Saturday, 27 May 2017

DMZ Book 12: The Five Nations of New York (#67-72)

"I owe, I just OWE, for all the shit that happened." - Matty Roth

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.
We then hear a broadcast from what was Radio Free DMZ, although officially the DMZ no longer exists.  She tells people to listen for the helicopters, not here to kill them but bringing medical aid. Zee is now officially leading the Red Cross in the city, "free to enter and help, no longer bound by ceasefire disagreements and no fly zones".

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.
Meanwhile Radio Free DMZ tells us there was no public hearing on who got the reconstruction contract.  It went to a company called XET who are in fact a wholly owned subsidiary of Trustwell, "there's only about four or five shell companies seperating the two."  They flew in from Dubai, re-painted, re-branded made to look like a "wholesome, all-American company ready to do good for a United America."

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.
We then cut to another Radio Free DMZ report on the offical end to the war.  In a New York stadium a private signing of an armistice is taking place between the U.S. President and the FSA leader recognisable as "Townes" from Matty's meeting with him covered in issue #50. The report fades in an out as we see the two men sit and sign it.  They shake hands and we see Matty leave his apartment to begin his tour round "the Five Nations of New York."

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".
The man insists that what they are doing is legal, the original owners are gone.  They pay the back taxes, "put in  a little sweat equity... we're doing the city a favour!"  Zee tells Matty that this rich guy and his ex-Wall Street buddies are going to control half of lower Manhattan, "and you and your media friends want to label them the 'First Nation'"  The man tells them to get the fuck out of his church.

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.
We then cut to Chinatown, the Second Nation, and a massive crowd of people.  They are all there for in rememberence of Wilson.  They meet the woman who was Wilson's lover.  She says Matty was friends with Wilson, Matty tries to qualify saying he wasn't sure they had a true friendship, but she says Matty isn't listening, "you truly were one of the few who got through his barriers... he spoke of you often.  He missed you.  I just thought you should know".  And she disappears back into the crowd.  Zee asks if Matty has ever stopped to process his loss?

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.
The crazy guy is Soames, who's lost it completely.  He keeps screaming about them being there being "against the rules!"  He doesn't recognize Matty and yells at him to "fuck off" then wanders away mumbling about the rules. Back in the car Zee tells Matty if he keeps holding things in he'll end up like that.  Matty says it was his fault he ended up like that, he set everything in motion stumbling about in the early days and now this is the end result.  And now he's going to tell her what is going to happen to him in one week's time...

...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.
We join Matty and Zee a bit later, the car having broken down.  While they wait for their tow to arrive, Matty asks her how she kept her shit together all this time?

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.
We then hear Matty's thoughts as he tells us that the fourth and fifth Nations of New York are called Midtown East and West.   They are the smallest and lack a single leadership, but they do have a voice made up of business leaders, community reps, politicians and media types. He then thinks back to the start of his time in the DMZ where he followed a weak lead and stumbled across the Central Park Ghosts. 

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.
They then hold hands and step outside to be greeted by soldiers, men in dark suits and a crowd of people.  One of men steps forward and arrests Matty for "crimes against humanity".  Matty embraces Zee then as he is led to the car someone in the crowd asks what they got him for?

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.
First he is charged with theft of government materiel and money issued to him by Liberty News and its distribution amongst insurgents, terrorists and other enemies of the United States.  Matty thinks about Zee and Wilson checking out his gear then makes his plea. "Guilty".

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...
That brings this part of the hearing to an end.  Matty is thanked for his cooperation, they will resume in one hour for sentencing.   Matty's dad says it was half bullshit and half twisted around, Matty didn't have to cop to all of it. Alone in his cell, Matty thinks:

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".
His dad hugs him, his mum is in tears and changed into an orange jumpsuit he is led into a prison transport vehicle which he is the only prisoner in.  They start to drive, and Matty asks which route they are taking.  When he's told, he asks them if they could take a specific route.  The driver agrees and his guard asks him if he is taking one last look at the city?

Matty: "Yeah. Drive slow."
And the future begins at the end.
Yes. The End.  No wait, there is an epilogue sent fifteen years later which has no speech in it.  It follows an older Zee Hernandez, now back to her normal hair colour as she tours the rebuilt New York City.  She is reading a book by the still imprisoned Matty called "Wartime" so the only voice we "hear" is Matty's.

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.
She sits in a restaurant in Chinatown as Matty says his biggest regret was not saying a proper goodbye to Zee, "maybe it's best, the way it went down.  But I would liked, at least, to apologise one last time.  Because for the life of me I can't remember if I ever did."  We then get three pages of photos of Matty, Zee, Kelly, Wilson and a Parco rally.

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.
And we see the Day 204 massacre memorial, each body represented by an outline on the pavement.  Zee stops for a moment and sits with her head in her hands.

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.
People should see the amazing metropolis it has been reborn as.  But as this person walks the streets, they should squint and try and see past the steel and glass to the city it once was, the city he descibes in the book:

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.

Monday, 22 May 2017

DMZ Book 11: Free States Rising (#60-66)

"Can I do this? Do I have a choice?" - Matty Roth

So it's probably not the noughties anymore in an alternative world where around a decade earlier a faction arose in the Midwest of the USA calling themselves the Free States.  They set up their capital in Montana and seceeded from the Union bringing them into conflict with the U.S government.  The two sides fought to a standstill at New York and Manhattan Island, still inhabited by many people after a catastrophic evacuation became the DMZ.  Newbie journalist Matty Roth was accidentally left in the DMZ on his first assignment there and has been chronicling the people and events taking place there ever since.  Recently a charismatic leader called Parco Delgado won an election to become President of Manhattan.  Unfortunately he acquired a nuclear bomb to use as leverage, while a star struck Matty was running a parailitary death squad for him.  The US military found where the nuke was being held and nuked it themselves blaming Parco for setting off his.  Parco fled and the U.S., bouyed by sympathetic world opinion, started a bombing campaign against the Delgado Nation while making aggressive overtures towards the Free States based in New Jersey.  Matty after some time in the wilderness dealing with his guilt over getting fourteen civilians killed was given the mission by Liberty News to go back into the DMZ and be an unbiased reporter on the end of the war.  Now we'll find out a little more about the time the Free States movement sprang out from with "Free States Rising: Prelude", then return to the present as we discover what happened to Parco and say farewell to the one Free Stater we have followed since the start in "Free States Rising" and finally we have the one-shot "Citizen Zee" which is our last one dedicated to Zee Hernandez as she mulls over her time in the DMZ and whether she can find the motivation to stay to the end.

