REVIEW: Brian Wood’s THE MASSIVE #1 (Spoiler Free)

The Massive #1, Cover by Brian Wood

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
32 Pages/Color/$3.50

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.

From The Massive #1

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.

Comments

  1. Great review Paul, I’m very excited for this series. But, don’t you think Dan O’Bannon will be upset that someone else is going to fall short of his perfection of cerebral science fiction?

    • Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

      Haha, we’ll never know. Though the late great egomaniac was likely talking about “sic-fi monster horror.” The Massive doesn’t quite fit those parameters.

  2. Brian Wood’s become a favorite and great advanced review, as soon as I read the tagline about it holding up post everything, I said “I bet it does” and an overall 5 just reassures me of that, so thank you and I too am enjoying this re-emerging of sci-fi in comix, although technically its all sci-fi but we’re a picky bunch aren’t we.

  3. Image is killing it this year, they have always been great by dang Hickman, Wood and Vaughan!?. Can it get any bettter?

  4. I’m really excited for this book. Can anyone recommend any other good speculative fiction in comics or prose (meaning *just* barely sci-fi)?

    I’m not sure exactly what I mean by that, but I’m thinking of stuff along the lines of Global Frequency, Children of Men, Inception, or maybe even Transmetropolitan (at the less-realistic end).

    • The Road by Cormac McCarthy, The Passage by Justin Cronin.

      Also John Birmingham’s Without Warning is a great thriller/spec fiction book. It’s part 1 of a trilogy so beware.

      If you’re into history then alternate history is probably a way to go. Harry Turtledove, Eric L. Flint and SM Stirling to name a few. Highly recommend “1632” and “Island in a Sea of Time”, both societies transported-type stories.

      Dude, so many.

    • Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

      Man, that’s a great question. Hmm.

      I want to put Azzarello’s SPACEMAN in there because it’s in the same realm of otherworldliness of TRANSMETROPOLITAN, which is to say out there, but not too out there when you get down to it. Same for several other Ellis projects like DESOLATION JONES and ORBITER. Y THE LAST MAN certainly fits the profile. I’m almost tempted to put SWEET TOOTH in there too.

    • Yeah, Y: The Last Man and The Road totally fit the bill. Spaceman is probably in there too (if you can get down with a monkey-man).

      I haven’t read The Passage yet (bought it for my Dad for Christmas — I’ll read it this summer), but I think the vampire stuff (if I understand the premise right) pushes into territory that’s a little too supernatural for what I’m asking about.

      I’ll have to investigate some alternate history stuff.

      I like the more fantastic sci-fi as well (Saga, Dune, etc), but stories that take a normal world and give it just a little tweak that subsequently opens up all these great storytelling possibilities? Man, I f&$%ing love that $#!T.

    • Warren Ellis’ Ocean would also fit the bill, a good mini IMHO. If you like historical fiction as well, definitely check out his GN Crecy.

      As for prose, I would highly recommend Isaac Asimov, he’s written a little of every kind of fiction (and non-fiction as well, one of the few writers who can say they’ve written or co-written a book in every major section of the Dewey Decimal system).

    • I’d check out anything by William Gibson. His stuff tends to be pretty near future so its not as sci fiy as a things like Saga and Dune.

      I read The Postmortal a few months ago and it was okay, not great, but I think it fits what you are talking about. Also Blueprints of the Afterlife sounds like what you’re looking for as well. I haven’ read it but its gotten some pretty good reviews. Also I’d recommend some Philip K. Dick. Maybe either A Scanner Darkly or some of his short stories.

    • Just thought of a couple more!

      For film try Sleep Dealer. For comics maybe Brian Wood’s early stuff. Jenny One, Supermarket, and The Couriers are all vaguely sci fi if I am remembering them right. Also Paul Pope is good for pseudo sci fi, try 100% or Heavy Liquid.

      On a somewhat side note, is The Road really sci fi? Other than being set in a post-apocalyptic world I don’t recall it having any sci fi elements. I guess I don’t personally consider something being post-apocalyptic to be automatically science fiction.

    • @USPUNX That’s good point about the Road. Like The Postman it’s set in a dystopian future but without explaining how the world got there. You’re right in that it’s not sci-fi.

      FYI The Postman is great. But avoid the movie. All you need to know are three words. Tom Petty acting.

    • @ken–it doesn’t hold up as well as it should, but just about every single episode of “Sliders” was a twist on the real world in a total “what if” environment. Its pure low budget 90s cheese TV. For movies…from the 70s, Time after Time: Jack the Ripper travels in HG Wells time Machine to contemporary San Francisco. Pretty fun movie for what it is.

      Also Superman: Red Son and every other DC elseworlds are really fun for that kinda stuff.

    • @Andrew and USPUNX–for “The Road” i think it depends on how you define science fiction. I’ve always been taught that Sci Fi is a lens into the future based on extreme end results of our current course as a society. Its not necessarily tech and aliens. Apocalyptic almost feels like its a sub-genre don’t you think?

    • Certainly strong elements of political drama, but Ex Machina has a great amount of sci-fi in present day setting.

    • I think a highly overlooked but amazing book is Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” She identifies the troubling trends of society and brings them to a possible future that’s dark and scarily possible.

