Life During Wartime: The Cultural Catharsis of Bryan Wood's DMZ

At first glance, two of the at least half dozen works that share the title "Life During Wartime" bear almost no resemblance to each other.

In Lucius Shepard's sci-fi novel, protagonist David Mingolla meets and falls in love with Debora amidst the tumultuous background of near-future Cold War Central America. But US Army Specialist Mingolla is soon co-opted into the elite PsiCorps. Through genetic enhancement and neurochemical manipulation, Mingolla becomes prepped for the most subversive mission of the Cold War yet. The story plays out in the fictive 'Occupied Free Guatemala' and crescendos to a showdown in Panama City.

Shepard's novel also offers a series of homage to Philip K. Dick, particularly the latter author's the novel The Man In The High Castle. As with Dick's novel, readers experience the world of the characters as mediated by the fictions the characters themselves seek out. With The Man In The High Castle, characters seem to gravitate towards the I Ching-inspired "The Grasshopper Lies Heavy". In Shepard's novel, Mingolla and Debora both read Juan Pastorin's fictional short story collection, "The Fictive Boarding House". Also in a doff of the hat to PKD, Shepard offers Mingolla as an untrustworthy narrator, due to his consumption of vast quantities of 'Samurai' and 'Frost' (stimulants that activate his psychic traits but also leave him unhinged).

"Life During Wartime", the Talking Heads 'New Wave' single from their album 1979 Fear of Music, de-prioritizes the view through the eyes of wartime (albeit Cold War) combatants. The Talking Heads single has an entirely different focus. The single taps immediately into the emotional and psychological sacrifice that comes with existing in a warzone. With America thrown into a second Civil War, the song's protagonist finds himself throw into a cultural nihilism. Even his identity has been lost to him (as attested to by the vast numbers of passports he carries), but he still feels a deep-seated loss when wandering by CBGB's and seeing it vacant. The song's most famous lyric, 'This ain't no disco, this ain't no night club', would prove to be not only the refrain of the Punk generation, but also the intro to the Sheryl Crow song "All I Wanna Do".

These two conflicting strands, the vast and epic scale of a life lived during wartime, fueled by grand political changes, and the psychological torment in the face of a lost popular culture, are brought together in Bryan Wood's landmark series, DMZ. Set against an America torn apart by civil war, journalist Matty Roth finds himself inserted into Manhattan, this fictional war's De-Militarized Zone. Now approaching its 50th issue, DMZ reaches beyond even the two "Life During Wartimes", to offer something entirely new -- a visual catharsis of the post-9/11 condition. This week's Iconographies offers an in-depth analysis of DMZ and creator Bryan Wood's role as the visual conscience of our era.





12 Essential Performances from New Orleans' Piano "Professors"

New Orleans music is renowned for its piano players. Here's a dozen jams from great Crescent City keyboardists, past and present, and a little something extra.


Jess Williamson Reimagines the Occult As Source Power on 'Sorceress'

Folk singer-songwriter, Jess Williamson wants listeners to know magic is not found in tarot cards or mass-produced smudge sticks. Rather, transformative power is deeply personal, thereby locating Sorceress as an indelible conveyor of strength and wisdom.

By the Book

Flight and Return: Kendra Atleework's Memoir, 'Miracle Country'

Although inconsistent as a memoir, Miracle Country is a breathtaking environmental history. Atleework is a shrewd observer and her writing is a gratifying contribution to the desert-literature genre.


Mark Olson and Ingunn Ringvold Celebrate New Album With Performance Video (premiere)

Mark Olson (The Jayhawks) and Ingunn Ringvold share a 20-minute performance video that highlights their new album, Magdalen Accepts the Invitation. "This was an opportunity to perform the new songs and pretend in a way that we were still going on tour because we had been so looking forward to that."


David Grubbs and Taku Unami Collaborate on the Downright Riveting 'Comet Meta'

Comet Meta is a brilliant record full of compositions and moments worthy of their own accord, but what's really enticing is that it's not only by David Grubbs but of him. It's perhaps the most emotive, dream-like, and accomplished piece of Grubbsian experimental post-rock.


On Their 2003 Self-Titled Album, Buzzcocks Donned a Harder Sound and Wore it With Style and Taste

Buzzcocks, the band's fourth album since their return to touring in 1989, changed their sound but retained what made them great in the first place

Reading Pandemics

Chaucer's Plague Tales

In 18 months, the "Great Pestilence" of 1348-49 killed half of England's population, and by 1351 half the population of the world. Chaucer's plague tales reveal the conservative edges of an astonishingly innovative medieval poet.


Country's Jaime Wyatt Gets in Touch With Herself on 'Neon Cross'

Neon Cross is country artist Jaime Wyatt's way of getting in touch with all the emotions she's been going through. But more specifically, it's about accepting both the past and the present and moving on with pride.


Counterbalance 17: Public Enemy - 'It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back'

Hip-hop makes its debut on the Big List with Public Enemy’s meaty, beaty manifesto, and all the jealous punks can’t stop the dunk. Counterbalance’s Klinger and Mendelsohn give it a listen.


Sondre Lerche and the Art of Radical Sincerity

"It feels strange to say it", says Norwegian pop artist Sondre Lerche about his ninth studio album, "but this is the perfect time for Patience. I wanted this to be something meaningful in the middle of all that's going on."


How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.


From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.