The Massive #1
Written by Brian Wood
Art by Kristian Donaldson
Color by Dave Stewart
Cover by Brian Wood, Kristian Donaldson
On Sale: June 13th, 2012
Published by Dark Horse Comics
There’s science fiction for science fiction’s sake–far flung space operas and mutant massacres that could just as well be called fantasy or horror. Then there’s science fiction in the vein of The Massive, true speculative fiction on the bleeding edge of possibility. In a year studded with terrific SF of all sorts, Brian Wood’s latest opus might represent the genre at its purest, a grim portent made all the grimmer by its proximity. Next month, we look not to the cosmos and its potential inhabitants, but to the roiling sea of our own saturated rock.
Previewed earlier this year in an issue of Dark Horse Presents, The Massive is a tale of high adventure and intrigue that spans the ever-changing nautical landscape just a few tomorrows past the horizon. Captain Callum Israel and his team aboard the Ninth Wave vessel Kapital pursue their missing sister ship the Massive. Unaffiliated with any military group, these “environmental-action trawlers” and their conservationist crews were dedicated to the preservation of marine life and the tempestuous oceans themselves. But as Wood reveals in parallel to the debut issue’s main action, the world and its populace has been torn asunder by vengeful tides, meaning the time for proactivity is long past. With precise, clinical detachment, the author relates the many traumatic changes humanity can expect in the wake of climate change and other ecological factors. Flooding and diminished fish populations are but the tip of the proverbial iceberg, with some off-shore transitions spurring on-shore calamities like volcanic events and the loss of vital winds necessary for energy production. It all adds up to a “post-war, post-crash, post-disaster, post-everything world.”
As a culture, we’ve binged on dystopias of late. Given the state of things, all-out collapse remains a relevant setting to explore, prime real estate for examining any number of concerns. Including that aforementioned collapse itself. But the frequency of these stories means that now, more than ever, we demand something extra from our dystopias. Trash can fires and cannibalism aren’t enough. So for this latest wasteland to not center on land at all is especially refreshing, if still harrowing in all the right ways. It helps that the Ninth Wave team are all capable seamen, masters (if mastery is even possible) of their particular domain, rather than the typical and cliched ragtag remnants of a broken society. These are good, likable people from what we know so far. They’re intelligent and stalwart crusaders who unfortunately lost their crusade. Anxiety is obviously high, but we’re thankfully spared the traditional loose cannon loner who either panics or refuses to get along with his reluctant comrades. This is a team with a united front, even if they’re still uncertain of how to proceed. If there’s any slight to the first issue it’s that development of individual members of the ensemble take something of a backseat to the establishment of their environment. Depth will come in time, but right now we’re still in the shallow hand. It must be noted, however, that the Kapital offers a refreshingly diverse team, crewed by people of various backgrounds.
In terms of world-building, The Massive smartly presents the cold hard facts of the global situation–snapshots of sinking skylines and Mauritanian children discovering heaps of beached tuna–but zeroes in on just a single group of survivors. Wood hints at the devastation of the drowning world and its sputtering civilizations, but the Kapital serves as a kind of island unto itself, a unique perspective to tell the saga of a planet in its death throes. Israel and his crew bob through the fog in the belly of the beast, a beast they once risked their lives to protect. What’s your next move when your lifelong ambition of saving the world’s oceans is rendered moot? What do you do when you’ve crossed over that point of no return?
In terms of visual presentation, The Massive is top notch. Kristian Donaldson can draw a damn boat. There’s a measured precision to his engineering, with detailed illustrations of trawlers and skiffs to radar equipment and varied weapon types. He carries that same elegance over to his human characters, each uniquely groomed and tailored. Make no mistake, the men and woman of Ninth Wave are consistently easy on the eyes, perhaps the best looking crew on the seven seas. Most importantly, Donaldson’s exquisite renderings maintain wonderful detail throughout, but never at the expense of dynamism. There are a lot of artists capable of knockout pinups of both characters and machines, but so many of them fall into the trap of stilted storytelling. Donaldson is careful to establish a pulse, and that’s worth celebrating.
It’s probably important to address the politics and sensibilities entangled with the themes explored in this book. If you view climate change as a myth, you’ll undoubtedly find something objectionable here. But for rational readers of any walk of life, it’s wholly evident that Wood did his research and is presenting a thoughtful projection of a not-so-distant future. If you think the mass extinction of marine species isn’t tragic, I can’t help you. But Wood isn’t trying to manipulate you either. At least not in bleeding-heart fashion. As mentioned earlier, there’s a kind of cool, objective detachment to the exposition as flatly delivered. Actually, Wood’s message might be more progressive because he’s not bothering to preach whatsoever. This isn’t just a potential future. It’s a likely one. As such, there’s something of a documentarian approach to the narrative. That doesn’t mean the tale is without warmth or visceral excitement. There are pirates in this thing! And the omnipresent, almost spooky mystery surrounding the disappearance of the Massive lends something of a Gothic horror atmosphere.
The Massive is thrilling science fiction, offering a nuanced and scarily portentous depiction of the future. It also delivers an important conservationist message that’s never cloying and only emerges to provide a gripping, thought-provoking setting. It’s been a great year for exuberant, cerebral science fiction. Get ready for The Massive to blow the lesser stuff right out of the water.
Story: 4.5 / Art: 5 / Overall: 5
(Out of 5 Stars)
Look for The Massive #1 in stores on June 13th.