Before we continue, I am going to complain about the incredibly woolly timeline Matty's time in the DMZ has taken.  It's stated several times to have been five years not the three insinuated previously.  We also are told that Delgado was in charge of the DMZ while Matty "played tough guy" for him for at least a year before the bomb plot started.  But over the story we are given periods of time elapsed between events from Matty, Zee and Parco that simply don't add up with each other. Gah, space is warped and time is bendable! It's incredibly frustrating and it goes to my one complaint about the series that we really needed an arc between Parco winning the election and then buying the bomb to make the series as a whole flow better.  Well that's my one beef with the story off my chest, let's continue.

FREE STATES RISING - PRELUDE: Artist Shawn Martinbrough. We begin with a two part story that tells "one history" of the formation of the FSA. We follow one character and although it isn't revealed until the end, it's the man only known as The Commander.  As he isn't given a name in this story either to stop it getting awkward I'll be calling him the Commander from the start.  Right? Right.

We begin in what must be the early noughties, the country is already in chaos thanks to an unpopular administration devoting more resources to overseas actions than people at home.  There are riots all over, a breakdown of law and order and a mysterious symbol, a star with a slash through it appearing everywhere (the symbol of the nascent Free States).  We begin with the man who'll be known as the Commander meeting some neo-nazi militia members, supplying them with guns.  He tells them "God and race don't have shit to do with me". They switch cars and he drives off with a big bag of cash.
Meet the Commander before he was the Commander.
We then get some newsflashes about the "slow death of urban America" as the infrastructure is falling into ruin due to massive budget cuts while huge amounts of funding are being funneled into the military to fund a "seemingly endless string of police actions."  The President is coming under threat at every public appearance., the NRA have allowed the carrying of assault weapons in public everywhere and the "homeland defence card is accomplishing nothing but a further disintegration of the fabric of American society."

We return to the Commander who ruminates that he has no time for the coming war, he'll steal from one group and sell to another and buy his way through it.  As he plans another heist he thinks about how the closest thing resembling the law out here is the ATF, and they're more like the Mafia than anything else.  Unfortunatel for him he's been made, and flees his truck with a shotgun and bag of cash, "not the plan".  He thinks about the American soldiers coming under fire elsewhere.

The Commander: "Stupid war, endless war, professional war, political war... the notion that starting a war is somehow a necessity. No wonder people are in revolt.  They got a war declared on the too..."

His impetus is to resist via "stealing" back what they are paying for through taxes.  A drone circles above and he thinks "so much for sitting the conflict out". Then we get a news flash regarding the FSA symbol, "rumours of its intent range from a benign student peace movement to nothing less than a violent insurgent army..."

He takes down one of the men hunting him, then escapes into the forest. He realises his face is probably all over the ATF network by now.  His fingerprints are in the truck.  Sitting there in the forest he wonders if he should give up, but then resolves no, "I'm not going to have my life or fucking death dictated to me by crooks and abusers".  He kills the other men hunting him and finds himself walking down a highway.
The soldier emerges.
A man reaches out from his car to him offering him a lift.  He's on his way to Minnesota where the FSA have a staging area. He says it's "a new government by the people, for the people, right? You with us?" The Commander pauses and when the man goes on to say its a fresh start for them and the country, he replies "in that case.. hallelujah brother". And gets in the car.

We join him months later having made it to New Jersey.  More newsflashes record the gains made by the FSA, there are no leaders or public position from them, it just has many small fronts in "this very unconventional conflict" as the National Guard bases fall to them, "the twilight of our hallowed union".  An anonymous soldier abroad is quoted saying they want to come home and fight to defend their country for once.

The Commander is getting frustrated at how long they have been camped out in New Jersey, he sees Manhattan as ripe for the taking and wants to move on it before the soldiers come home. But he is told to type up a proposal and submit it.  He mentally grumbles that the Free States was "once an army, now merely a movement.  I didn't join all of this just to generate paperwork."

The Commander: "This country is broken.  I'll be the first to admit that picking up a gun isn't always the way to fix something, but in this case the quicker we move past the fighting, the faster we'll be onto the next phase.  Bulding a better America.  The big payoff.  And I ain't redneck enough not to realise that Manhattan over there is the key to it all."

He mulls over how they have lots of men there, but every minute they delay is time U.S. soldiers are being flown back to the USA.  He pshaws the fact that people around him are congratulating themselves on bringing an end to some of the foriegn wars, " that's the point of what we're doing.  Like that'll be the END of it".

So he gathers together a group of men and whispers to them, "wanna go invade a city?" He builds a team and arms them, spent two days walking from Jersey City to Weehawken to get into position.  Then they find a van and drive into the Lincoln Tunnel, strewn with rubble and abandoned cars.  The power has been cut to the New York grid, the lights go out forcing them to use torches.  One of the men says in twelve hours the lack of power to the pumps will render the tunnel unpassable.  The Commander says they have a timeline then.
And the Commander is born.
They make their way forward, then they hear something and turn their torches off.  A gun battle in the dark against some soldiers down there ensues.  As he fires he thinks, "somewhere in that mile and a half of hell, I became a full convert... what I swore I would never be.  A true believer... Even as the army stalled in Jersey, the movement bloomed in my heart".

They see daylight and he organises them to find a way to get power back to the pumps. Then set up a checkpoint on the Jersey side.  "We fought for this tunnel, we're keeping it. People can start listening to me for a change".  As the others get to work he gazes out across New York City. "Time for the Free States to be an army again.  It starts here".  And that brings the prelude to an end.

FREE STATES RISING: We start with Matty taking some photos of the soldiers about to be deployed.    They sneer at him but he brushes it off, "smile for the camera, boys.  The whole world's watching".  He then thinks on how in the past thirty hours the U.S. has dropped more tonnage of bombs have fallen on the DMZ than in the last half decade of the war.  The whole world is "unequivocably on their side, the United States government finally opened the stockpiles".

The real battle is yet to be fought, the pretense this is all about Parco's army has fallen away, the U.S. want the FSA crushed and they'll go to war not FOR Manhattan but WITH it, in pursuit of that goal.  Making things hard for Matty who has grown to love the city and its people.

Matty: "I'm sure it has a proper name, something like Operation: United Homeland, maybe. But everyone knows what's really about to happen.  If the City of New York is the door that leads to the Free States Army... We're about to kick it down on our way through."

