BigWilliam - What is the premise? I have never read it.
The series is set in New York City, sometime in the near future and in the midst of a civil war that has turned the island of Manhattan into a demilitarized zone.[II]
The conflict concerns two primary forces: the federal government of the United States of America and the Free States armies. In issue #8, its explained that the Free States are less a geographical entity than "an idea", and that the movement began with an uprising of secessionist groups that formed a separate government in Montana before spreading across the country. The Free Armies and the U.S. military first met in combat at Allentown, Pennsylvania where the Free Armies won, after which the Free Armies descended on New York. The planned evacuation of Manhattan went disastrously wrong, but despite that the U.S. Army was finally able to halt the advance of the Free States forces.
There was even a sense among troops that the U.S. forces were ready to start reclaiming territory from and pushing back the Free States army, until the calamity of Day 204, when a squad of U.S. soldiers mistakenly gunned down nearly 200 peace protesters. With the U.S. robbed of all momentum and public support for an advance, the two sides settled into an uneasy stalemate, where Manhattan is the location of the DMZ between the two warring parties, with the FSA occupying territory including New Jersey and inland, and the United States holding Brooklyn, Long Island, and other parts unknown. The U.S. government still holds at least part of New York State, and presumably other territories further northeast. In an interview, Brian Wood described the back-history as the citizens of Middle America having risen up against the pre-emptive war policies of the U.S. government, causing a Second American Civil War. He expanded on this in a later interview:
Midwestern militia groups revolt against their local governments in protest of rampant U.S. adventurism overseas and, in the absence of the National Guard, are able to gain far more ground than they thought possible. Small insurgent groups pop up in towns and cities across the country, and a sizable force, the Free States Army, pushes toward Manhattan. The city proves too big for them to take, and also for the U.S. Army to defend. The war stalls there, a stalemate, neither side being able to shift things.
Manhattan is mainly empty, with only 400,000 people still on the island (compared with 1.5 million in the 2000 census), populated only by the poor who were not evacuated, snipers and holdouts. Wood has described the setting as: "Think equal parts Escape from New York, Fallujah, and New Orleans right after Katrina".
The comic series begins when reporter Matty Roth arrives in Manhattan, five years after the outbreak of the war. Through the series' first 22 issues, DMZ followed Matty Roth through various crises in his first year and a half around the DMZ and the surrounding areas, such as military bases of the Free Armies and of the United States. In issue #23, however, Brian Wood started several tangents from the main storyline and devoted single issues to the stories of several other characters from the DMZ; a street artist, a young girl living rough, the triad leader Wilson, Matty's love interest Kelly, a local DJ, and the commander of the Central Park "Ghosts" – Soames, respectively. The story returned to primarily following Matty Roth in issue #29.