was given evidence of the U.S. army's dirty doings regarding the nuclear explosion he covered up the story to allow the war in Manhattan to end as soon as possible, while rejecting a full pardon for war crimes he felt crippingly guilty over. We return to the DMZ one last time to see how Matty's last two weeks play out there, bringing to an end six years of working as a freelancer there chronicling the lives of those living in a constant warzone. And we also get an epilogue issue set fifteen years later to bring things to a final close. So without further ado, lets make our final visit to the DMZ courtesy of creators writer Brian Wood and artist Riccardo Burchielli.
It begins with a view of the New York skyline, Matty says over it that he lied, gave up his friends and soul, cheated and blackmailed, "I'll never be able to make up for all the damage I caused". We then cut to a street party as DMZ citizens and U.S. soldiers mingle and a happy Zee about to kiss him saying "yeah, but you helped end the war. It's a start".
|Zee at work.|
Radio Free DMZ: "Zee's been doing what she does for ten years with little help from anyone. Now she has a fleet of Chinooks at her beck and call. Rock on Zee. You deserve it"
The report then goes on to us all checkpoints will be opened as a weaposns amnesty is being held today. The incentive for handing over their guns is money and a "golden ticket in the housing lotteries". Peace in the DMZ, "all we gotta do is put the peices back together again. So where's Matty Roth?"
Matty is being made up for a TV interview which the U.S. commander is being very hostile towards. He says he'd have "flattened the fucking city, paved it over and left it". It would have been a reminder of what stupid, extremist ideology had cost the nation.
U.S. Commander: "Instead we offer a blanket amnesty to enemy combatants and terrorists and you get a goddamn award. Like you ever did a mother-fucking thing to help anyone other than yourself".
The interview is being held on a stage in the Flat Iron building in front of the world press. The interviewer starts by asking by if he thinks peace in the DMZ is possible because of how conflicts in the Middle-East and Asia have left places unstable. Matty says only the military leaders on both sides think the country is broken, "I don't get that from regular people. I think they're ready to embrace peace".
Matty says people should be prepared for some redrawing of the map. The place feels more tribal to Matty now. Parco had a vision of an independant New York which terrified the Federal Government, "but I think it's an idea they might have to get used to." The interviewer starts to ask him about the goal being a unified country, as Matty says that had always seemed the problem, there is an explosion that scatters the journalists bringing the interview to an end.
|Not everyone accepts peace.|
Later Matty arrives at his new flat, Matty thinks to himself that peace is in the air, there'll still be bombings and violence as the diehards are rooted out, but everyone is ready to get back to life as normal, especially the New York City real estate industry. Inside sits Zee surrounded by boxes full of Matty's five years worth of notes. She saved it just before the bomb, "not that you deserved that". He agrees he didn't, still doesn't. She says one day he might.
She tells him he has the one outsider view of the DMZ and now has a second chance of not fucking that up, "if you want all of us to forever be labelled terrorists and traitors, by all means, toss it all away. Again." He says he gets it. She leaves saying she hated him for a while, but while he was running around carrying a gun she realised his heart wasn't in it and he'd come around again one day.
He goes through his notes thinking about all the things he covered, including five volumes on Parco Delgado, "the only public voice that guy will ever have again". As he starts sorting his notes out he gets a call from his dad saying he's under incredible pressure. Matty asks him to just "defer it for two weeks". His dad says he can do that but afterwards they're talking "full cooperation". Matty says he just needs two weeks, "after that, it won't matter".
|Matty's final project.|
He thinks to himself that he's spending his last two weeks in New York City in a tiny car on assignment for Liberty News, Zee is coming with him. He finds himself noting peacekeepers in a place where peace is actually happening. Zee says that they're still soldiers with guns, but when Matty says people hate the United Nations she responds that people should be happy "the world sees enough left in this country worth trying to preserve".
They arrive at a church to speak with a representative of "The First Nation". The man represents the lower Manhattan communities, the old financial district and Battery Park neighbourhoods. Zee accuses him and a bunch of people like him of having carved up lower Manhattan for themselves, no one elected them and they are making huge real estate claims, he's a "fucking parasite. Some kind of post-war slumlord in training".
|Meeting the "First Nation".|
They leave and Zee takes Matty down some stairs in an abandoned building, inside is a doctor called Oscar who has been running a full scale surgical unit and has saved hundreds of people over the years. He used to have colleagues, but they went outside, Oscar hasn't been outside since the Indian Point blew up. He says he's not sure he's ready for the end of the war, but Zee says she'll send the Red Cross over when he's ready. Later Matty bumps into a man who tells him, "the quickest way to spark seperatist violence in the city is to start calling some of us 'first', others 'second' and so on." Matty gets back in the car and tells Zee:
Matty: "I don't know if I'm seeing the beginnings of a new war, or just a bunch of burnt-out people who don't know how to imagine anything else."