He's called into an armoured car at the front of a tank procession and taken to a U.S army command outpost.  The commander there says he has something to tell him, he didn't want this posting, it's going to be an ugly war and he'll never wash the dirt off, "I'll always be the guy who destroyed New York City.  This is the last command I am ever going to have."
Matty fully officially embedded now.
He says he gets why Matty is there, "the eyes and ears that'll legitimise the victory in the court of public opinion.  I fucking hate it, but I get it".  Matty says nothing. Then tells the commander he has his orders same as he does.   Ful access to briefings, full embed status, a secure, clean data line, a body guard detail and no movement restrictions says the commander.  Matty says he doesn't want the body guards.  He says he's no tough guy, he's lived here for six (no he HASN'T!!!) years and doesn't need them, what kind of message would it send.

Commander: "That you expect someone to take a shot at you.  That you deserve it.  Hey lighten up.  If it makes you feel any better.. I was havng a hard time finding men who would actually agree to protect your ass out there".

Later Matty is sent out to make a move on The Bowery with a squad of men.  He thinks about how he could tell them who controls the ground, their weapons and blindspots, give them a nightful of intel in less than ten minutes, "but so far no one's asking".

As they carry on forward, finally someone asks his opinion on the status of a street, but before he can give a full reply they are ordered to shut up.  They move to higher ground in a bombed out building.  Matty is still making notes.  When he says he isn't judging them but camping out in this building isn't an effective way to recon the street.  The soldier asks him aggressively "what do you know about any of this?"  Coolly Matty responds, "are you asking me an actual question?"
Out in the field.
Then we see him drawing a map for the assembled soldiers as he realises him being neutral and impartial is one thing "but standing by while these soldiers get themselves killed is another.  This invasion is happening, the army's here, and nothing is going to stop any of this... And if I try and deny that fact, I'm going to get people killed.  Again".  When he is asked if he is sending them into a trap, Matty responds that he has no friends in the DMZ anymore.

Next day after the bombers hit their targets they move out.  The strategy is "absurdly simple" a slow methodical sweep west across the Island, the blackhawks clearing the way for tanks and troops.

Matty: "So far, it's been quiet. The unspoken assumption on everyone's mind was that the enemy (who is the enemy exactly) is waiting for the army to get midway before closing from behind and on the flanks.  The only viable counter to that is to overwhelm with sheer numbers."

The U.S. has been slowly recalling troops the entire length of the war, the bridges and tunnels are crowded with U.S. soldiers entering the city, "so far, nothing at all from the Free States Army."

Later he is in Chinatown handing out medical supplies.  A young woman who was Wilson's lover calls to him.  Matty asks her where Wilson is, but she says "oh, you haven't heard".  Before she can continue, two armed men in suits come for him saying someone is asking for him. They take him to a secure location where the FSA Lincoln Tunnel Commander is shackled and will only speak to Matty.
And it's The Commander again.
Matty is told that he can go in and speak to him as he's "pretty fucking... resistant" to interrogation.  Inside the Commander greets him saying he only has himself to blame about his current predicament, "I was up to some shit".  He tells Matty to lean in close, and whispers right in his ear, "we found Parco.  We got him.  He's been in the DMZ this whole time, and we got him.  Wanna get the band back together?"

Tanks and men move through the DMZ, what looks like the Empire State Building has it's top blown off. Back with Matty he leaves the interrogation room thoughtfully.  He is asked what the Commander said, their mikes couldn't pick it up. Matty says he didn't tell him anything, he's not friends with the guy and Matty wasn't able to get anything from him.  He leaves, calling after him that they need to win the war and if the FSA is running some kind of operation behind their lines they need to know, "for.. you know, the good of the city".

Matty retorts that he might have believed him if he hadn't said the last bit.  He's well past the point of him having to listen to what anyone tells him, especially the U.S. military, "and so, with respect... you do what you have to do, and I'll do the same."  He then grabs a car and takes off on his own.  As he travels he thinks about all the crap the Commander put him through over the years and always get it to serve his agenda, it has to stop.  But what can he do?

He thinks back to what the Commander whispered in his ear, he tells him Parco is in possession of some "very interesting documents". Matty says that sounds tired, the Commander says it's a cliche sure "but so is 'faulty intelligence' and 'war criminal'"  He goes on to tell him the India Point detonation was a U.S. airstrike.  He says he couldn't care less about Parco and his nation, but he can be useful to embarrass the U.S. and gain some leverage.

The Commander: "You aren't Free States, Matty.  I know that.  But you're sure as shit pro New York City.  Take a look around... how much of it do you think will be left standing when this is all over?"

We then get a newsflash: It's Day Four of the Battle for Manhattan and soldiers are still pouring in meeting with little resistance.  Massive arms caches found many weapons foriegn made, pockets of insurgent activity still to be rooted out.  The President is offering a swift end to the final battle, "and a thorough one".  The U.S. commander says the soldiers are not their as tourists and New York is a field of battle, the news says it is impossible to judge how history will think of this conflict but it will likely "be tinged with profound sadness that I suspect we've only begun to realise."
Parco having hidden for two years, one year, several weeks, make your mind up Wood!
Back with Matty, he finds a house with a trapdoor, descends and finds a room with Parco standing in it.  Parco embraces him saying he's glad he came.  Matty then asks what the actual fuck?  Where has he been?  He demands to know how long Parco has been in with the FSA?  Parco says it doesn't really matter now and hands him a memory stick with the information implicating the U.S. in the India Point detonation.

Matty angrily says it was still his bomb that caused this.  And he put Matty up in front of the world and made him an accomplice.  Parco asks if he forced him?  "You made me believe in you" responds Matty.

Matty: "And I lost it all. I lost Zee, I lost five years of work.  I lost every friend I had in the city.  You cost me my soul".

Parco says he's lost everything too, he lives in a hole in the ground and has nothing.  He tells Matty to just read it when Matty questions if it'll prove the U.S. have no moral mandate and that Parco is an innocent man. Matty regards the stick quietly.

Then he says that Parco has a way of making people wanting to follow him to the ends of the earth, and he let everyone down and made it meaningless.  He says Parco pissed his power away and when he finally climbs out of his hole in the ground he'll see what he's done to the city, "that's your legacy Parco".  And he leaves.  In the car he reads the computer files and just says one word, "Christ".  Again he thinks, "Can I do this?  Do I have a choice?" as he rings someone up.
The U.S army sweeping through the DMZ.
We then see a few pages of the U.S soldiers versus armed DMZ citizens.  A newsflash tells us that the military deny any civilians are being hurt as they have been evacuated to safe zones, leaving behind only those dedicated to violence.  Also that bidding on contracts to rebuild the city have already started.

