The Unwritten, volume 1: Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity
Written by Mike Carey
Art by Peter Gross
If there's any (sub?) genre that gets a free pass (of sorts) from me, it's metafiction, especially stories in which characters discover their fictional nature. I don't know why, but that sort of thing really pushes my geek buttons, maybe because of the exquisite existential horror of finding out that you're not actually real, that some unseen higher power is controlling you (this might also explain my atheism). So I'm kind of predisposed to like this series, which involves a character who was supposedly the inspiration for the hero of a Harry Potter-like series of books, but might actually be that character, somehow pulled into the real world. There's a lot of mystery and intrigue involving the ways fiction and reality overlap (especially geographically), some violence and gore, and plenty of weirdness, like an assassin who can reduce objects down to their component words, which kind of ties into that fictional/existential horror I was talking about. At this point in the story, there's much to be discovered and explained, but so far I'm liking the ideas being explored, especially the way a globally popular character can come close to an actual religion. There's also a one-off story about Rudyard Kipling that establishes a centuries-long conspiracy in which powerful men use writers to reshape world history, which gives the whole thing an even more epic sweep. So, yes, I'm liking this one, and I'm quite interested to see where it goes next. I'll keep my fingers crossed for an appearance from Kilgore Trout.
DMZ, volume 8: Hearts and Minds
Written by Brian Wood
Art by Riccardo Burchielli and Ryan Kelly
The chief triumph of DMZ is the way it has made the experience of life in a war-torn country relatable to Americans for whom such a notion is near-impossible to comprehend. By placing the war zone right in one of the most familiar cities in the country, we get the shock of seeing the violence, damage, and chaos in a familiar context, rather than half a world away. And Brian Wood has managed to keep exploring aspects of war and conflict, keeping readers on their toes. This volume sees one of the best examples of this motif so far, in a Ryan Kelly-illustrated story that takes the foreign-seeming concept of suicide bombers and terror cells and makes it seem understandable, which is no small achievement. Usually, we think of these people as crazed religious zealots, following an inexplicable moral code, but Wood makes us realize that all it takes to exploit people is tragedy. Someone who has lost everything and feels that he has nothing left can be manipulated into doing terrible things, and Wood shows how through a look at an organization that gathers men whose families have died and combines a support group style of "therapy" that is actually designed to keep wounds fresh along with military training that brainwashes the men into unquestioning puppets, the perfect formula for unfeeling killing machines. It's horrible to witness, and suddenly the thought of people so broken that they'll indiscriminately sow terror and death makes sense. All it takes is an onslaught of death that ruins lives, and the soil of fanaticism is fertile for planting the seeds. It's a short story that seems (so far) to be a kind of pause in the main narrative of the series, but it's one of the most powerful ones that Wood has included in the series so far.
As for the main part of the book, which seems to wrap up the ongoing "Matt works for an increasingly dictatorial political leader" plot, I'm not sure what to think. It sees like Wood may have rushed to end it, since it all seems to fall apart at once, but that is the way of political fortune. He does spend time on the plot involving the atomic bomb which Parco Delgado (the aforementioned charismatic leader) acquired in a misguided attempt to be relevant on the world stage, showing how this was basically just a bid for power that overrode all the pure-sounding rhetoric about peace and brotherhood. And Matty himself follows a similar path, getting caught up in the pursuit of power rather than actually trying to help people, eventually ruining everything he fought for over the course of his years in the DMZ. It's hard to watch, but seeing all the ways in which he has made the wrong choices, it's kind of expected. A new character gets introduced here, a female DJ running a station called "Radio Free DMZ", and while we have yet to see her face or hear her name, maybe she's on her way to being Matty's replacement as the voice of the people, the person striving for truth and justice rather than power. We'll see how it goes; whatever happens, I'm excited to see what happens next.