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

The Story: We get back to the present day, as Matty Roth finds himself as the eyes and ears at the vanguard of the US invasion of the DMZ.

The Review: I cannot begin to express how relieved and overjoyed I am that Brian Wood has returned the focus to Matty Roth and the main, present-day narrative of DMZ.  Usually, I really like Wood’s in-between short arcs, but I found that the last couple of issues just didn’t grab me and reading this issue, I know why.

The past couple of months lacked a compelling protagonist and the solid character work that Wood excels at.  With Matty back at the helm, all of that’s changed and DMZ has gone back to being the emotionally gripping read that it usually is.  It’s grim, gritty, and desperate, but now that Matty’s back, it also feels intimate and personal in a way that we readers actually feel attached to.  Roth’s narration returns as well, always bluntly honest in message and emotion with hints of self-loathing and cynicism.

The tension this month, heading into this new arc, is certainly palpable and Wood’s doing his best to showcase the bizarre new/old position Matty finds himself in.  It gives the series a good taste of familiarity while also feeling fresh, if not darker.  There’s something uncompromisingly bleak about Wood’s series right now that makes for a unique read.

While it’s good to have Roth back, it’s also good to have Riccardo Burchielli back on art, as this truly is his book, as defined by him as it is Wood.  The big splashes of barren, broken cityscape are as awesome as always, as is Burchielli’s janky take on modern military technology.

Despite all of these positives though, the issue is dogged by the same flaw that tails much of Wood’s work, especially at the start of arcs.  Basically, it’s that Wood, even more than most writers in this all too frequently decompressed age, clearly writes with the trade paperback collection in mind.  Quite frankly, not a whole hell of a lot happens in the 22 pages Wood has to work with, at least up until the cliffhanger at the very end.  While DMZ is once again carried by strong, introspective character work and dark, desperate atmosphere, there’s no avoiding the fact that as far as narrative progression goes, this is pretty glacial.  At times, it’s hard not to notice that pages aren’t used particularly economically.  More than that though, I can’t dismiss that, stripped to its base level, the actual events of this month basically boil down to Matty wandering around a deserted city with a group of grunts.

But hey, that cliffhanger is pretty damned awesome.  We all knew it’d be inevitable, but that doesn’t stop me from being any less interested in what’s to come as a result.

Conclusion: Slow, but nonetheless a return to form in content and quality.

Grade: B

-Alex Evans