Then Matty drives to what's left of Chinatown, he meets with the woman who was Wilson's lover.  She is there on a day pass helping clear out some of the more difficult buildings, "helping them see the inevitable. Before the war I was a social worker". Matty asks her to tell him about Wilson with some difficulty thanks to the guilt he feels.

He thinks about Wilson, how his relationship with him was the "sanest" he had in the DMZ, "Did I ever think, even briefly, that he wouldn't make it through this war?  I don't think I ever did.  He's Wilson".  He wonders as he listens to the woman speak that did he ever know the real Wilson, or did he just know a fake Wilson put on for outsiders like him?  He wonders how the Wilson he knew could give up on his people and have them shipped across the river into custody.

Matty: "I feel like I'm missing some part of the puzzle. But then I realise that what I'm really missing - who I'm really missing... is Zee".

More newsflashes: Trustwell is on trial for many crimes including the assassination of a U.N amabassador.  There has been a settlement reached with the family of PFC Stevens, found innocent of the Day 204 massacre but dropped into the DMZ by members of his own unit and killed by a mob.  DJ Random Fire has a single debuting at number one in the French and Japanese charts...

More bombs fall, as Matty has some soldiers look out for Zee for him. Then the suited man calls him into where The Commander is being held.  He's agreed to give up Parco in exchange for his freedom. They've agreed.  Everyone looks at Matty.  He's asked if he has a problem with it.  Matty says "not at all", while thinking does he?  Did he want to be the one who gaving him up, or the one who saved him?  He had a friend at Kelly Connollys station hold onto the data stick for now as he though about his next move. He wonders what the FSA Commander is up to.

The U.S. commander sends in a team to retreive Parco, "history in the making people".  As they wait Matty can't understand what the FSA is playing at, after a multi-year operation supporting the only legally elected President of Manhattan and the proof of his innocence and everything needed to strip the U.S. of its mandate and bring the invasion to a halt, they give him up just like that.

The team call in and say they have Parco.  Matty is told there is no need of him there for now, and they all disappear into the room the FSA Commander is being held in.  Matty stops, and goes back and flips up the laptop screen still showing the inside of the interrogation cell.  As the FSA Commander asks for a ride back to Jersey, he is shot point-blank in the back of the head as Matty watches.
And that's the end of the FSA Commander.
We open the final part of this arc with Matty making one of his reports on how the war is going.  It's very one-sided so far. There's been a lot of resistance since the images of the executed Free States Commander were released, "part of the U.S. strategy is aimed at antagonising any enemy forces and getting them to appear out in the open."  Not many outside of the FSA knew who the Commander was but anyone in a leadership role is considered "high value".

Matty: "This is an ugly battle, which is saying something about a Civil War that has raged for close to a decade.  But the U.S. has taken its self-described mandate firmly in hand and has run with it... this is the end, now. And it'll be a decisive end.  No interim government or ceasefires.  The U.S. military action is so heavy handed... the U.S. army is a boot grinding down.. and when it lifts back up, what will be left intact?"

He goes onto say there are days left for the DMZ, New York City will continue to exist and what will the relationship between the city and a new American government.  "Does anyone expect, after all this... that we'll listen to anything they have to tell us?"

We then cut to an extraordinary military tribunal which has Parco Delgado on trial with no laywers or anyone allowed to speak for his defence.  He admits that the FSA supported his election bid, financially, covert militarily, he was meant to be their foot in the door, but he had no intention of being a puppet.  His presence as governor was to clear Manhattan of U.S. military, once that happened they would move through the DMZ on their way to their goal and Parco would be left to govern.
Parco on trial.
He's told he is being very candid, he responds that he knows the hearing is a formality and he knows what the outcome will be. He is asked about the violence and fraud that happened on election day.  He says he had nothing to do with it as he was in bed recovering from an assassination attempt, if it was Trustwell it's on them, the FSA didn't run it past him.

They move onto the nuke.  He says he won't deny he bought the nuke nor had it transported. He won't deny he used it to threaten and intimidate.  He moved it to India Point for security reasons, he never detonated it.  He is told there was a significant blast, "I just deny it was my weapon that caused it" he responds. The tribunal pause then ask if he is making some sort of accusation.  Delgado says he has proof.  "Where is it?  Well?" they ask.  Parco looks away.  Matty who is watching the trial looks thoughtful.

Later he sits by the Hudson river holding the memory stick.  He wonders what the lesson of all this is, "the truth at all costs... or that it's better to maintain the lie, because it'll end the war faster?"  He thinks about tossing Parco's evidence into the river.  "Couldn't I?  Could I? What would Zee do?"  And Zee comes and sits next to him.
Zee's always been his touchstone.
She mildly rebukes him for having the army find her.  But he says he has no one left in the DMZ to ask.  He then asks her what he should do?  She says hanging onto the Viktor Ferguson footage did no good in the end.  He says it kept them alive.

Zee: "It kept you alive, you mean. Did it end the war any faster? Did it make any of the players act any better? Did it prevent any of the horrible shit that's gone down in the last five years?"

She gets up saying he can think about the greater good and the truth, he might be able to boil that conflict down to a moral issue and bodies will still pile up in the streets. He calls after her saying the truth should count for something, she responds "it's time to end the war Matty.  The truth can wait for later.  Go take care of it".  And she departs telling him to find her later, she has a surprise for him speaking of truth.

He phones someone, then we see him negociating for Parco's freedom.  There will be a mock execution, then they can reuinite him and his sister in Haiti.

Matty: "And the story remains the same.  Parco is guilty, the mandate holds, the invasion plans continues... and you end the war."

Parco is never to be told it was him who arranged this as he doesn't want to see or speak to him, he stays in exile.  Matty is told that he has to hand over the Viktor Ferguson footage too, Matty refuses saying it's his lifeline.  But it's no deal without it.  So he tells them, end the war in six months and he gets it all, every copy.  He is then revealed to have been dealing directly with the President, "and son, if we're going to be one big happy nation again soon, I suggest you get in the habit of addressing me as 'Mr President'".
As he leaves the building his dad greets him, beaming from ear-to-ear.  He says to him that "you've helped end the war!"  Matty heads for the chopper telling him to "hold that thought".  His dad queries why he's going back.  "Reality check time" thinks Matty.  As we see the scenes of Parco being mock-executed and then flown overseas to a joyful reunion with Rose his sister, we also hear Matty's thoughts:

Matty: "The war isn't over. But its time has definitely come... and it doesn't even matter why. After all the years of chasing down truths, this is a lie I can maintain.  This is a cause worth the decption.  If nations can lie and manipulate to start wars, I can do the same to end one.  But what my dad wouldn't get is that the promise of an end isn't enough.  Even after the last bullet is fired, the last tank turns around, and ink on the peace deal is dry... we have a city to rebuild."

