Newsweek says it’s The Corrections, which I haven’t read. But it took me about two minutes to come up with my definitive Bush-era fiction.
I picked up DMZ #1 way back in 2005 and reviewed it for Best Shots (wow, I’ve been doing this way too long). Since then, I’ve read and dropped many other monthly comics, but DMZ has stayed on my pull list. I’ve given it as a gift, made my professors read it, and flogged it mercilessly on this very site.
But aside from being an excellent story, it’s a story that at its core is about all the major questions of the Bush era.
DMZ picks all of us up and drops us into the middle of a war zone. But Brian Wood and Riccardo Burchielli (and some excellent guest artists) transfer that war back home, to a place we all know. New York City is the most familiar landscape in America even to people who haven’t been there, and it was the central point of the crises we’ve dealt with in the last eight years.
The first few arcs are heavily flavored with 9/11, but as it goes on, that fades, as it did in our lives, and we’re left with a war that has no purpose, but that no one can bring themselves to admit has no purpose.
Without 9/11, after all, we wouldn’t have wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, wouldn’t have a PATRIOT Act, wouldn’t have the questions we’ve struggled with more openly in this past election year, but subtly throughout the entire Bush era.
Matty Roth starts out the way many of us did, when dealing with these issues–he doesn’t have a clue. He didn’t even really want to have a clue, but unlike most of us, he had to.
DMZ holds us all responsible for the failures of our government under Bush. No one gets a free pass. Each time you think you know who Wood is pointing the finger at, you find it twisting around to point squarely back at you.
“The Island” deals with torture, but casts the two sides not as Others who speak different languages. Instead, they’re friends, so when they’re willing still to hurt each other, it makes us wonder what we’re capable of doing to so-called friends.
“Public Works” makes us examine the ethics of using mercenaries rather than soldiers, and questions the nature of suicide bombings and conflicts between Islam and the West, but once again uses a New York Muslim girl and purely American hate to do so. Trustwell might seem blown out of proportion, until we remember that Blackwater guards were used not just in Iraq, but in New Orleans.
Liberty News is a very thinly veiled stand-in for Fox, but it commits all the current sins of journalism in the current media culture. The ascension of Fox came along with the ascension of Bush, and that culture began to die during Hurricane Katrina, where arrogant journalists parachuted in and managed to make their privileged selves the center of the story. (And the “Kelly” one-shot shows the other side of those journalists, because like all the best writers, Wood never passes one-sided judgments.)
“Blood in the Game” combined the ludicrous 2008 election cycle with the elections in Iraq and other countries, where U.S. and U.N. observers ‘certify’ the correctness of the votes of people deemed not capable of taking care of themselves. But the story was less about voting in a war zone than about Matty’s connection to Parco Delgado and whether objectivity is something for which journalists should even try.
The culture wars come in, too, in the form of the Free State army versus the United States. The Free Staters are “rednecks” and militia-types, but no worse than the slickly corrupt politicos of the U.S. and Liberty News. Because DMZ might be on its face about war, but it goes far deeper into the American psyche than, perhaps, we’d like to think.
Outside of the war, other issues crept in as well. The DMZ residents have to provide their own food and create their own fuel, and without sounding preachy, the comic gives us a few models for “sustainable” living, that buzziest of buzzphrases.
The mood of DMZ, even when it’s on an upswing, is ominous, threatening. There’s always something about to blow, like everyone’s living in the time between the pulling of the pin and the explosion of the grenade. Yet there are moments of love, of beauty, of seizing what little pleasure one can have when the world seems out of control.
Matty and Zee have several of those moments, but Zee is always a little too good for Matty. Zee is the city. Her pain is New York’s pain, and her work as a street medic is her attempt to staunch her own wounds. Zee is the true hero, but we have to see the story through Matty’s eyes, because Matty is all of us–in over our heads.
The way we’ve felt throughout the last eight years.
The story of Parco Delgado will be with us as we leave Bush America behind for Obama America. Yet one look at the headlines will remind us that war hasn’t ended, that the world is still a mess, full of inequalities and injustices, and that one election might change a few things, but won’t change everything. I hope DMZ will stick around for a while, to call us on our mistakes and on the things that we try to ignore. And most of all, to remind us of what it was like to live through all of this.