Review: The Massive Vol. 1 - Black Pacific

Review by: Ed Allen Brian Wood has built his career and reputation on creating politically poignant and immediately compelling comics, starting from Channel Zero and continuing on through the likes of Northlanders and DMZ. His latest creator-owned ongoing series The Massive is no exception; in this instance it is radical environmentalism which falls under Wood’s spotlight. Fans of Wood’s older work will surely be interested in its premise and should know roughly what to expect but readers who only know him for his recent work-for-hire comics (X-MenStar Wars and the excellent Conan the Barbarian) should be forewarned that this is a highly politicized comic, given that many people I’ve spoken have explicitly stated that they don’t want politics in their comics.

Personally, I love to see comics which tackle bigger subjects than "which of these two costumed weirdos can zap their way to victory" and there's not nearly enough art in popular culture which faces up to the challenges presented by our changing global climate. With that in mind, it's especially refreshing to see a comic which attacks the issue from an environmentalist and internationalist perspective the way The Massive does. If that makes Wood's comic sound dry and boring don't be fooled - The Massive is also the closest thing to a contemporary pirate story I've ever seen and as such it's rich in action and intrigue.

The Massive vol 1 CoverThe story begins a year after a series of catastrophic environmental disasters, known commonly as 'the Crash' tears the world's geopolitical status quo to shreds; killing vast swathes of the global population, sinking entire cities,  disrupting trade and throwing our social structures into chaos. In the midst of all this the crew of the Kapital, a small converted warship owned by the environmental direct action activist group 'Ninth Wave', struggles to survive on a volatile ocean that's become infested with pirates. The captain, veteran activist and former mercenary soldier Callum Israel, is determined to maintain Ninth Wave's ethical integrity in the face of this new world disorder but many of of his closest companions have other ideas. On top of all that, the Kapital’s sister ship the Massive - a huge freighter converted to a scientific research vessel that was studying the Crash - has disappeared without a trace and Callum is determined to find it, while his crew would prefer to simply stay alive.

This first volume of The Massive contains the first six issues of the ongoing series, divided between two story arcs. The first is drawn by Kristian Donaldson, one of Wood’s longtime could collaborators, and tells the parallel stories of the Kapital’s pursuit by Siberian pirates in the Arctic circle and how the crew lost track of the Massive when they landed in the flooded city of Hong Kong in search of supplies, while introducing us to some of the most pivotal characters. The second arc is drawn by Garry Brown and each of the three issues is dedicated to fleshing out one or two of the supporting characters as they undertake adventures of their own. My favorite of these is 'Antarctica' which follows the Kapital’s only American crew member, whose nationality is cause for suspicion and derision amongst her shipmates, and Callum Israel's partner Mary as they fight desperately to survive an exhibition gone wrong.

The Massive is a comic of fine details, from the real world political situations the various characters have emerged out of to the technical knowledge of seafaring shown by the likes of Callum and Mary, it is obvious in virtually every scene that Wood has conducted his research meticulously; you can even follow the Kapital’s progress using an online globe with the accurate longitude/latitude coordinates given in Wood’s captions. The dialogue and characterization are as expertly handled as you would come to expect from an industry veteran like Wood and each issue/chapter is well paced, telling a tense thriller story as well as exploring the history of the characters and setting. Wood offers us a nuanced take on post-apocalyptic environmental politics, with no simple solutions to the myriad global crises or the immediate difficulties facing the Kapital. At what point does killing become the best course of action? Is human well-being always more important than animal life? Can a war criminal redeem themselves in service to  a higher cause? Is the world still worth saving after the climate changes beyond recognition? Can a whole world even be saved? The Massive asks these questions and more besides.

With excellent artwork and a tense, engaging and multi-layered story, volume one of The Massive is well worth your time and money. Even if you were to strip out the environmentalist and political themes this would still feel like a vital and original comic.

Score: 4/5

Writer: Brian Wood Artist: Kristian Donaldson (chapters 1-3) & Garry Brown (chapters 4-6) Colors: Dave Stewart Price: $19.99 Release Date: 3/20/13