Zee: "Well... you got two weeks to figure that out, don't you?"
Sometime after that we see Matty in his flat surrounded by boxes storing his notes as he seals them up. It's being sent overnight express to France, to his mum to be precise. The man collecting it says it's going to cost a tonne because of what is involved getting commercial carriers in and out of JFK. He asks Matty if his mum pissed him off, Matty reflects "it's nothing she didn't ask for."
The next chapter starts with a man on one of the bridges tossing some bricks of explosives onto the train tracks. Then he sits hugging the detonator and phones Matty saying he can question and make notes on them all he likes, "but you will never understand us". He hangs up and when Matty hits redial, the bombs explode and take out a chunk of the bridge with him.
|Wilson, much missed.|
Matty: "I still can't believe he's gone. But I'm also right. He and I used each other, but he stuck his neck out for me way more than I did, and I never once thanked him for his help. There must be ten thousand people out here today. Why do I deserve to mourn him?"
Later Matty and Zee are sitting talking with a very drunk Lau, Wilson's second-in-command. Lau says life was easy for him under Wilson, he just did what he needed to do to make Wilson happy, "all I wanted was to work for Wilson". How is he supposed to replace him? They leave the bar and Lau answers the question of what the future is for Chinatown with the bleak "a lot of dead future leaders I bet." He wobbles off saying they are the largest ethnic minority in the city, with strong ties, territory and identity but they "never get anywhere until someone can step up and fill that man's shoes."
Next they drive to what's left of Central Park after it was levelled by the U.S. "Parktown" is the territory north of 50th Street and includes the Park, the Third Nation. It's a blank canvas now and Jamal is in charge of recreating it. Excitedly Jamal tells them they have a deal with a Canadian company to replace the top ten inches of soil to deal with the toxins from the ordinance and nuclear device. Parktown is peaceful now, the Ghosts were "instigators" says Jamal then points out a hobo close by saying "speaking of which, here comes an old friend of yours."
|Soames... didn't make it.|
...We start the next chapter with Matty having dropped a bombshell on Zee that we still don't know. She looks at him sympathetically and says to him, "what must be going through your head right now?" Matty says that's a good question, "I guess you'll have to read the book to find out". They drive to the Empire State Building, which makes Zee nervous as that is where the Death Cult we spent some time with in Book 8. Matty says it's OK, he's been invited.
They take the elevator up, the building never dropped off the grid, and Matty explains that the cult was made up of First Responders, "kinda like you". Zee is unsympathetic saying that they were nothing like her and she doesn't care what they did for a living way back then. Matty admits he doesn't know what to expect when they reach the top, which turns out to be one man in an otherwise empty room.
Matty asks the man what happened to the others, he's told "Who knows? They left. Absorbed, killed, took off. Living right around the corner... we don't really keep in touch." He says he's staying here until someone tells him to go. Matty isn't telling him to go, or judge him. It was the cult who brought down the chopper with him in that first stranded him in the DMZ.
Matty: "You should go outside, man. Not just peer out your sealed windows. The war's over, the city's changing. You belong to a different era".
The man says is it a new era for murderers? Matty asks if he is a murderer? The man says "no,. I'm a victim. Isn't that what we all are?" Matty tells him to go outside and vanish or own up and join society. "Man up and face reality" he says. The man angrily says, "oh like you, Mr. atomic bomb?" Matty just says "Yeah. Just like me."
|Matty reaches out to the Death Cult.|
Zee: "I haven't tried too hard, Matty. That's how. And why that's you fell in with Parco and did everything you did. You tried to hard... to fix it, control it, to make it win... You rolled in here and almost from day one you tried so fucking hard to do right and fix this and understand that and put everything in a box with a label on it so you can show it to people."
Matty protests that it was his job. She says he gave himself over and over and here they are many years later and does she need to explain the city to him again? She just tried to treat it well and not do anything to hurt it. Matty thinks for a minute then says he's not sure he understands that.