End of the war? Maybe. End of this arc, definitely!
The truth is sacrificed, so the city can be saved.
CITZEN ZEE:  It starts with Martel, the Trustwell soldier Zee rescued and healed and who apparently had become her lover, leaving Zee in the night leaving her a message saying the city is dead and she feels dead with Zee. There is an amnesty for Trustwell members and she is going back to them, "going back home to try and forget any of this happened.  You should too".  Zee sits with her head in her hands for a while, then collects her medical supplies bag and heads out thinking "but this is my home".

She starts thinking about the day five years ago she found Matty injured in the street after the news chopper he was on got blown up.  She dragged him to safety and patched him up while checking out all the cool gear he had, "the idiot had come bearing gifts".  As she tended to him she realises he must be press, "or someone desperately trying to be, anyway".  She justifys her taking him in as him maybe being useful to her.

Zee: "He's probably a little imperialist, like everyone else from across the river.  Come to speak to the natives.  But, like I said, he's got some power.  Clout.  Depending on what he does with it... he might suprise me."

Back in the present, she walks through the deserted streets.  She contemplates going back to family upstate, but eash time she does, "something pipes up from deep inside me...'bad idea' Zee".
Zee wanders the deserted streets.
She enters the New York Public Library and has a brief flashback to Matty listening to a Parco rally going out over the radio.  When he says he wanted to spend more time with her, which is why he isn't there, she responds with sarcasm.  In the present she thinks about Matty's "Delgado fixation". She told him he could have Parco or he could have her, knowing who he'd choose. Sadly she thought how Matty had potentional before he started carrying a gun as she collects Matty's notes she stored there and files them on another shelf fully labelled for him to come collect.

She thinks back to when she was first living with Martel, why she has carried Matty's notes for him when he never made an effort to come find her, "too busy playing warlord with his personal army."  Then she remembers seeing Matty make the call that got fourteen civilians killed, and finally the explosion at India Point.

Zee: "And now he's back, or so I hear. Matty Roth, just in time to end the war. They can have each other.  I'm DONE.  I've played my part.  I've carried the pain and suffering of this city on my shoulders for too long.  I've borne the brunt of exactly the sort of shit the Roths of the world dish out".

She leaves her medical bag and starts to walk away.  Then she hears someone feebly calling for help, she rushes back to her bag and goes to help him realising if she left now, what would it all have been for?   As she treats the man, she thinks finally, "Long after the Parcos, the Martels, the Roths and the like have left me... I'll still be here. Until the end of it all and whatever comes after."
But she just can't walk away...
So the penultimate volume has a lot to offer us.  The two-part prelude showing how the unamed commander transformed from a cynical mercenary, robbing all sides to make his way through is forced first by circumstance then by genuine, fire forged feelings to become the ultimate Free States warrior.  It's intriguing to see little glimpses of how crapsack this USA was before the Civil War finally broke out properly, who wouldn't appreciate a new government based on old Founding Father's ideology when you've lived in a crumbling mess of a country that only seems to want to spend money on the military and overseas police actions of which many more than in our noughties are full on warzones. "Citizen Zee" is a melancholy affair.  Yet with a hopeful ending, Zee cares enough to have stored all Matty's files meticulously labelled and in the famous New York Public Library to boot.  And her inability to abandon a man in pain and distress hardens her resolve which explains her telling Matty it's time to end the war in the main arc which comes after this one-shot speaking strictly chronologically.  And what an arc "Free States Rising" is, only four chapters but packs so much in as Matty twists and turns in anguish over when it is time to reveal the truth and when a lie should be maintained for the greater good. After all his playing soldiers and moping in the wilderness he's back where he started, being a journalist.  And it feels satisfying that he does use the datastick to cut a deal, a personal one, he saves Parco and gets an assurance from the U.S. President himself that the war in total will be ended in six months even though the DMZ is pretty much retaken, there is still the rest of the country to consider.  But denying the FSA their greatest prize and executing one of their leaders is a great stride towards the war ending in full.  But does it? And what will become of New York in the meantime?  Find out in a few days time for the final volume.

Friday, 19 May 2017

DMZ Book 10: Collective Punishment (#55-59)

"What ever happens .  Whatever the city looks like when the sun rises... we are still residents of the greatest city in the world" - Radio Free DMZ

Back with more DMZ.  It's America..  By the time these stories take place it's been nearly ten years since a movement arose in the mid-west known as the Free States.  Disillusioned by a government more interested in fighting wars overseas than taking care of its own people they seceeded from the Union and set up their own government in Montana.  Immediately they came into conflict with the U.S. government and a Second Civil War began.  With so much of the U.S. army serving abroad and the Free States enjoying much popular support the U.S. was pushed back to New York.  It was there that a ceasefire was finally negociated, but the island of Manhattan remained stuck between the two and with around 400,000 people left trapped there after a botched evacuation, people attempt to live their lives as best they can in the DMZ.  The series has been following journalist Matty Roth as he spends several years working on reporting stories of the goings on in the place, but the series has also looked around at the lives of other people who live there too and these five stories are all one-shots, snapshots of lives spent surviving in an American warzone.  Recent events have made the U.S. break the ceasefire and they have been bombing the DMZ every day for a few weeks as well as making aggressive moves aimed at the Free States Army based in New Jersey in preparation for a major push through the DMZ and the resolution of the war one way or another.  These stories take place as the bombs fall and tensions rise to unbearable levels as we say goodbye to characters we've got to know as the series has gone along. Brian Wood is still the sole writer but each chapter has a different artist.  It's the only volume co-creator artist Riccardo Burchielli didn't draw anything in.

FIVE HOURS UNDER FIRE: Artist Andrea Mutti.  We start with a U.S. army soldier called Cal Foster dispatched into the DMZ undercover.  He tries to call for extraction but Liberty News is reporting that in "anticpation of what can only be described as a massive military operation" all cell service and power has been shut off and then he drops his satellite phone and breaks it.  Directional EMPs have been used too.  Liberty News then shuts down because of an executive order. Cal finds shelter in the underground.  He follows the rails and comes across a crowd of people, one of whom is Zee Hernadez.  She demands to know "who the hell are you?"
Zee sees though Cal right away.
We then get to read Cal's thoughts.  He is a member of the "New American Military.  Officially I'm not called anything at all".

