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I <3 NY

Imagine this for a second: in an Alternate Universe, the US adopted a more aggressive, reckless, and far reaching response to 9/11 than it ever did under George W. Bush. Groaning under the weight of "three different wars on as many continents", large anti-government/secessionist militias sprang up, starting mostly in the Midwestern US, but spreading quickly. With most of the Army and National Guard overseas, there was no one to stop these forces. Small insurgent groups popped up simultaneously all over the country, while a large cohesive fighting force who declared themselves the "Free States of America" rolled through the nation. Most times when the National Guard units left in the country confronted the Free States army, they either refused to fire on their countrymen or joined the Free Staters, swelling the ranks of and adding more material to the rebellious forces.

It takes only weeks for what was derided as a "redneck rebellion" and "pickup truck army" to take much of the US. Finally realizing the danger posed, Army units begin returning home from overseas to attempt to stop the Free State Army, but lose their first battle in Pennsylvania. As the Free Staters continue pushing northeast, plans are made to evacuate the island of Manhattan. Unfortunately the plan fails horribly. Many New Yorkers refuse to leave, most of the city employees supposed to help people get out desert their posts and run for the hills, and soldiers close the bridges to the mainland after only a few hours. Nearly a million people are caught in the middle as the US Army and the Free State Army clash. The US Army finally halts the Free Staters, but is unable to drive them back, resulting in a tense, years long stalemate where the US holds the lands to the east of Manhattan, while the Free States forces hold Jersey to the west. And in between, Manhattan is No Man's Land, where the people remaining desperately try to survive.

Skip ahead about a decade or a little more. Matty Roth is fresh out of college, and doing a photography internship with Liberty News, the news/propaganda network which has all but merged with the US government. On the job less than a week, completely untrained, Matty winds up accompanying famous war correspondent Victor Ferguson to do a story on life in the De-Militarized Zone (or DMZ) of Manhattan and the conditions there. Within minutes of landing, however, their group is ambushed by the natives, (who despise both sides and just want to be left alone) and the helicopter is shot down while attempting to escape. Suddenly Matty, who is completely ignorant of politics and life on the ground in Manhattan has to survive in what author Brian Wood describes as "equal parts Escape from New York, Fallujah, and New Orleans right after Hurricane Katrina."

His first major piece of luck is stumbling into the house of Zee Hernandez, who was a med student before the war and refused to leave the people in her hospital behind. Zee becomes Matty's guide to Manhattan, showing the surprising ways that people have adapted and how, contrary to rumors about their savagery, most of them are still just people trying to live their lives. However even Zee's help might not be enough to let Matty survive the multiple different street gangs and factions vying for resources and control within Manhattan, or the fact that both sides of the war are now keenly interested in manipulating the only embedded journalist in Manhattan, and what he has to say to the public.

Caught between both sides and being exposed to the best and worst parts of each, how long can Matty last before his luck runs out? The series started in January, 2006 and lasted to 2012. Issue #75 (February, 2012) served as the finale.