    • @wally: That’s true about sci fi but what’s to say The Road is set in the future? There are no references to how the world ended or WHEN it ended. It could be set in 1998 for all we know. I think post-apocalyptic fiction is definitely a sub genre of sci fi but I also don’t think every post-apocalyptic story is automatically sci fi purely because of its setting. For example, I was watching Born on the Fourth of July earlier today. The main character is a Marine and there are some limited combat scenes when he is in Vietnam, but I wouldn’t consider it a war movie purely because of those superficial things. Also what about something like Book of the New Sun? It is set in a post-apocalyptic far future but other than that it is pure fantasy. No technology no references to it being set in the future other than that the reader knows it to be the future. Its all swords and medieval tropes. So is it sci fi purely because it is set in the future or is it fantasy because the rest of the story is clearly a fantasy setting? I don’t think its fair to blanket all post-apocalyptic stuff as sci fi. Of course the vast majority clearly is sci fi, but I don’t think its an automatic connection.

    • @uspunx–this entire conversation could have been avoided if we simply would have gone to wikipedia who offers an incredibly logical explanation! haha

      “Science fiction is largely based on writing rationally about alternative possible worlds or futures.[2] It is similar to, but differs from fantasy in that, within the context of the story, its imaginary elements are largely possible within scientifically established or scientifically postulated laws of nature (though some elements in a story might still be pure imaginative speculation).”

    • @KenOchalek: That genre you’re looking for has traditionally been called “near future” in science fiction circles and there’s been a ton of it, although it tends to be overtaken by events the quickest. If you’re intrigued by the idea of The Massive you might like Kim Stanley Robinson’s “Washington D.C.” prose trilogy, although I don’t think it’s his best work. Another near future trilogy he did was the Orange County Trilogy that gave three views of the near future in the same SoCal area, one was utopian, one was dystopian and the other was a straight line from today. Good stuff.

    • Lots of awesome recommendations! Thanks, everyone!

    • Solaris – Stanislaw Lem (or see the Clooney movie because that kicks ass as well).

    • Ken for film check out Another World http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1549572/ it completely fits “stories that take a normal world and give it just a little tweak”.

    • Garth Ennis had a really good limited series called “Just a Pilgrim” back in 2001. There was a sequel that was decent but not as good as the original. Both are collected in a trade. I really liked these.

      Resurrection by Marc Guggenheim (Oni Press) is another. It’s about earth after an alien invasion has wrecked the place. The aliens leave, and then the story begins.

      I would almost put Midnight Nation in here, but it’s more supernatural than sci-fi. But it kinda fits.

      There is one other b&w series about a future where water is super scarce. Grrr I can’t recall the title.

  5. Brain Wood does it again!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Can”t wait for this one.

  6. Paul although this sounds and I plan on checking it out do you feel from reading the first issue that this is something that might read better in trade as opposed to issues?

    • Sounds good*

    • Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

      Is it fair to say, “Too early to tell”? I’d need to read another issue or two to say yes or no. I will say that it’s a substantial read, this first issue. It’s not something you fly through. For that part it’s worth reading in issues.

      Oh and I neglected to mention the back-matter. There’s some transcript/journally stuff from Captain Israel and some annotated maps and things. The good, quality bonus features you hope for in these situations.

    • Thanks for the reply, bonus content like that is always a good incentive to buy in issues its just to me based on the premise this sounded like something that might be better read in trade format. Regardless I’ll be picking up the first issue to give it a shot

  7. I’m not even reading the review. I want no insight into this book until I read it.

  8. really excited for this….glad to see its a good “risk” to take. I absolutely love the design of all the ads and covers that i’ve seen so far. I really appreciate the abstraction and ethereal feel of the world they’re creating.

    • I hadn’t thought about that till you mentioned it, but yeah, their PR & cover materials are really good on this. And then they have to go & make the decisions tough as hell with some top-notch variant covers… (Hard-knock life, right?)

  9. Just picked up the Dark Horse Presents issues and read them. This is going to be a good one!

  10. Brian Wood is one of my all-time favorite comics writers. I would definitely place him on-par with guys like Moore and Morrison.

    • I recently jump into the world of DMZ, & have been burning through those TPBs. I also have the first two TBPs of Northlanders sitting on my shelf just waiting to be read. Brian Wood has quickly become one of those writers that anything he writes I’m going to give a shot. Can’t wait to check this new series of his out!

    • @justinsayne – Have you checked out Wood’s Conan series at DH right now too? Some of my favorite material of his in quite a while, & it’s only 4 issues in (if you’re looking for something current you can follow in issues).

    • @justin

      A little dif from the stuff you’re reading, but you must try Local

  11. News to no one: Dave Stewart is an amazing colorist.

  12. This the sequal to Waterworld?

  13. I just read it and damn it is awesome…
    Read it before Batman, and that’s been the first book I read for the pat 10 months, And I have to say, this is better than the Batman of this month (which is definitely not worse than it was the past 9 months).

  14. Wood hooked me hard with DMZ. If you haven’t checked it out GO GET A TRADE! You will want to read them all and the whole series is now available or will be very soon. Wood seems to write so much better when its his own work. He has a real talent for making characters and worlds believable and deep (no pun intended). I can’t help but think this book will be great. Let X-Men pay the bills and keep giving the fans this sort of story, Brian Wood you rock. Thank you for the review, well done.