Cal: "I'm no Trustwell mercenary. I'm not exactly Special Forces.  I've never been issued anything  remotely resembling a uniform.   We're encouraged to scrounge on the battlefield.  We're  encouraged to act like locals.  Like illegals.  Like terrorists."

He arrived in the DMZ three weeks ago to make what is happening, happen.  He thinks that this is the "big one" and when the smoke clears the war will be over and he'll be left cleaning up what remains. 

He thinks the civil war is a "waste of fucking time".  People have too much of a sense of entitlement and think the world should bend for us.  "We've lost our identity as a nation, is it any wonder we're here now?"  He sits down and Zee comes over to him and asks if he is OK.  She kneels and addresses him quietly that she knows who and what he is. She checks him over asking is he's here to kill someone, "how long before you start lining us up against the wall an shooting us?"

He tells her she has an attitude for someone in a hole in the ground. Then he pushes her hand away.  She asks if he or she should tell them who is bombing them. He says they know who's bombing them, "do they know you picked the targets?" she responds.  He stares at her then asks who she really is.  Zee says he'll never know. 

Zee: "If I've learned anything about people like you - tourists in this city - it's that you don't have the faintest idea who any of us actually are."

He asks her to teach him.  She says she has rounds to do.  He asks why she doesn't accuse him out loud and "let these animals tear me apart?"  She just says he doesn't understand them and leaves him sat alone.
Cal in a quandry.
He thinks to himself how he is trained not to give his identity away.  He spent the last three weeks assimilating yet a "crazy bitch" saw right through him.  "Who is she?  Who is she working for?" He's done his mission and the bombs are falling. Now he wonders how he can kill Zee and get away, does she have access to his files.  "Do we even have files? We must. At any rate she knows" he starts thinking himself round in circles.  He hefts his rifle, then a blonde woman with a prosthetic leg makes a "shush" motion at him.

Cal: "Civilians. Traitors. Insurgents. Human shields. Terrorists. Martyrs. There's nothing noble about any of this bullshit is there?"

He thinks how the military are thought of as part on the problem.  That by removing the soldiers the violence will stop. It is a fantasy that "demonises the professionals and absolves the guilt of the so-called innocent".

The war has rewritten the rule, trying to apply conventional modes of behaviour to the most unconventional war the planet has ever seen is "naive".  He's twenty-six years old and was a high school kid when it all kicked off. He wonders if he'll celebrate his 30th birthday with a gun strapped to his chest.

The generators then cut out plunging the room into red emergency lighting.  The woman with the prosthetic leg comes and sits next to him.  She asks him why he carries a gun.  He mumbles that every has one in the DMZ, but she insists she does know a lot of people walking about with assault rifles.  He stammers "I... I have to".   She says no one has to, they might want to, but they don't have to.
Cal does a runner.
She asks if he is Trustwell.  Which he says he isn't. She responds that for Trustwell war is business which is why they carry weapons.  But the U.S. and FSA don't have to.  He demands to know what the hell she is talking about.  She says she is babbling but she likes him and thinks he is "one of the good ones" and wants him to throw his gun away.   He flashes back to shooting various people.  Then returns to the present as the lights come back on.

She puts her head on his shoulder but this makes him get up abruptly.  He apologises to her and runs off after she calls after him.  She implores him to stop, but as he runs he says "I can't".  And that brings this chapter to an end.

GHOST PROTECTOR: Artist Nathan Fox.  We are in Chinatown. Triad boss and rulet of Chinatown the elderly Wilson is having a lavish meal.  Sitting with him is a body guard. Wilson tells him to go home to his family but the bodyguard says he has none. "Me neither" sighs Wilson, "just this soup here".  He tells the bodyguard, name of Woodrow, that he is family and invites him to eat with him.

Wilson: "It is a shame Chinatown dies tonight".

Woodrow: "If you survive boss. Chinatown will never die.  You are Chinatown".

We then flashback to three days ago.   A Huey helicopter is brought to him and a man comes out saying it is an honour to meet Wilson.  He is offering the vintage copter to Wilson in exchange for a meeting with him.
Bribing Wilson.
Inside they talk, the man says that there is twenty-million in gold packed into the Huey.  He says to Wilson he is going to be direct.  The American army is massed around half a mile away.   They have the "moral right, the mandate, the will and the support of planet Earth in this invasion".  He wants Wilson to agree to evacute Chinatown otherwise they'll all be slaughtered in the bombing that's going to come.

Wilson says he doesn't need money he has enough.  The man says it's all worthless paper money, he's "burned through his gold stash".  Once the U.S. army come rolling through if Wilson doesn't agree to the evacuation, " you and everyone you know and love will rot to death in a detention camp on the other side of the planet.  You have three days".  And the man leaves Wilson alone to think it over.

Wilson:  "How did this come to pass? When did I get old? The Living Saint of Mott street, some called me. Others, Ghost Protector".  What will they call me now?  This is an impossible situation... one I did not see coming... am I expected to just lie down... after walking so tall for so long?"

He gets angry  and thinks they wouldn't crush an entire neighboirhood merely because they didn't run on command.  He tells his guards to torch the chopper so the man who gave him the ultimatum sees the smoke.  Then dump all the gold in the river, "make sure they can see that too".

Next day he wakes up in the company of a young woman. His guards phone to tell him to look out the window.  He does so  and sees the whole population on Chinatown standing outside.   At first he is angry with them, but as he gets changed and goes down he realises, "I am an old, old man.  Time to call it a day".
Wilson demonstrates his power.
He stands facing the crowd and bellows, "KOWTOW!" and everyone falls on their knees and bends forwards facing the ground.  Wilson walks through them and hands an umbrella to an old woman, he tells her to take everyone who wants to go across the bridge and they'll be safe.  But he won't be coming with them.

Three days later, bombs are falling on Chinatown.  Wilson drinks his soup and looks out of the window and thinks to himself, "I was merely her caretaker. I had a good run.  But she will outlive us all".  And a bomb falls on where he is obliterating him bringing Wilson's story to an end.
Farewell Wilson.
AMINA, MOTHER OF ONE: Artist Cliff Chiang. Time to check in with Amina.  A rather lost young woman who was going to be a suicide bomber but was saved by Matty.  We last saw her living rough, but when we meet her now she seems to have improved her life in the meantime.  She's making coffee for herself in a nice flat.

