After avoiding it for much of his time in the industry, Brian Wood has certainly taken on a lot of work-for-hire projects recently. He’s been doing work on various “X-Men” titles for Marvel with a new “adjectiveless” title to start next month, and launching new takes on “Conan” and “Star Wars” for Dark Horse. It’s certainly a little surprising coming from a creator who seemed to willfully eschew this stuff back in the day, but people change and it’s not like he’s the first creator to pursue more mainstream projects after completing a defining creator-owned title. That’s what makes “The Massive” stand out amongst the other titles he’s currently writing right now. As Wood’s newest creator-owned series, it carries the banner that “DMZ” and “Northlanders” hefted for years and great expectations come with that. Expectations that have yet to be met here.
It’s not that this title doesn’t have a great setup. In the very near future a yearlong series of environmental catastrophes, superstorms, undersea earthquakes, mass wildlife deaths, extreme climate changes, have ravaged the globe. The global political landscape has changed and fresh water has become one of the most desired substances on the planet. In the middle of all this is the environmental-action group Ninth Wave headed by ex-private military contractor Callum Israel. Dedicated to direct, non-violent, non-lethal action in the name of environmental causes, his group has found itself living in a world that has quickly turned into a worst-case scenario for their cause. As they adjust to life in this post-crash world on their ship, the Kapital, Ninth Wave finds their core tenets tested as they try to figure out what happened to their sister ship, the Massive, when it went missing near the end of that calamitous year.
Though it sounds like everything’s in place for an entertaining story about what happens when the familiar comforts and systems of the world are stripped away, that’s not how the first arc plays out at all. Instead of actually taking us into this world, Wood miscalculates by having his first story be about the crew of the Kapital fending off pirates off the Kamchatka peninsula while they hone in on the Massive’s transponder. All of that stuff I mentioned about the environment? Doled out to the reader in intriguing but static panels serving no purpose but exposition.
I’ll admit that the cat-and-mouse action between the pirates and the Kapital is well-executed and gives us some insight into the main players in this story. The problem is that it doesn’t set up a very compelling narrative for us to follow. Yes, we’re told that the world has gone to hell but there are precious few scenes actually showing us what things are actually like for everyone now. It’s also not immediately apparent why we should care about the Massive beyond the fact that its crew does. There is the hint of a reason at the end of the arc, yet finding a missing ship seems like the least interesting thing people could be doing in the world now.
Reading this first arc, “Landfall,” it’s hard not to be struck how Wood managed a far better start to “DMZ.” In the very first issue we were introduced to its main character and the most important supporting one in Matty and Zee, saw the chaos of the Second American Civil War firsthand, and had a pretty good idea of where the series would be going as well. What we have here in the first three issues of “The Massive” is an inferior version of that, which, while acceptable enough in terms of craft, doesn’t really begin to deliver on the promise of its setting.
Things do pick up some in the three stories that make up the book’s second arc, “Black Pacific.” Here, we get to know more about Israel and his crew such as second mate Mary, who is as mysterious as she is knowledgeable, and Mag, the group’s security leader and a hardcase who hailed from the same PMC outfit as the captain. Unlike the opening arc, “Black Pacific” actually shows us what this world is like as Israel visits the Somali black market to secure supplies, Mary leads an expedition to some Arctic boreholes, and Mag engages in some modern-day diplomacy-cum-piracy on an ocean transport. These stories give us more insight into the cast as they show us a group which has been dedicated to pacifism in the past finding its moral code severely tested in this harsh new setting. There are also some interesting ideas about new world as well, particularly in the reasons why those Arctic boreholes exist in the first place.
So while things start getting more interesting in the second half, I can’t help but feel let down by the volume as a whole. Though it also has good art from Kristian Donaldson, whose clean and precise lines continue to impress, and Garry Brown, who takes the opposite approach and makes it work, “The Massive” isn’t as compelling as I was expecting it to be. However, the potential for improvement is great, and I will be back for the second volume to see if that’s the case, but the reality is that I may be more entertained by Wood’s work-for-hire projects for now. I’m not sure if that’s a bad thing and it’s also something I wasn’t expecting either.