by Brian Wood (writer), Danijel Zezelj (art), Jeromy Cox (colors), and Jared K. Fletcher (letters)

The Story: We learn what happened to street artist Decade Later since we last saw him.

What’s Good: While I enjoy all of Brian Wood’s work, I’ve long held the opinion that it’s in the shorter arcs and one-shots that he truly excels.  Given this, I had expectations for Collective Punishment which had, sadly, not been met.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s been good, but it just hasn’t been great.  Something didn’t quite click with me or hit me as hard as Wood’s shorter stuff normally does.  This month, though, Wood finally finds his groove.  The penultimate of Collective Punishment is by far the strongest and finally hits that outstanding level Wood is capable of.

One of the biggest differences here is the quality of the main character Decade Later’s narration.  Unlike the other issues of this arc, I felt that Decade Later’s textboxes really got me inside of his head.  I came to understand the man’s psyche, his motivations, his personality, and his emotions.  As a result, this issue really managed to pull me in and it felt highly personal and, as a result, much more meaningful.  This ended being a very intimate book, and because of this, it completed avoided feeling like just another 22-page comic book.  It involves the reader and you really get to know, even inhabit, a very compelling character and it’s hard to ask for much else from a comic, or narrative in general.

Much of this month’s focus is on Decade Later’s ties to art and how art is both a part of him, and also a function of his as essential as breathing or eating.  That sounds contrived when I type it, but it feels honest and sincere in Wood’s comic.  Art is more than just a mode of expression, it’s a compulsion, a required act, and it is, for all intents and purposes, tied to Decade Later’s soul.  The pictures themselves are secondary to how they not only represent, but are, pieces of Decade Later himself.  It makes the book contemplative and also all the more personal and riveting.

I’m a huge fan of Danijel Zezelj’s artwork and was thrilled to see him on board this month.  As always, his artwork is brooding and dark, but always contemplative.  There’s a constant sense of gloomy meditation to his work.  His complete shift in style when he lets Decade Later’s work take over the comic itself is elegant, natural, and literally feels like the street artist himself has taken over the comic book, allowing the character to directly contact the reader.

What’s Not So Good: This happens once in a while in DMZ, but I didn’t particularly enjoy Wood’s depiction of the United States Army.  They were nothing more than faceless, irrational thugs who are only ever shown delivering physical torment without any set rationale.  As a result, I felt like Wood made them into two-dimensional and unrealized bad guys and, to some extent, straw-men for his story.  Due to the fact that, fictional setting or not, it is United States Army, I can’t help but feel a bit uncomfortable around what suggests a kind of political leaning on Wood’s part.  However, even if it wasn’t a real world organization being depicted, I still would’ve been dissatisfied at such a simple and poorly realized depiction of a story’s core antagonists.

Conclusion:  Brian Wood gives me what I’m looking for: thoughtful, heart-wrenching, hard-hitting comic goodness.

Grade: B+

-Alex Evans