She is listening to Radio Free DMZ, still broadcasting thanks to an EMP shield.  She peers out of the window and sees a baby in a car seat sitting alone out in the open in the middle of the street.  She rushes down there and picks the seat and baby up and takes them back to her flat.  Just in time as well, a bomb falls where the baby just was.
Amina finds a baby.
The baby stays fast asleep even as the explosion rocks the room. Amina holds the radio to the child's ear and realises it's deaf.

Amina: "... I know you can't hear me, and this is probably a really weird thing to say... but enjoy the silence.  It's a bad night out there".

As she sits holding the baby she thinks about her past, from a middle class girl headed for NYU or Columbia to a radicalised and manipulated terrorist.

Her parents died early on in the war, who she used to be died with them.   After her failed suicide bombing she "died" again, "my identity was compromised and destroyed, sacrificed by the ego of a stupid boy named Matty who didn't even know me".  She lost two years living rough, but after she voted for Parco she signed up for a housing program through the Delgado Nation and the architect Jamal.  They found structurally sound buildings for people and hooked them up with water and power.  She got lucky and was given a home in an old printing works.

Amina: "I came back, gradually, back into myself. Despite groups like Trustwell, the Free States, or Matty Roth's best efforts.  I spend my days and nights alone but I'm never lonely. And then... this happened and everything changes again".

She curls up with the baby on her bed, then hears a noise.  Three intruders enter, but she kills them with a shotgun and then pukes.
A fiercce Amina takes out three intuders.
She thinks how home invasions are nothing new especially since the Parco Nation security bailed.  The baby triggers an extreme survival response in her.   As she cleans up the blood she ruminates that there are too many children in the DMZ, one baby is one too many.   "We've gotten pretty good at turning a blind eye to the horrible shit that happens out there in the world.  Perhaps doubly so at home." 

She stand cuddling the kid, and wonders why she was to only one who went out a grabbed the kid. She remembers how indiscriminate violence can do funny things to a person's psyche.  It can cause extme paranoia and you begin to think everything is out to kill you. "Once you decide that what's the point?  What's the point of anything?" she thinks and starts bathing the baby.

Amina: "I came back from it by some miracle,  and if this sweet thing's mother can't take care of her child maybe this is my karmic duty?Not to jugde a despairing mother's decision, but simply to help? or maybe I'm redy to stop being alone alll this time".

Later, while the baby sleeps, Amina looks out of the windiw a hears a woman shouting "where is she?"  Amina sheds a tear.

She goes outside with the baby slung round her armed with a shotgun.  There are a few other gun toting gang members with her.  Amina demands to know why the mother left her baby in the road.   She thinks that it's hard not to become radicalised in this city, so why did she choose to come out. She could have stayed in, moved away and taken the baby and built a home in the new part of the city.

Amina: "I could have registered with the Red Cross or some NGO charity, maybe even got out of the city.  I hear mothers with small children sometimes get special permission."

The mother holds a gun to Amina's forehead and demands her child back.  Amina asks her why she left the baby.   It all pours out of the woman,  she couldn't stand every little thing in the universe threatening her.   She lost her hearing two months ago because of the bombing and cried for nine days straight.  "I just can't protect her from any of it anymore" and she slumps to the ground, head bowed.
Amina hands the baby back.
The men threaten to shoot Amina, she ignores them and shows the mother that the baby isn't crying.  She hands her back saying she fed and bathed her.  The woman holds the baby tight and says to Amina "you don't think I deserve to be a mother, do you?"  Amina says the baby needs its mother and that she knows what she almost lost.  As they leave, we end this story with Amina thinking:

Amina: "I've gone to hell and back, sold my soul a few times over, and somehow came out the other side intact.  How can I judge anyone?  None of us was meant to live this sort of life. The scars and psychic damage will be with us forever, as will the guilt... and the respect."

A DECADE ON THE WALL: Artist Danijel Zezelj.  Another catch up and farewell to one of the more peripheral characters an aging street artist called "Decade Later".  We see him in a hoody walking through the ravaged streets.  Silently he gets out some spray paint and paints his tag onto a wall and walks off.  We flash back to him being taken to the U.S. army Shea Stadium prison, "I was arrested for bullshit reasons, framed by old friends who refused to accept my neutrality".

As he is placed in a cell, he thinks how his way of coping with the war, paintng, hitting parties and walking the streets as normal, "being an artist: real world rules need not apply.  Then they bashed all my teeth in.  And broke me completely". He had to suffer endless trips to the dentist to remove the shattered remains:

Decade: "The injections.  The pain due to the injections.  The vibrations from the bone drills. The coldness of the implants. The constant taste of blood... all horrible.  The worst thing is no one spoke a word to me the entire time.  Not a single word.  I gave them everything they asked of me.  And they just kept taking".

He confessed everything he knew, made guesses, speculated, embellished stories, while leaving himself out best he could.  Confirmed every rumour, every urban myth, offered to take them to people. 
Decade Later, tortured by the US.
"In short I cooperated... as long as I talked, they didn't torture me." They did test him once by giving him a pad and pen.  He drew a picture of the streets of Manhattan on his cell wall and got beaten half to death for that.  Once he got out of the infirmary he refused to clean it off.  They starved him for a week until a "disgusted" doctor checked him out and he was given liquid but no food.

He didn't die though. They were shipping off prisoners and emptying the prison.  Decade was considered to be no longer a threat and he could either leave Manhattan altogether or return.  No contest, he wanted to be returned to the DMZ.  The business with Parco, the nuke and the impending invasion doesn't put him off.  As he walks the steets he thinks, "the city is my home.  The city is my career.  It's always been that.  It's always been everything".

After they broke him he feels he owes the city, his friends and everyone he betrayed and if he ends his days bleeding out in the street "I'll happily pay that debt".   When he was in his cell he stared at the drawing he did, it became his identity.

Decade: "It might well have been a self portrait. Erasing it would have been giving up hope. Hope and faith and my history and what I've pledged my life to".

He walks into a gallery and prepares himself to continue what he started with that drawing in his cell.  The gallery walls are empty of paintings, he pulls out some black marker pens and starts to work. In a cartoony style he chronicles his whole history in one massive room spanning mural.

