We Love the City

The monologue is my preferred method of discourse.

Brian Wood Doublebill: DMZ and Local

I will freely admit to my ignorance of Brian Wood‘s work. I realize he’s a sort of indie icon, and I’m the sort of guy who tries to keep up with indie icons. I may have missed the boat with Demo, but I’m at least getting on at the ground floor with the two series he launched recently: The story of a New York engulfed in war and violence in DMZ, and the much simpler story of a girl, a boy, and a prescription in Local

DMZ is by far the bigger of the two, and that’s not even considering the DC/Vertigo backing. In the not-too-distant future, the United States has undergone a painful separation, with the Free States breaking off. New Jersey sides with the separatists, Brooklyn and Queens remain part of the United States, and Manhattan is stuck in the middle, a devastated no-man’s land – or, to be precise, the titular Demilitarized Zone.

After years of war, a temporary ceasefire allows an award-winning journalist the opportunity to report on the situation in Manhattan. His crew includes photo intern Matthew Roth, whose father got him the prestigious gig without, it seems, actually explaining what it was. Matthew is swept up in the bustle of the assignment, and is quickly packed into a helicopter flying into the bombed-out, sniper-filled island of Manhattan.

None of this really matters. The politics aren’t given much time beyond explaining the basic premise, and the journalistic mission quickly falls by the wayside as Matthew finds himself stranded in Manhattan. As luck, or plot, may have it, he finds himself taking shelter with one of the few helpful people on the island – a former med student who’s only interested in Matthew’s first aid supplies in return for helping him out.

If it’s all a bit convenient and expository, it’s because one suspects little of this will actually matter over the course of the series. Wood explains that it’s the people, not the war, that he’s really interested in, and we see very little of the people beyond Matthew and his rescuer. Matthew gets a brief scolding about his perceptions of Manhattan – “We’re not your enemy, we just live here” – but any actual character development or exploration is left for future issues.

All this makes the first issue almost entirely setup, though it contains far more bombings, gunfire, and helicopter crashes than one generally expects of setup. There’s unquestionably some great storytelling potential in the scenario, but very little of it is on display here.

By contrast, almost nothing at all happens in Local, Wood’s simultaneous effort published by Oni Press. In Portland, Oregon, Megan McKeenan and her boyfriend argue in a parked car outside a pharmacy. The boyfriend, jittery, irritable, and going through withdrawal, sends Megan into the pharmacy with a fake prescription. It’s probably not giving away much of the plot to suggest that a pharmacist is not at all likely to fall for a prescription forged by a freaked-out drug addict.

And, of course, Megan is busted. But that’s not entirely the point, as the story quickly starts over again, and once more Megan is sent into the pharmacy with the forged prescription. And again, and again. Each time the result is different, but it’s seldom satisfactory. There are two possibilities at work here: The first is the Megan is some sort of super-being, re-shuffling time to ensure a positive outcome. The second, far more plausible given the story title (“Ten Thousand Thoughts per second”), is that she’s simply considering each option, playing it out in her head – sometimes to overly melodramatic effect.

The overall effect is something like Run Lola Run with less action and more emphasis on character. For such a simple story, it’s incredibly compelling: Through one simple task, with several variations, Wood establishes Megan’s character perfectly. She obviously doesn’t want to get busted for fraud and narcotics trafficking, but what does she want?

I’m only familiar with Ryan Kelly’s name as Peter Gross’ collaborator on Lucifer, where I couldn’t tell who did what, but he makes a name for himself with some stellar work. There’s a definite Paul Pope influence, but it’s smoothed out at several points. It’s a true collaborative effort between Kelly & Wood – you’ve got to be good to tell the same basic story four times in one issue and keep the reader interested. How good is Local? I read it on my way home on the streetcar. I read it once, and wasn’t quite sure what I’d read, so I read it again. It was on my third time through that I realized I’d missed my stop by about ten blocks.

Brian Wood’s strength lies in his character work, and Local shines a spotlight on a compelling character you’ll want to follow across 12 issues and most of the continent. DMZ is almost the opposite – all plot and little character – and suffers, though it’s not without potential. Wood’s on a hot streak, at any rate, with one sure thing and another series that bears watching.