ADVANCE REVIEW! The Massive #6 will go on sale Wednesday, November 14, 2012.
There is little leeway in The Massive or on the Kapital for that matter. You are either in or you're out. It's that simple.
Brian Wood's scripts for The Massive snap with a sense of urgency — the stakes are hard-wired. As for ethics and the morals, well, those come in a rainbow of drabs, battleship greys and muted tones. Like Philip K. Dick, Wood is a writer whose work sidesteps easy categorization. Dick was (is) an idea man, so is Wood. One thing that Wood has on Dick is an ability to make a reader care about a character. In The Massive, what people say matters; what they do matters more and commitment to the cause is black and white, no bullshit, in or out. The Massive gives no quarter to indecision and rewards dedication.
At its most molecular, The Massive is an action-adventure story complete with a brain and a conscience. The "what if" scenario of adamant environmentalists without a machine to rage against holds water, but it's unsustainable and Wood knows it. The "world's-gone-to-hell-in-a-handbasket" setting (what Wood calls "the Crash") lets The Massive cop a bit from the post-apocalyptic genre, but it's more than survivalist-fiction. Wood deals in emotions, in characters, and that is the star by which The Massive finds its bearing.
The first three issues were about course correction and a (re)definition of the mission, about asking tough questions and making hard decisions. In this latest arc, "Black Pacific," the narrative pushes each of the main characters (Cal, Mary and Mag) to the nth degree. Wood asks how far past "far enough" is each one of these characters willing to go for the mission … and are they willing to go farther. The Massive #6 is a thriller, all bang bang and shoot-'em-up, then again what else should one expect when the story centers on a character who's name, Mag, is synonymous with bullets.
Garry Brown's pencils are harder, grittier and more expressionistic in issue #6 than in the previous two issues — Cal's shaggy beard looks even more like a game of pick-up-sticks than hair. Brown replaced Kristian Donaldson on art for issue #4 and is the series full-time artist moving forward. Brown has a knack to etch anxiety onto character's faces which adds to the tension of the narrative's stress on decisiveness in the face of murky moral relativism.
The one character that Brown doesn't have down, yet, is Ryan, the sole American on board the Kapital. Whereas the other characters are battle-tested and hardened, which suits Brown's style, Ryan is (still) coltish and fragile. Her punky Patti Smith circa "Horses" hair doesn't have the same tumbledown and roll-out-of-bed aesthetic as say Cal's or Mary's hair does, — Ryan's pinked and pink locks, seem out of place, does she have a stash of hair color she keeps on board (?) — but this is (ahem) hairsplitting. Her youth aside, Ryan is as resolute as the rest of the crew. She delivers the last line in the issue and it is Wood at his most succinct and his most heroic. Ryan's line devastates and pulls the issue, the story arc and the entire series together.
As in previous issues, Dave Stewart uses different colors to mark time. For Mag's backstory, Stewart opts for olive greens and a kind of blue, a dark cerulean, which only can be described as heavy. In a matchless silent interlude the reader sees what happens when Mag reaches that metaphorical "bridge too far" and how that decision impacts a life and lives. It's one of the most powerful scenes in the series while without a word it addresses the difference between duty and psychosis.
From the start, Wood has said — with a Callum Israel-like steadfastness — that each single issue of The Massive should count for something; that the "back matter" be used as a tool to add depth to characters or to events. Those on shore, "waiting for the trade," may dismiss Wood's claims as "single-issue agitprop" and okay; however, with such a big canvas to work with these back-up features do add dimension to the story. This gives Wood a chance to work different muscles and to give monthly readers an exclusive. In a series that's all about characters, what's better than some extra time to add even more character? It sure beats the hell out of ads or another letter column with a punny name.
The Massive plies weighty waters to be sure and issue #6 is no exception. The flavor of moral ambiguity that Wood trucks in here is straight outta Dostoyevsky which month-to-month makes for great drama and greater suspense. So, to quote Mag: "Are you in?" It's as simple as that.
Mr. Silva is a recent relapsed reader of comic books, loves alliteration and dies a little inside each time he can’t use an oxford comma in his reviews for Comics Bulletin. He spends most days waiting for files to render except on occasion when he can slip the bonds of editing and amble around cow barns, run alongside tractors and try not to talk while the camera is running. When not playing the fool for the three women he lives with, he reads long, inscrutable novels with swear words. He recently took single malt Scotch and would like to again, soon.