Review: 'The Massive Vol.1: Black Pacific' Is a Story of Environmentalists vs. the EnvironmentA comic review article by: Logan Beaver
The Massive is a story about a radical environmentalist group run by ex-mercenaries in a (natural disaster-fueled) post-apocalyptic world, sailing around the world, fighting to survive and find their missing sister ship (the titular Massive). Hardened ex-mercenaries, international history and politics; when I read that Brian Wood said that The Massive was the beginning of the second phase of his career, my first thought was, "Is Phase 2 supposed to be 'write more Dad Lit?'" After some more research (archive binging on his Tumblr), I've gathered that it has more to do with how Brian Wood goes about maintaining his career in comics while the industry is rapidly changing (collapsing). The Massive is as true an expression of Brian Wood's passion for the world around him as any of his previous work, and as long as keeps that up I'll be a happy nerd.
The story of The Massive is built on its clever subversion of apocalyptic fiction tropes. For example, in Intro-level college film classes, your professor will likely claim that the monsters of horror movies represent the real, horrible shit in the world over which we have no control. Brian Wood has taken the metaphors of apocalypse stories (zombies/Godzilla/Shaymalan's angry trees) and flipped them so that it's no longer a metaphor, but the literal destruction of civilization as a result of devastating natural disasters (which have been terrifying people all over recently), framed in an environmentalist context by Wood's choice of protagonists, who are, well, environmentalists. The numerous disasters are presented with tinted, quiet images and captions written with a news-bite's dry clarity which intensifies both their dramatic, unfathomable scope and the sense of their plausibility. The events feel bigger than the apocalypse stories that preceded it. Godzilla can't knock every satellite orbiting the planet out of the sky at once. Maybe Biollante could, but even that would be more comforting than what happens in the book, because at least then we would know why they fell.
Moreover, given the cause of this apocalypse, it's pointedly a man vs. nature story starring a group of conservationists (and attempted pacifists in a world run by warlords and pirates, for that matter), which is merely clever on its face, but its brilliance lies in the numerous complexities it creates. For one, it brings up the question of, if the world is crumbling before everyone's eyes, why give a fuck about some whales and a couple oil spills? Also: what good can conservationists do in a post-apocalyptic environment? On one hand, the obliteration of old governments and corporate power means that a small group with some boats has way more power than it used to; but on the other hand, what do you do, now that you don't have to stop those powerful entities from destroying the environment? The question of their place in the "Post-Crash" world is, as of the end of this book, one of the most important question driving the series, right up there with "Where is their sister ship,The Massive, and what happened to it?" How Wood deals with these questions is actually my biggest complaint about the book.
I have very few problems with The Massive. The characters are all fully realized, so much so that their personal histories bleed through into even their throwaway lines. The level of detail in Kristian Donaldson's art is seamless when you're casually reading the book, but staggering when you actually take the time to look at it. Garry Brown's sketchy, ugly faces and scenery makes every nameless character with a line of dialogue seem menacing and likely to murder you before you can even learn why (which, well, is what they are). The character designs are well thought out: Israel looks like what one might imagine an old soldier/born-again hipster might, while Mag looks like he's on the road to a similar look, further hinting at the subtly familial relationship between Mary, Mag and Callum.
The most disappointing thing is the ending. Many of the single issues this book collects are complete stories, but at the end of this collection we don't feel any closer to or further from, well, anything. This first volume establishes the characters and the world, but that's not really progressing the story. This feels like an introduction to The Massive rather than a story of its own. It's especially strange considering that writing stories that worked well on their own in serial, TPB, and practically any other format it was physically possible to read them in is typically one of Wood's strong points (DMZ and Northlanders being prime examples).
Nonetheless, the comic itself is really good. Everyone working on it is doing great work. It was sad to read Brian Wood's speech about digital comics, not because of the retailer backlash, but because of his frankness about what's going on on the creator's side of the industry. I guess "desperately maintaining the status quo of the comics industry," and thus allowing books like The Massive to remain even vaguely financially viable for the people who produce them is another reason why superheroes matter (for now, at least). Reading through Brian Wood's tumblr again, it's good to see that he's managed to keep up his preferred balance of creator-owned and work-for-hire comics, though it's interesting how he casually wrote that he'd like to do a "Freakangels-like" webcomic last year (though, really, if Wood didn't feel like learning to navigate the pacing weirdness of webcomics, he could probably bring in a talented collaborator and kickstart a comic serial or OGN if he wanted to). Whatever weird shape the comics industry ends up taking over the years, I hope it remains a place where people like Brian Wood, Kristian Donaldson, Garry Brown and Dave Stewart can continue to survive making comics.
The Massive Vol. 1: Black Pacific will be in stores Wednesday, March 20, 2013.
Since moving to South Korea, Logan Beaver has written plays, comics, and flash fiction (he did a lot of that before, mind you), gone on adventures and drank more on a Tuesday than is socially acceptable outside of college. He lives there with his girlfriend Collette, and his laptop Pornbot 5000. He is trying to learn how to speak Korean and draw, both of which are very hard. He thinks that, by learning and doing new things, people become something better than they once were, like Pokemon. If he were a Pokemon, he would be Snorlax, though he is generally unfamiliar with Pokemon beyond the original 151.