Cambrian Comic’s Friday Showcase: My top 5 favorite comics #5

So it’s Friday and instead of being at Comic Con or having somebody else’s cool work to show you (if you are interested in showing off your written work or art work feel free to hit us up @cambriancomics and we’ll take a look) I’m going to do what seems to be par for the course on the Internet these days and share with you my favorite comic book series in a list based format.  Over the next couple of weeks I am going to countdown my top 5 favorite comic book series and explain why I like them.

First the usual disclaimers: This list reflects my opinion only if you see something you don’t like please keep it to yourself or leave a nicely worded comment on the site or on Twitter.  All work belongs to their respective owners.

5. DMZ (Vertigo Comics)

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Author: Brian Wood

Artist:  Riccardo Burchielli

Number of issues: 72 (collected into 12 trade paperbacks)

DMZ is what happens when speculative science fiction meets really good and really personal dramatic writing.  The comic is set in the not too distant future where a post 9/11 American government has over extended itself in its War on Terror and has ignored too many pressing domestic issues.  Furious at Washington for spending far too much blood and treasure a large group of dissidents in the American Midwest form a new government dubbed the “Free States” and the second American Civil War begins.

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The comic takes place after the Free State armies halt their successful advance at Manhattan, unable to take the island with the American military on the other side of the river unwilling to engage.  A stalemate develops with Manhattan being declared a Demilitarized Zone, stranding over 400,000 people on the island between the two opposing armies.

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Into this potential powder keg comes a young reporter named Matty Roth who must navigate armed gangs, corrupt public officials, and a very tense political situation to learn all he can about life in the DMZ and manage to survive with his life and freedom intact.

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This is one of those once in a generation comic books, a story that captures the moment it was written and manages to act as a warning to possible future events without sounding too preachy.  Writer Brain Wood manages to accomplish two things.  First, he manages to shed a glaring spotlight on current geopolitical affairs through his storytelling.  It may seem a bit of a stretch to see America torn in half with two equally unpleasant factions vying for control

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and to see America littered with bombed out buildings, suicide bombers, and military checkpoints,

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But this sort of thing is happening today, just not in America.

Also, while Wood does a fantastic job at showing the grand political and military game being played he also makes the story deeply personal and intimate.  When Matty Roth crash lands into war torn Manhattan he doesn’t find a collection of savages living off of rats and wallpaper paste, he finds normal sane people going about their daily lives and trying to adjust to the situation around them.

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It’s not just gangs and psychopaths stalking the streets of New York (although there are plenty of those around) it’s a community filled with art, culture, and pride in who they are and where they are from.

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Amid the ashes, grime, and horror of warfare these 400,000 refugees manage to create their own home and distinct identity, which brings me to the artwork.

Holy crap the artwork is some of the best I’ve ever seen.  Normally I’m not much of an art hound, I prefer comics that favor a good story over art (I may be slightly biased since I can’t draw worth a damn) but I do believe that comic art is at its best when it compliments the story it tells.  Riccardo Burchielli is the perfect artist for this project.

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His style is very dark and blocky creating an aggressive and intimidating look that stays with you for a while, a style that is very good at displaying both the weariness that comes with warfare and the inhuman savagery of those who are fighting it.  He’s also very good at drawing lots of tiny little details in both settings and characters which is fantastic for the countless pouches and modifications you can see on the clothing and uniforms and the destruction of the bombed out hulks in each of the buildings.

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The entire comic series has solid writing, amazing artwork, and tells a story that is gut wrenchingly brutal, deeply personal, and yet…strangely optimistic and heartwarming.

If you would like to read DMZ you can find it on COMIXOLOGY or buy the physical copy on the Vertigo Comics website.

History and Legends of Game of Thrones: an Introduction to the Free Cities

Today we’re going to talk about one of the most violent and politically sensitive areas in the Game of Thrones universe, a place where history and modern culture collide and anything can be yours for a price: The Free Cities.

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The Free Cities are the various former colonies, cast offs, and trading posts of the Valyrian Empire and each of them either owe their existence to the Valyrians or in the case of cities like Braavos, sprang into existence because of Valyrian culture and policy.  After the Doom of Valyria the cities became dogs without a master and began to fight among themselves to see who would take the place of the former empire.  Of all the cities Volantis had one of the stronger claims since it was one of the first and oldest Valyrian colonies but the city’s efforts to rebuild the empire were foiled when they were unable to convince the Targaryens to join them.  After the initial fighting died down a bit, and after the invasion of Khal Temmo was beaten back by a band of Unsullied each of the cities realized that the Empire wasn’t coming back and settled into a pattern of trade, commerce, bickering over smaller plots of land, utilizing small armies of paid mercenaries to settle disputes, and paying off the Dothraki every now and then to prevent each city from being sacked.  While the Free Cities are no longer the dominant political power in the Game of Thrones universe their trade and occasional disputes make them an important part of the cultural and political landscape.

We’ve talked about the Doom of Valyria before in this series of articles and how it was remarkably similar to the series of migrations, invasions, and looting that causes the end of the Roman Empire.

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This is important because after the fall of Rome the Italian Peninsula would wind up being divided in a fashion similar to the Free Cities of Game of Thrones.

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We’ll get into the details and specific politics of the Italian city states later (heck, we could have run an entire season’s worth of articles on the Free Cities and their historical counter parts if we wanted to) but for now all we need to understand is this: the fall of Rome as a central power destabilized the entire region and turned what was once a single empire into a squabbling collection of city states.

That’s not to say each of the states were completely powerless.  The Papal States became the center of Christian Europe while cities like Venice and Florence became economic powerhouses but the fact remained that Italy, like its fictional counterpart in the Free Cities, was divided into weakened tiny city states that still have an impact on politics to this day.