Tropes used in DMZ include:
  • Action Survivor: Matty, and many other Manhattan residents.
  • Alternate History
  • Ambiguously Brown: Zee's skin color varies based on who's drawing her that issue, from lily-white to dark pure-African black, but the most common portrayal of her is as a mixed-race individual whose exact ethnicity is indeterminate.
  • Animal Wrongs Group: The Central Park Ghosts, From a Certain Point of View. They're actually outright heroic relative to many of the other factions, but the fact remains that they still kill people to protect trees.
  • Armies Are Evil: Although there are plenty of decent ex-military characters, the active-duty soldiers depicted thus far have been almost uniformly complete and utter bastards, no matter which flag they serve under.
  • Badass Grandpa: Wilson, literally - he has many, many grandsons. It's never made clear precisely how old he actually is, but he's clearly no spring chicken. He also rules Chinatown, and his 'grandsons' are actually his private army, one of the most powerful military forces in the city.
  • Balkanize Me: Actually averted - although the US is caught in a civil war it has not actually split into separate countries per se. The FSA makes no claims to being an independent state, styling itself as a revolutionary movement instead, and even the DMZ itself is still technically United States territory. The operative word there, however, is 'technically' - once you're outside the relatively tiny USA zone of control in New England the rest of the country is all but explicitly stated to be in a permanent state of asymmetrical warfare.
  • Black and Gray Morality: And a lot of the time the gray is pretty dark.
  • Bomb-Throwing Anarchists: The 'street crazies', a nebulous mass of disorganized armed lunatics who have a tendency to appear out of nowhere and indiscriminately attack pretty much everyone.
    • Every faction in the city treats them as more of a natural hazard than an organized military force, since that's pretty much what they are in practice.
  • Brooklyn Rage
  • Child Soldiers: At one point Matty interviews a Thompkins Square Militia soldier who also happens to be an 11-year-old girl.
  • Crapsack World: And how.
  • Death From Above: The USA resorts to this very, very frequently, courtesy of their effectively total air supremacy, one of the few military advantages they have left.
  • Deconstructor Fleet
  • Deus Ex Nukina: The USA neutralizes the Delgado Nation's nuclear device by dropping another nuke on its hiding spot.
  • Divided States of America: The United States in this universe is for all intents and purposes a failed state. The legitimate government only maintains solid, definite control over parts of New England, with the entire rest of the country actively disputed between the government, the Free States, and other, smaller militia groups.
  • The Don: It takes awhile to dawn on Matty that his elderly neighbor and protector Wilson is this. Their relationship starts to change after that happens.
  • Drunk with Power: Matty has increasingly become this. Parco may well be there, but it's hard to say exactly, because we have relatively little insight to him.
  • Due to the Dead: Matty's dead girlfriend gets an improvised Viking Funeral using an inflatable raft and a Flare Gun. Surprisingly, it actually goes off without a hitch - at this point, Matty is so well-respected that an entire district of the city actually stops fighting for an entire evening solely so he can attend the funeral.
  • Eagle Land: Type 2. What remains of the US government is corrupt and repressive, their troops have very lax rules of engagement, and their leaders have no qualms about killing American citizens by the thousands for relatively little strategic gain.
  • Election Night
  • Face Heel Turn: By the end of issue 65 Matty has fully abandoned any pretense of trying to save Manhattan and is actively helping the US military in their extermination efforts.
    • That's overstating it a little. He's decided that the best way to save Manhattan is to end the war as quickly as possible, so the rebuilding can begin. He knows he can't stop the U.S. Army's destruction of the island of Manhattan, but he can minimize the damage. He's probably the most firmly in 'Face' territory that he's been in a long while, since at least before Parco.
  • Fallen Hero: As of the end of the eighth volume Hearts And Minds, Matty may have become this.
  • Ghost Town: Less than 400,000 people remain in Manhattan, which had a population of 1.5 million in the 2000 census.
  • Human Interest Story: The initial reason Matty, Victor & crew go to the DMZ is to find these.
  • Hopeless War: For everyone. The USA doesn't have the manpower to retake their old territory, the FSA's numerical superiority is countered by the superior US firepower and defensive position, and the Manhattan militias are too busy killing each other to fight back against either side in any meaningful way. It's a bloody stalemate with absolutely no end in sight.
    • Actually discussed in-story. When it's brought up to the FSA commander that there's no chance of his forces ever winning, he comments that he's leading an insurgent movement, not an invading army. As such, it doesn't matter that they can't win - all they have to do to achieve victory is not lose.
  • Idiot Ball: Both Matty and his security force grab it hard towards the end of volume 8, when Matty, who has come increasingly close to cracking, gives kill orders for a group of soldiers who beat the crap out of him. His security forces either interpret or execute the orders extremely incompetantly, and kill a bunch of Innocent Bystanders. Well done all around, guys.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Matty becomes this. And abandons it in favor of becoming Parco Delgado's Press Secretary. And a semi-independent power of his own. In fact, Matty is increasingly becoming Che.
  • Kick the Dog: Many, many instances. The biggest are probably 'Day 204' (an incident several years before the comic began in which US soldiers gunned down 200 unarmed peace protestors) and the much later saturation bombing of Manhattan, including incinerating Central Park with napalm and leveling Chinatown.
  • La Résistance: What both the Free States Army and the Manhattan militias originally were. The FSA has since become an NGO Superpower, while the militias are increasingly starting to resemble native tribes.
  • The Last DJ: Wilson urges Matty to become this, telling him something along the lines of: "Be afraid of death Matty, but never be afraid of your bosses, your contract, whatever. The second you fear that more, you become irrelevant."
  • Land of One City: Inverted - Manhattan Island may technically only be one city, but it's divided into literally hundreds of tribal enclaves, petty dictatorships, communes, republics, zones of control, gang territories and the like.
