This week I finished Brian Wood’s epic DMZ. Great story. Really a must read if you haven’t. It tells the story of the Second American Civil War and those stuck in Manhattan – the DMZ. Also known as the most dangerous place on earth. It tells the story of young Matty Roth. A journalist fresh out of college who gets dropped into the middle of the DMZ totally unprepared for it and what happens next. He quickly wises up and learns his way around, but not without the help of a few friends, most notably Zee, a med student who decided to stay, and Wilson, a local crime boss. Without them, it is unlikely Matt would have lasted more than a day. But he does survive and eventually becomes a major player in the events that would unfold around him. Events that would leave a mark on Matty and change his life forever.
After I finished DMZ, I went to put it back on my Vertigo shelf, still processing the ending. I noticed it wasn’t too far from one of my other favorite Vertigo series – Y: The Last Man. It got me thinking about both series and how alike they are. Don’t get me wrong, they are both very much their own stories. But when you boil it down, they’re both very excellent coming of age stories. Both Matty and Yorick are young men, put into unforgiving and harsh worlds against their will and they have to figure it out and make some sense out of their new realities. Both characters under go very traumatic events that do change them. Just like in real life, trauma results in change. But they do endure, and the choices they make and actions take forever alter the fate of their respective worlds.
The worlds in both Y and DMZ are very interesting. Both are wasteland-esque, one a world where there are no males, the other ground zero. But the setting isn’t the story. The characters and what happens to them is the story. Matty, Zee, Wilson. Yorick, 355, Dr. Mann. The characters are what make these books memorable and exciting. The Death Star itself was cool, but the story of Luke and Han rescuing Leia was amazing. You need great characters for a memorable story.
Another similarity is that both series are about the journey, not the destination. The endings are both very heartfelt and emotional, but you would be remiss to say the whole point of the series is the ending. It’s about the journey, the series of events and the characters responding and reacting. It’s not just about the big event at the end. It’s also about the medium size and small events along the way. The part towards the end where the fate of the DMZ is in Matty’s hands is really exciting and important, but so are the early stories where he’s establishing himself, making contacts and exploring the area. Yorick meeting the scientist that (could have) caused the plague is awesome, but so are the early chapters where he’s just trying to survive. The endings are what they are, and they hit us as hard as they do because of the prior events. And they do hit quite hard.
Both DMZ and Y: The Last Man are well worth your time and money. DMZ is collected into twelve volumes, and Y is comprised of ten. They’re a bit cheaper than most, usually retailing new for around ten dollars, less if you can find them used. Do yourself a favor and give the the first couple trades a try. The stories are quite a bit different than your usual Marvel or DC fare, and that’s what makes them special. They tend to not pull their emotional punches, particularly DMZ. Matty and Yorick are fantastic protagonists. Not perfect, but very likeable and they do try to do the right thing. Wood (DMZ) and Vaughan (Y) are out to tell stories with realistic people put into extraordinary circumstances. I feel that they succeed entirely with this aim. Two of my favorite series. See you next week.