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The Massive vol. 2: Subcontinental

December 30, 2013

Two volumes in and I think I’ve realized why this series isn’t clicking for me yet.

In the wake of “DMZ,” this was the title I was most looking forward to from Brian Wood in the wake of his profile-boosting work on “X-Men,” “Conan,” and “Star Wars.”  After all, the common wisdom in the industry is that work-for-hire is only a means to an end for a creator to support the titles that they own and really want to do.  That should ideally mean that a writer or artist’s creator-owned work should be better than anything they’re doing for a character or concept that they don’t own since they’re able to funnel their full passion and creativity into it.  Yet that hasn’t been the case for Wood on this series as his work on the above-mentioned titles has been more satisfying that what I’ve read here.  It all comes down to what I think is a miscalculation on his part as to where “The Massive” should’ve started.

Now my main problem with the first volume was that we were told about the environmental Crash that has shaped the new world order rather than have shown it.  There’s also the fact that the story’s main dramatic hook, “What happened to the Massive?” has fallen flat as I’ve yet to be given a reason to care about it beyond the fact that it’s important to the cast.  I honestly don’t care a whole lot about the cast at this point as most of them are either not interesting, underdeveloped, and in one case pathetic.  So we’ve got a potentially fascinating world that we’re being shown through the experiences of a fairly blah cast.  What went wrong here?

I think Wood erred in starting the story after the Crash.  While I understand wanting to explore how the world has changed in the wake of such a catastrophic series of events, I think jumping right into this robbed the series of a lot of crucial development.  By starting at the beginning of the “crash” we could have seen the impact of these events on the world as they happened instead of having them relayed to us second-hand as they were in the first volume.  More importantly, we would’ve gotten to know the crew of the Massive and maybe have had a more personal reason to care about the fate of the ship than what we have now.

There’s also the fact that we likely would’ve seen the crew of the Kapital, the book’s current cast, at the top of their game as opposed to the beaten-down group of survivors we see here.  Particularly their leader, Callum Israel.  That’s important because we’ve actually yet to see him doing anything that really justifies his status as the group’s leader in these volumes so far.  It’s particularly problematic because Wood starts the business of tearing down the man with the events of vol. 2 without ever really building him up in the first place.

We get to see that in earnest in the title arc which has the crew of the Kapital venturing to an oil rig city in the Indian Ocean known as Moksha.  An independent entity in this world, they disavow violence and materialism and are positioning themselves as a social experiment in Utopia.  The crew has stopped at the station for resupply and intelligence gathering and finds themselves welcomed with open arms by its director.  Shortly thereafter, things start going to hell as Mary, the Kapital’s first mate and Israel’s lover, apparently goes rogue and starts disabling the station’s communications arrays and Israel finds himself as a virtual captive of Moksha.

Though the concept behind Moksha is quite cool, the arc eventually plays out exactly liked you’d expect something involving a kind of utopia would.  We find out that something is rotten at the core of Moksha and are eventually told that they get what’s coming to them.  Of course, all of this plays out with Israel being a passive observer to all this as Mary and his security officer Mag do all of the important things in this story while he simply rots in a room.  He really doesn’t have any bearing or influence on the events in this story, so that’s one strike against him right there.  We do get a potentially interesting plot development as the beacon info from the Massive, acquired in the previous volume, is decrypted but not revealed to us.

It does allow the crew of the Kapital to track their sister ship, and that takes us into the next arc, “Polaris,” as well as more frustration on this plot thread.  Throughout the arc, which is really just three loosely connected stories, the Massive remains ever elusive, a blip on the edge of the ship’s radar, as they follow her all the way from South America all the way to the Arctic Circle.  It remains this way throughout these issues, and between this and the fact that we never find out what was on the decrypted info from the beacon I’m starting to wonder if Wood has a plan for addressing the Massive’s disappearance.

I’d be less annoyed by this if the stories here were stronger.  Yet they continue to show Israel’s failure to hold his crew together as some depart to help out in ongoing conflicts, and others just want off the ship.  One of the crew even winds up getting killed after he orders their helicopter up to search for the Massive and it crashes with Mary on a nearby shark-surrounded island.  Then, when they finally do reach the Arctic, the ship gets stuck in ice and Israel starts contemplating suicide when he starts to realize what his actions have gotten everyone.

Israel strikes me as a decent man who wants to do the right thing, and watching people like that get torn down is never an enjoyable thing and something that’s difficult to follow no matter how skilled the storyteller is.  It’s doubly hard to follow and maintain interest in here as we’ve never really been shown much of how the captain built up Ninth Wave and got everyone to follow him in the first place.  That’s why I think that it was a mistake for this series to begin where it did.  If we had some palpable evidence of the kind of leader Israel was rather than everyone following him out of what appears to be blind devotion based on past events, then the tragedy which envelops his character would have had more resonance here.

Instead, we’re left with a title that stubbornly refuses to realize its full potential.  There is potential here and I want to keep following things to see if it ever gets realized based on Wood’s past work.  Huh… I guess that makes me like the crew of the Kapital in a very figurative way.  Realizing this does not make me happy.

Jason Glick

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