  • Manipulative Bastard: The Free State commander. Possibly Parco Delgado, who is now the elected governor of the DMZ.
  • The Medic: Zee, to everyone, regardless of what their side of faction is. As a result Zee is about as close as you can get to being untouchable in the DMZ. (Which isn't all that close, really).
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Matty after his squad accidentally kills fourteen people at a wedding party. He even suffers a Heroic BSOD after, for a given value of 'heroic' anyway.
  • Naive Newcomer: Matty is a huge case at the start. And even after years of living in the DMZ, he's probably being far too naive about Parco Delgado, a charismatic man from the DMZ elected to be its new governor.
  • New Age Retro Hippie: The old Meat Packing district is now the territory of an entire several-thousand-strong nation of them, the 'Independent Artists Collective Protectorate'. They're packing guns. Lots of guns.
  • NGO Superpower: The degree to which the Free States Army is actually a 'government' is debatable, but they've spent years fighting the most powerful military in the world to an absolute standstill, are formally recognized as an independent power by the UN, are absolutely filthy rich in secret, and despite being an insurgent movement are able to field multiple divisions of troops for military campaigns when necessary.
  • No Companies Were Harmed: There's the super shady and murderous company Trustwell, an obvious joining together of Haliburton and Blackwater. Liberty News probably = Fox News too.
  • Not-So-Harmless Villain: For much of the series, the USA is brutal and violent but generally ineffectual. Then they decide to wipe out the Delgado Nation, and we see exactly what they're capable of.
  • Occupiers Out Of Our City: After years of being treated as the enemy, most Manhattan citizens see the USA and FSA as invading foreign occupiers.
  • Offstage Villainy: The Free States are usually labeled as being just as bad if not worse than the US, but we have almost no concrete examples of that that aren't provided by the Commander, whereas we see the US being bastards constantly.
  • Private Military Contractors: Trustwell's private army is amoral, brutal, and very dangerous.
  • Rape, Pillage and Burn: Happens often. Trustwell actually had cells in the city whose sole orders were to do this as much as possible, some of the more violent militia groups do it regularly, and it's standard procedure whenever the US military makes a move in the city. Presumably the Free States do the same as well, but they have yet to actually perform any hostile actions in Manhattan (that we've seen, anyway).
  • Relative Button: The Free States commander does this to Matty, by taking a cheap shot about Matty's dead reporter girlfriend.
  • Screw The War We're Partying: The US Garrison on Staten Island has a permanent version of the World War I Christmas Truce (see the trope or google the term for more info) with their Free States counterparts, and both sides cover it up to their superiors. That is, until the US Commander's souvenir vial of Ricin goes missing. The Commander quickly turns to torture and murder in looking for it. Things don't improve even though the Free Staters, moved by a plea from one of the US soldiers, finally help the US Soldiers find it.
    • And there's also the fact that people in the DMZ still relieve stress by hitting the clubs, or throwing a war party when they survive a bombing, and so on and so forth.
  • Sociopathic Soldier: A whole lot of them.
  • Somebody Else's Problem: Wilson keeps his grandsons out of several encounters by just saying it's not their fight/war/whatever, and focuses on consolidating China Town.
  • Strawman News Media: Liberty News, albeit justified in that it's effectively a government-run propaganda network.
  • Strawman Political: Averted. Real-world political leanings are rarely even mentioned - at this point in the war labels like 'liberal' and 'conservative' are mostly obsolete, and the Free States and USA are actually mostly identical ideologically.
  • The Triads and the Tongs: Wilson and his army of "grandsons"
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: There are no pure heroes in this series, so this is to be expected.
  • Unfriendly Fire: Victor survives the crash and being taken captive by the Free States, only to escape and be killed by the US so they'll have an excuse to go on the offensive again.
  • Vestigial Empire: The United States still has one of the largest and most powerful armies on the planet and a fully functioning government structure, but they also have solid control over less than ten percent of their claimed territory and actually administrate even less than that - in practice much of the country is either governed solely at the local level or just not governed at all. The government would certainly love to retake all the old territory, but from what we've seen it's obvious that they simply can't - they're having trouble maintaining control of what little territory they still have.
    • On a smaller scale, the Fur Hat raiders, who lack any other given name. They're the remains of the New York City government and emergency services, and their territory now consists entirely of the upper floors of the Empire State Building.
  • Voice of the Resistance: Matty begins as one, and when he abandons this role he sets up a replacement in volume 8.
  • War Is Hell: The comic could be renamed to 'War Is Hell: The Comic' and you wouldn't have to change anything.
  • With Us or Against Us: Both the US and Free States use this logic. The people in the DMZ tell them both to go to Hell, but the New Yorkers sometimes do this too, just usually on a more local level.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Both major factions and most of the minor ones. The only people seen thus far who don't qualify for this label in at least some way are Trustwell and the Fur Hats.
  • Xanatos Gambit: Trustwell pulls off a sweet one. They create and supply a group of terrorists for hire from within their own ranks of overworked, underpaid construction crews. They then set these cells to making numerous attacks on Trustwell... and one attack that assassinates the UN Secretary General, because the UN was keeping Trustwell from gaining total control over the DMZ. The UN promptly pulls out, and Trustwell sinks its claws into Manhattan, but even if the attack had failed Trustwell would have had an excuse to crack down anyway.
  • Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: As far as the news, Army, and US is concerned, everyone on Manhattan who just wants to be left alone is an insurgent. Also, the Free States Commander mentions the trope.