She says he knows, but she gives him credit for trying, "you tried everything you could think of to figure this place out, and you haven't stopped yet." Matty admits that when things end and it's what you want it doesn't always feel good. Then he asks her if she'll stay in the city. She says she will for a while, but she expects she soon won't be welcome, "a holdover from darker times." She's put in a request to find her family, she doesn't think she'll stick around to see what the city is going to turn into, "a part of my heart will always belong here, you know? But the soul moves on."
|Life after the DMZ for Zee.|
One of the men was mortally wounded and handed Matty the keys to an apartment in Stuy-Town. He lived there for a few years, he took care of the place and did his best then.
Matty: "I moved out and lost the keys sometime after that. Will that man's family be returning to the city now? Will they be looking for their son, hoping to find him living in that gorgeous apartment?"
Finally Matty's time in the DMZ is up. He sits with Zee one last time, then Zee tells him that what happens next will be written, talked and analysed for years to come, he can't control that, "you just listen to yourself. You do that, I'll support you all the way."
|Matty finally faces the music.|
Matty: "For everything, man. They got me for all of it. Long live the DMZ!"
A news report covering his arrest says that he is expected to face military trial in the next day or two. As he was once a fixture in the ever-changing political landscape of the DM, his arrest represents the true end of an era, "as the city shakes off the shackles of the past and looks to the future, hopeful for better times ahead."
We then cut to the start of the trial, with people protesting outside and soldiers and the media in position inside inside the Supreme Courthouse. After the beginning formalities, we are told that Matty intends to plead guilty to all charges. Has he changed his mind?
Matty: "No, sir. As per an earlier deal brokered by my father here, I willingly submitted to arrest and incarceration. I never had any intention on fighting the charges."
So all that is left to do is the detailing of the charges and for him to enter his plea after each one for the record. Following that they will move on to the sentencing. As each charge is read, Matty flashes back to what each one represents to him.
|In the light of the other charges, this one's sorta petty.|
Then he is charged with collusion with the Free States of America several times, and got the celebrated journalist Viktor Ferguson killed through his reckless and treasonous actions. Matty remembers Viktor being shot by the U.S. army and standing contemplating the corpse with the FSA Commander. "Guilty".
He is then charged with multiple terrorist acts in pursuit of a story exposing the criminal activities of Trustwell. This was not a Liberty News assignment and during it he aided known killers and committed treason, which resulted in the murder of the U.N. Secretary General and several members of his staff. Matty remembers Amina, as they go on to concede that he did get the terror cell disbanded the related loss of life is impossible to justify. "Guilty".
They move on to Parco Delgado. That because of him a nuclear bomb was used in an attack on the Indian Point nuclear station doing "staggering, staggering, the damage you have done not only to this country, but to the moral and patriotic foundation it was built on". Matty says nothing, even when one of them asks if he is "ashamed of yourself."
The man reading the charges says he wants to make the timeline clear. Matty cut a deal with Chinatown gangster Wilson to use a portion of his stolen wealth, to buy the device from the so-called Ghosts of Central Park, the transaction overseen by the Free States and he passed the device on to Parco in return for his own armed personal guard which he employed with impunity for several weeks until the bomb was detonated. Matty remembers the beating he got which lead to him to order his squad to kill what ended up being fourteen innocent civilians. "Guilty."
|Well when you put it like that...|
Matty: "I can't be the part who busted Trustwell, or the guy that told Steven's story, or the guy that helped end the war... without also being the guy that sold Parco that nuke or who caused the death of those innocent civilians. The two go hand in hand."
He thinks that they lied and they know he knows the President ordered that nuke strike on Indian Point, but he'll play along because of the deal he made. Six years of of his life and "I lived the hell out of it."
Then he returns to the courtroom for sentencing. He is sentenced to death as a war criminal, Matty looks pained for a moment. Then he is told that it has been brought to their attention that thanks to some very highly placed sources and his efforts in the recent weeks to promote the cause of ceasefire and eventual peace, his sentence has been reduced to "life in prison without parole, to commence immediately".
Matty: "Yeah. Drive slow."
|And the future begins at the end.|
We start at the "Ground Zero Fields" a place during the DMZ that all factions considered hotly symbolic and refused "to relinquish control, ownership, entitlement, or sorrow, take your pick."
Matty: "Those residents of New York during the war... the survivors of the DMZ. Do they see a city transformed. Or a never-ending string of old papered over with the most superficial veneer of 'The New'? Does every walk through the city cause them pain? Or, I hope a feeling of pride... to have known it when it was still so vital, when it clung to life despite it all?"