Pleased with his work he leaves tossing his pens aside and we end his story with this final thought, "The city is my DNA. The buildings are my bones.  The streets are my veins. And even if they break me and bleed me dry, I'll carry it for decades to come".
His work of a lifetime.  Will anyone see it?
MATTY'S WAR.  Artist David Lapham. We finally return to Matty, back in the DMZ as a Liberty News jornalist again.  He walks through the streets trying to avoid bombs, thinks to himself "have you heard? The war's ending".  Apparently everyone is saying the war is going to be ended soon.

Matty: "Time to heal the country, get it back on track. Where've you been?  Change is in the wind.  Can you feel it?  It just smells like fallout".

He is on the ground again to document the glorious transition from war to peace, "the eyes of the nation and the world are on me now.  I'm the last person who deserves this".

He enters some underground tunnels and knocks on a door with bundles of cash in his hands.  Two women open it and say "It's Matty mother-fucking Roth" and "come to save us all."  He is allowed inside where a crowd of people are huddled together.  He holds up his bag with his Liberty News laptop, broadcast software, maps, his badge and lots of cash.

He hands the bag over to them and holds up his phone saying it works despite the blackout, "anyone want to call their families on the government's dime?"  One of the men is an ex-Ghost of Central park who left because of ideological differences.   Matty wonders if he has something to do with it and will the guy smash his face into the wall.
Matty back in the warzone.
The anger passes, he tells Matty that it was never going to work out for Soames.  When things returned to normal a well armed militia led by an ex-FSA soldier who sold an atomic bomb was always going to cause problems.  But Soames fucked it up anyway, "hope he rots in hell" he says.  Matty says Soames is alive and the man shows anger again.

Matty mingles some more, a woman asks for his press badge which Matty says she can have "might be more trouble than it's worth though". She says she can handle it. She walks off and a huge man, one of Parco's old guards looms over him demanding to know where he is. Matty stammers that he's probably dead.

The man asks if he is bugged and Matty says the bag probably has one and the phone has GPS.  The man asks if he is "gonna fuck us royally like before?  Any more of my friends gonna die because of you?"  Matty calls the man "Del" and says he hope he won't screw anyone over.

Del: "Shit... I always believed you.  Always in way to deep to be faking.  Always too cool to be running some kind of scam. Take this.  It might not be here and it might not be tonight, but it's only a matter of time before someone takes a shot at you"

And he offers Matty a pistol. Matty considers it and Del's words.  He did it all because "it was fun. I believed it all". Because of that attitude it's got to come back on him, maybe a bullet, maybe something else.  "But I gave up the press pass for a reason, and I feel like this reason started the first time I picked up a gun" and he refuses to take it and Del wanders off.

He goes and washes his face when a deaf girl comes up to him,  She was Julliard student who had her eardrums blown out on Day 204. She plays guitar by feeling the rhythm of the strings in her chest and Matty sits and listens to her play.  He wonders if she knows who he is, "but she's not asking for anything.  Except for the company."
Matty enjoys some music.
He goes and watches the people using his laptop and sharing out the money.  A man sneers they are vultures.    Matty said he did give it to them.   The man says that "you give constantly and they treat you like shit because it wasn't more".

The man says he and Matty are alike, neither of them want to be there. He says some of the neighbourhoods are better than they were before, that the violence levels have decreased in places compared to what it was before.  Annoyed Matty says "I didn't think people like you existed anymore".   And he pushes away the man yelling "fuck off" when he doesn't get the hint.

Matty demands to why he is even here.  The man shouts that he has a twelve-million pound townhouse not two blocks away which he can't get to because he'll be attacked.   His yacht is now at the bottom of the Hudson.  Who knows what has happened to his house in the Hamptons, he used to have a wife and kids, "I used to have a life! Now I don't and everyone's fault but mine!"

Matty starts to say they are all in it together, but the man interrupts saying some have suffered more than others.  The people out there trying to live their lives in squalor are stupid, and Matty isn't someone who wants to live like that.  Matty says maybe not but not for the shame reasons the man has. "Liar! Fucking Liar" the man yells at him and everyone turns to look at him.

Morning arrives.  Everyone is asleep bar Matty who ventures outside as no bombs are dropping.  He starts climbing, thinking about events as he does so.  The was is going to end, we've had the preamble.

Matty: "How do you end a war like this one?  One where you are the population, where you still have to live with the people you conquered? Best answer: As quickly as possible.  You break the back of the opposition and get it over and done with".  As good and answer as anyone's come up with, anyway."

He reflects that the FSA for unknown reasons have been sitting out the past two years of conflict.   The U.S. is a wounded animal, it needs to charge or it'll die. How many lives of the remaining New Yorkers will be sacrificed in the end?  He reaches the top of the water tower he's been climbing and there he looks out across the city and thinks:

Matty: "I just wanted to see it one last time, all at once like this. Before whatever's coming comes.  I hope I still recognise it afterwards."
Matty reaffirms his faith in the people of the DMZ.
End of volume.  Five very diverse stories.  Cal's is an interesting one, if because I have learned he's behaving somewhat illegally in the DMZ despite ostensibly being part of the U.S. military.  A strange paraniod man who freaks out when Zee intuits who and what he really is, spinning paranoid fantasies about all around him and yet when challenged as to why he carries a gun by an innocent woman he can't do anything but flee.  Wilson's story is a sad one, he's been a great character but when he realises the conflict has grown bigger than just handling local militias and gangs he gets to look after his people by ordering to them to leave while salvaging his pride torching and dumping the bribes.  Dying with Chinatown, going out like a badass calmly drinking soup was the correct way to say farewell to him and it's notable he's the final person who was part of the nuke deal to be dealt with by the U.S. Amina's story though melancholy is also inspiring.  She managed to drag herself out of the lowest point a human can end up in, find her true self again and settle down in a nice flat.  It's also nice to know Parco's administration did more than just acquire a nuke, it rehomed people in safe buildings.  He interactions with the baby really tug at the heartstrings as does the broken woman's reasons for leaving.  Hopefully one day Amina will find someone to care about, but at least as she says being alone doesn't mean she's lonely.  Decade Later's story is another one that can be seen as uplifting even in grim circumstances.  The torture carried out by the U.S. military is shocking and it's totally understandable why he's break.  His defiant chronicaling of his entire life in an old art gallery has a strange beauty to it, the man loves the city more than anything and even on it's knees he'll always be part of it.  Finally with Matty we get an odd little tale, his immediate giving away of his Liberty News kit is one way of getting people to trust him, and his climb up to of the water tower to gaze upon the city gets us ready to lead into the penultimate volume, Free States Rising.  Join me in a few days to find out how the war escalates.