Matty Roth dropped into the DMZ as a somewhat befuddled idealist kicking against the pricks and a vague idea of reporting from within a closed-off and abandoned area. He was the right man in the right place at the right time, yet as seen in the previous book, he’s shed credibility by allying himself with the political campaign of the charismatic Paco Delgado. Those readers with a fixed idea of who Roth is are due for a rough ride, as he oversteps some boundaries and moves even further from his original idealism.

The opening chapters here were collected in paperback as Hearts and Minds, and formed one of the best books of the series. Delgado’s possession of a nuclear device has transformed the DMZ from an area the authorities were content to isolate to a threat on their doorstep, and the resulting manipulations have a shocking effect.

Also collected here, and contributing to this being the best of the deluxe hardback collections, is Collective Punishment. Up until this point writer Brian Wood has been far more successful with his longer stories, while his single chapters have fallen rather flat. That’s not the case here. There’s an awareness in the DMZ of an imminent invasion, with the prediction being it’ll be preceded by wholesale bombing. This being the case we take a look at several cast members in turn as they await the inevitable. Also good are shorter spotlights around members of the supporting cast.

Regular artist Riccardo Burchielli perhaps doesn’t receive the credit he deserves. There’s not a lot of flash about him, but his impressionistic storytelling and emotional characterisation are excellent. Roth is very different person at the start and end of this book, and under Burchielli we see the progress.

The guest artists vary from those with similar strengths to Burchielli (David Lapham, Andrea Mutti) to the more cartoon approach of Cliff Chiang, the stylised gloom of Daniel Zezelj and John Paul Leon, and Rebekah Issacs not too far removed from the European ligne claire style. The highlight of the shorter efforts is Fabio Moon’s ‘Little Plastic Toy’, a clever, and potentially horrific tale.

This is a farewell to some characters, although this shouldn’t be construed as untimely ends, at least not in all cases. Artist Decade Later made a memorable appearance in Book Two, and here stars in a completely different, but equally powerful story. Amina and Wilson also bow out, with Amina’s story a rare dip into what’s almost sentimentality.

Originally collected as M.I.A., the middle portion of this books is, until its final chapter, the weakest segment, with Roth having to coming to terms with what he’s done, and his reaction being to wallow in self-pity. It’s understandable and in keeping with the character, but doesn’t make for compelling comics.

Having noted that this is the best of the five hardback volumes, that’s only likely to be the case for those who’ve something invested in the cast. It can be seen as the ultimate reward for having faith with Wood’s early floundering and occasional later mis-step. Roth’s story progresses from the first volume until the last, and dropping right into the middle won’t provide the same impact.