This month, the Vertigo series "DMZ" hits issue #50 and writer Brian Wood has a big celebration planned. "We had missed the issue 25 milestone, we hadn't really done anything special for that, so I really wanted to make sure we did something here," said Wood. "My first thought was that I wanted it to be a break from the main storyline. It's a little bit grim now, especially if you're a monthly reader. I wanted to do something that was lighter; a true celebration of the book."
According to Wood, the celebration will consist of a number of different stories on the periphery of the DMZ, all based on Matty Roth's notes. "I have all these shards of ideas - they're tiny ideas that I haven't been able to work into the main part of the book, and I figured this was a good chance [to do that]," Wood told CBR News. "Remember those 'Transmetropolitan' specials with a thousand guest stars in each one? I thought that was really cool. I actually drew one of those back then, and I've always liked that as an idea."
What transpired was a rounding up of a veritable Who's-Who of some of comics' most talented artists for "DMZ's" 50th. "My editor, Will Dennis, he's a good guy that called Jim Lee and Eduardo Risso and Dave Gibbons and everybody," said Wood. "That's how it happened, and I've made a real effort to keep it more fun than I think the book is normally - more behind the scenes kind of stuff - and try to make it a cool little object outside of continuity, like classic 'DMZ' stories that don't fall any particular place in the main storyline."
"The bigger name artists, like Jim Lee, who obviously don't have time to draw a multi-page story are drawing these single pages like in the 'Transmetropolitan' specials," he continued. "They do a key piece of art and I write a few paragraphs of text. In those we see a lot of recurring characters. There's a Wilson one, there's that Decades Later street artist guy - we brought back some of those smaller characters."
Wood also mentioned that this issue would be a very special event for longtime "DMZ" interior artist Riccardo Burchielli, who would be able to celebrate something of his own. "Riccardo, for four years, has wanted to draw a black and white issue of 'DMZ,'" said the writer. "It's very common in Italy. I think he's been dying to show the world what his stuff looks like in black and white, but obviously the realities of it are, if you put out a black and white issue of 'DMZ,' it would be viewed as negative because everybody is used to color. Because of [the design of issue #50, we can present his] story is in black and white."
With "DMZ" reaching this milestone issue, an honor that only a handful of Vertigo titles have attained, Wood looked back on the past four years and expressed just how it feels for his work to be recognized in this way. "You always tell people it's humbling in a way, because when 'DMZ' launched, it launched with a lot of other really great books," recalled Wood. "Vertigo launched, as an event, all these new books within a few months of each other. With the exception of 'Scalped,' which was almost a year after that, 'DMZ' is the only one that made it. It makes me feel bad, because I don't think it was the best book. I was a fan of a lot of the books. They shouldn't have dropped off, but at the same time, I'm very happy that it did make it. I'm thankful and proud of it and everybody that helped."
Wood also recalled how he came up with the concept of DMZ more than five years ago. "It was literally one of those things that just pops into your head, randomly," he said. "I was living in San Francisco at the time, and I was living there for about a year and a half. I was missing New York a lot, and it was a really bad time in terms of current events and the Iraq War. It was that immediate stuff in my life and the stuff that I've always been kind of influenced by - 'Transmetropolitan,' which was always a favorite of mine - even my own book, 'Channel Zero,' which 'DMZ' has a lot in common with. Then, pop culture stuff from a state like New York. It was just this kind of brew of all these ideas in my head."
After the issue #50 celebration, "DMZ" gets back on track, following Matty's descent from grace after the conclusion of the "Hearts and Minds" storyarc. "I refer to this arc, for myself, as 'The Rise and Fall of Matty.' He just had his fall, and it's really satisfying to finally get to this point, because I started this whole process of Matty's back in issue 29 when he first met Parco," explains Wood. "That was the beginning of this whole gradual build up to this point. At last, I finally have that done so that everybody can see it. After that, where does he go from there? He's literally at the absolute bottom. I'm not going to give anything away, but he's caused all these horrible events, all his friends hate his guts, he's walked away from everything. How's he going to build himself back up? Is he going to build himself back up?
"In Issue 51, we have a short 4-issue arc called MIA that's in Previews already. It sees Matty as basically a homeless person. He's wandering around in a quiet part of the city basically on his own, taking stock. By the time these four issues are done, he'll attempt to have a direction again. This is the time when he'll take stock and finally understand what people have been telling him about Parco and how he really blurred those lines in between being a supposedly objective journalist and carrying a machine gun around with him."
Along the way, Matty's relationship with the enigmatic Zee has been in a constant flux, and the future promises to be no different. "The interesting thing about Zee, and this is something that I was doing completely subconsciously and didn't realize it until a friend of mine pointed it out, is that Zee really is the human embodiment of the city," said Wood. "She is the DMZ. Her relative closeness to Matty has always mirrored his standing in the city. When he drops in and he first meets her, she's very, very cold and distrustful of him. As he proves himself, he gets closer and closer. There's a breakup when he first meets Parco, so it ebbs and flows but it does mirror how 'good' he's doing. Right now, Matty's committed an almost unforgivable sin. You're going to see that mirrored in his relationship with Zee."
As far as the future of the book is concerned, Wood has a definite ending to the chronicles of the DMZ and Matty's odyssey as both a journalist and a human being. "We've got a couple of years left," Wood said. "What you can expect is a conclusion to Matty's story, whatever it is he's doing in the city. He's at the beginning of the third act, if you figure a character arc is three acts, he's at the beginning of the third. This is also a little hard to say without giving stuff away, but there's obviously going to be a serious, definitely a national, if not a global, fallout from what happened in #49. I feel like Matty has a personal arc to finish, but then there's the larger story of the actual war, which has to reconcile one way or another before the book ends. Those are the two stories, and they'll definitely become one before the story ends. I feel like we're aiming for an end around issue #70. We're a couple years away."
For Wood, the most exciting aspect of the future is being able to tell the conclusion of his story, begun in 2005. "I think I'm just excited about wrapping it up. Not that I'm in a rush to, but when you pitch a book like this to Vertigo, they make you plan it out in great depth, often years and years and years into the future," Wood said. "There's this urban legend that Vertigo asked [Brian] Azzarello to plan out all 100 issues of '100 Bullets' early on, which I don't think is true, but everyone needs to plan out years and years of a book just so Vertigo has a sense of where it goes. I feel like, after all this time, I'll just be so happy to tell the ending of the story, to complete this massive project. I'm really looking forward to that the most. At times, it feels like DMZ is an indefinitely running book - I forget there's an end point. There are dark days where I'm struggling with the script and it feels like I'm never going to finish. Just to be able to look at all the volumes on the shelf when it's done is going to feel really, really good."