He then goes on to remember Delancy and Bowery being the first place he crashed-landed the first night in the city. Zee says that was where it was which was good enough for him, he went back weeks later and there was no trace, the site had been bombed, picked clean and tidied up by the locals. Only Zee remembers, "which counts for a lot".
|Zee tours a bustling New York City.|
Matty then moves on to the subject of Wilson, of all the people he wrote about, it's Wilson he's asked about the most. it took him a while to figure it out but he finally realised:
Matty: "Out of all these sorts of famous faces, these DMZ personalities... all these people long since dead... Wilson was the only true martyr of the bunch."
He says that's a loaded word, but Wilson gave his life for something he believed in and that resonates with people. We see a small brass plaque dedicated to him, "Wilson. Ghost protector. Grandfather. Saint of Mott Street. You will live forever" Candles and offerings of rice buns have been left by it as Matty pays tribute to "my old friend Wilson".
Zee gets on the subway and Matty goes on and says that there are many such memorials, small, tasteful and many very private. "The war could not have been more public, more offensive or vulgar in how it was portrayed. It's not how anyone wants to remember it". Yet sometimes people don't get a choice how they mourn, sometimes you can't afford to let anyone forget or "even sweep it under the mental carpet".
|An affecting memorial.|
Matty tells us that the intention of the book is not to makes money, but he's raised a "tidy sum" for Zee's non-profit organisation.
Matty: "I've long since decided against any sort against any sort of legal appeals or parole attempts, so I have no expenses to speak of. I will not earn a dime from this volume".
He goes on to say that the money he earned from Liberty News went largely unspent and what was got paid back. There is talk that Liberty News own the material in the book but they have left it be.
Zee reaches Central Park, now a green a flourishing place again. Matty says he is often asked if he has another book in him. He doesn't. He says he may not be guilty of all the charges against him, but he's guilty of enough of them. "My time as a citizen and a participating human being in society is over".
Matty: "My life has ceased to have positive value. My contribution to the world ended the day I shipped the manuscript for this book off to my mother. So there will be no other books from me. What you hold in your hands is... I believe... the total sum of the purpose of my life."
Zee leaves the book on a bench in Central Park and wanders off through the bushes as Matty's final thoughts play out. It ends with a simple plea that if Matty's words have inspired the reader at all then they should visit New York City.
|Farewell Matty and Zee.|
Matty "... and once you have it fixed in your mind... don't ever let it go. It belongs to all of you too."
And that's it, the end of DMZ. And I may have spent my typing of the final issue inelegantly blubbering. What we have here is a emotionally satisfying and draining wrap up of one of the best treatments of the effects of war upon a trapped and suffering populace who nevertheless survived and sometimes thrived and lived and died and generally got on with life while this outsider journalist bounced his way from incident to incident always trying to fix what could not be fixed. Until he found a way, and all it cost him was his freedom and gained him the noteriety of going down in history as one of America's greatest war criminals. And it's just the way he wanted it too. I did wonder if some deus ex machina would "save" Matty from his fate and I'd have lost respect for Brian Wood if he had done. But he didn't, Matty's last two weeks play out with him in a sort serene mood, knowing what's to come, now just clearing up loose ends and spending as much of it as possible with Zee. Zee his moral compass, the woman who never lost it even after a decade of war, the one person heavily featured in the series to walk away still alive, sane and free. It's anger-inducing to see the things Matty is railroaded for, but there was enough truth to the things he felt guilty for that he felt he had to pay with his life if necessary. And it's tear-inducing because Matty has been a lot of things during this series, half the time I wasn't even sure if I liked him all that much. But seeing himself filled which such self loathing that he couldn't accept the freedom he was offered and even arranged for Parco is actually quite upsetting. And fifteen years later he still has no interest in clearing his name or even walking free one day. And in the end the peace he brokered lasted. New York was reborn, a place of steel and glass, of memorials both public and private. People still remember the DMZ, the city and its people endured. We don't know what happened to the rest of the country, but that doesn't matter because it was always a series about one city, chosen to represent all the things that happen in warzones in our real world. And I couldn't sign off on this series without complimenting the art, Riccardo Burchielli's beautiful and gritty work gave everyone in the DMZ character. Fill-in and guest artists were also of a very high standard and helped flesh out a fascinating supporting cast too. All-in-all DC's Vertigo imprint remains one that has given us many excellent series and expect to see more of them covered here in the future. That really is the end of DMZ now. See you in the comments.