Written by Brian Wood
Art by Garry Brown
Colors by Jordie Bellaire
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Is Brian Wood’s The Massive really approaching the 30th issue milestone… already? It didn’t seem long ago when Kristian Donaldson’s beautiful art was teasing the history of characters like Mag and Mary. The Massive looked to be the spiritual successor to DMZ back in early 2012. Timely, political, character driven, personal, and smart. This issue may just end up being the series’ climax of sorts, serving up the biggest revelation of the series and one that has been teased since the title’s announcement. As the moment plays out, I realize this is not the spiritual successor to DMZ… (Stuart Smalley voice) and that’s okay.
[*** Spoilers for The Massive #27 and the series as a whole to follow.***]
Issue 27 does not have a title, other than the third part (of six) of the “Ragnarok” arc, set to wrap up with #30. After an incredibly interesting, arguably slow, off-shoot arc featuring Mary, sexism, post-Crash logistics, and the power of necessities, it’s been great to see Wood dive back into the story of the new “Ninth Wave”. We’ve seen their background, formation, mission, crisis, schism, and now finally adaptation. This truly is a post-Crash version of the environmental group in more ways than one.
The revelation I referred to before may have been a misnomer. I’m not sure discovering something you’ve been searching forever for constitutes a revelation, then again it could very well be the definition itself. It starts where the previous comic left off: THE MASSIVE drifting into The Kapital in the middle of The Atlantic ocean. The Massive. Titular oceanic vessel staring our characters right in the face. As what’s left of the rag-tag “Ninth Wave” board (Mag is pissed he dumped all his weapons overboard) the mothership, the crew realizes this ship, this huge floating beast of a ship, is not abandoned. Not only that, but it is becoming a thriving example of what a post-Crash environmental movement can be. Something to aspire to. Turns out the members of the organization have been retrofitting the ship to… essentially a sustainable farm. They weren’t stranded at all, they were building a whole new way of surviving.
The biologist in charge — a character we’re new to, but someone the Kapital crew obviously knows — emerges from behind a locked door with nothing but smiles and sunshine on his face. We were expecting disaster, abandonment, death, squalor… but the Massive crew has proven that even in face of environmental catastrophe and societal collapse, a healthy and meaningful existence is out there for the taking. We simply need to carve it out of the world ourselves, whichever world that may be. No one is going to hand it to us. It won’t be passed down from another generation like so many of the things that got us where we are today (for better or worse). This is different. It’s a powerful theme, delivered in a subtle enough way as to not detract from the flow of the story as a whole or the issue itself. And it doesn’t feel preachy at all.
These types of moments really shine a light on what Brian Wood can do as a writer. It’s his bread and butter: tapping into sociological content — either past, present, or future — to say something about our standing in the world now, and where we’re headed. But while DMZ dealt with a version of our society taken to an extreme, The Massive shows us a society (and Earth itself) we have not seen, at least not on this scale. DMZ is anti-authoritarian; in The Massive there is no authority. A United States ravaged by war; there is no United States. A protagonist searching for his place in the existing world; a protagonist making his place in a whole new world. But while the book’s themes reach for something more, the art is content where it’s at.
That isn’t to say it’s all bad. Garry Brown plots out and executes an amazing ship, which is of course important in this comic. And his oceans feel eerie… surreal but familiar. He also does a good job of character distinction, from expressions to mannerisms. At the same time what good are those well executed expressions if they can be somewhat difficult to make out? I am by no means against loose art, be it Ben Templesmith or Pavement. But to really pull it off well one needs to have a whole lot of talent, a unique style, and (ironically) a clean line. I know that sounds strange. But if you’re going to outline an object with a series of 7, 8… 9 sketch type lines, each individual line needs to be clean. Yes the end result will still be loose, but it won’t be messy. Too many of Brown’s pages end up just sort of feeling like a mess. Like a really good sketch artist who sketched over the same thing too many times. It’s too bad because like I said, I do like his plotting and I am one for loose artwork.
Good thing Jordie Bellaire is on colors because she smashes this issue out the park, as per usual. Her coloring of the approaching storm in particular stand out, also the different shades of grey used on the interior of the ship when the farm is unveiled. Between this and her work on Hawkeye and other books it serves her right to be nominated for multiple colorists awards, and I’m sure she will continue to be in the future.
For me the themes of this book are enough to validate a purchase. I do wish sometimes Kristian Donaldson was the regular artist. And that’s no slight on Garry Brown or even Danijel Zezelj, just a rather large compliment to Donaldson. I feel like this may be why a lot of people have dropped the book, unfortunately. It’s a shame too because for all it can sometimes lack in consistency, this book is one of the more unique books on the stands right now, certainly coming from Dark Horse.