“Friendly Fire, Part One”
Writer/Cover artist: Brian Wood
Artists: Riccardo Burchielli & Nathan Fox
Colors: Jeromy Cox
Letters: Jared K. Fletcher
Editor: Will Dennis
Publisher: DC Comics/Vertigo imprint
Price: $2.99 US/$3.65 CAN
Writer Brian Wood and his collaborators launch a new story arc in this issue, and it’s quite new-reader-friendly. It also marks a dramatic but fascinating shift in focus. Previous stories in this series focused on war from unconventional points of view. Wood explored the power of the media, the politics of war and the perseverance of the human spirit earlier in DMZ. But here, we meet the soldiers, the men who are fighting an unjust and confusing war that they don’t understand. Wood taps into an old-school, war-comic vibe in this issue, but he also explores issues of great relevance. The sins of wars past and present are examined in this story of a war of the not-too distant future. We meet a man who had a hand in a massacre, whose hands are stained with the blood of the innocent, but Wood nevertheless manages to cast him in a sympathetic, relatable light. This stands out as the most powerful, riveting issue of DMZ yet, and given the quality of the series from the start, that’s no small feat.
Freelance journalist Matt Roth travels back to the safety of the “real world” to cover a story for his former employers, Liberty News. After years of preliminary proceedings, a platoon of U.S. soldiers is about to go on trial for an infamous massacre of almost 200 protesters. The bloodbath turned the tide of public opinion about the war, and therefore, it altered the direction of the conflict altogether. But Roth isn’t just covering the trial. He’s been granted full access, and he uses it to conduct a one-on-one interview with one of the accused soldiers.
For those who have been following this series or picking up the trade-paperback collections, the strength of Burchielli’s art in this issue will come as no surprise. He brings a stunning level of detail and grit to the characters and circumstances, but there’s still a stylized look at play as well. To convey Roth’s slender (perhaps undernourished) physique, the artist has opted for an elongated look. There are slight exaggerations in play in how all of the characters are depicted, and they bring out character traits, both physical and emotional.
Nathan Fox joins the DMZ team here to illustrate the flashback scenes, in which we meet an unlucky soul who unknowingly ends up signing up for a lot more than a stint in the U.S. Army. Fox’s work — which also boasts an exaggerated, even distorted tone — has been compared favorably to Paul (100%) Pope’s style, and it’s a fitting comparison. I also see the kind of emotive, intense qualities in his figures that one finds in Becky (American Virgin) Cloonan’s and Ryan (Local) Kelly’s artwork. Fox captures the emotional intensity and sheer exhaustion of men driven to the breaking point, and it’s information that’s vital to the story.
He also captures an eerie, unsettling mood with the arrival of a legion of protesters in unusual garb. The scene boasts a supernatural tone that makes it easy to relate to the soldiers’ confusion and fear. Colorist Jeromy Cox bathes the scene in grey tones and adds to the surreal, unnerving quality of the moment.
The accused and imprisoned soldier’s story is a harsh one, but he’s not a harsh character, despite the murders in which he was involved. Wood introduces us to an unlucky bastard who’s made some bad choices in his life, but he’s not entirely responsible for the predicament in which he found himself. His station in life and the unreasonable expectations of others converge to make for a miserable, one-way road. The soldier isn’t so much weak but vulnerable. It’s remarkably easy to see oneself in the character, and he serves as an excellent symbol of how society can prey on those not born to privilege.
By accompanying him on a trip to this strange but all-too possible vision of Manhattan, Brian Wood also takes the reader around the world and through time. We visit My Lai in Vietnam, and we spy on soldiers in Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq. Wood offers no judgments about the past war crimes, the memories of which this story elicits. He does acknowledge the unjust horrors that have been carried out in the midst of war, but he also acknowledges that in many instances, they’re committed with regular joes who have been immersed in Hell on earth. They are ordinary people in circumstances that would drive any ordinary person insane. 10/10