Comic Picks By The Glick

The Massive vol. 3: Longship

July 17, 2014

This is a title that should be better than it is.  Yet, as I explained last time, it has yet to realize its potential for several reasons.  It also looks like I might have to add another one after reading this volume.  Assuming that Brian Wood is really going to add a supernatural/mystical aspect to it.

(Unfortunately my issue can’t be addressed without spoilers for one of the arcs contained here.  Consider yourself warned for what follows after the break.)

I will say that things get off to a good start with the beginning “Americana” arc.  After one of Ninth Wave’s members, Georg, jumped ship at the manmade industrial island of Moksha with a Russian nuclear sub and vanished into the Pacific Ocean, they’ve finally caught up with him.  The only problem is that the’ve caught up with him in U.S. territory -- the sunken remains of New York to be precise -- and the Navy isn’t too happy about their presence here.  As for Georg himself, he’s got enough nuclear warheads to make the damaged planet go terminal and a plan to be the last man standing at the end of the day.

Not only do we get some insight into what has happened to America in this post-Crash world -- our capital is now on the high ground in Denver -- Wood structures the arc as a tense thriller.  Tensions onboard the Kapital are already frayed and Captain Callum Israel’s plan to go after Georg is not one that is universally liked.  Throw in a confrontation with an aircraft carrier and their subsequent chase of Georg through the ruined city, and I’m more invested in this story than I have been with anything else I’ve read in the series so far.  Even the digressions/flashbacks to the shared past between Ninth Wave’s security chief Mag and Georg are compelling and add an involving personal conflict to the drama as well.  As I was reading this, I felt like “The Massive” was finally living up to its potential.

So what went wrong?  (Get ready for the spoilers.)  Well, everybody fails and Georg launches all of the missiles on the submarine.  The world is screwed, “Game over, man, GAME OVER!” for certain.  Except… that’s not what happens as the missiles simply disappear.  No direct explanation is given, save for the implication that this was Mary’s doing.  (That should be all of it.)  While Mary has always had an air of mystery about her, Wood has avoided making it explicitly supernatural.  It would seem that he’s finally crossing that line here, though it could be that there’s a VERY CLEVER explanation from this that fits nicely within the bounds of reality.  I’m highly skeptical of such a thing at this point, though.

My problem with all this is that it effectively fractures the reality of this world that Wood has put so much effort into creating here.  The idea of what happens to civilization in the wake of an environmental catastrophe is a compelling one, particularly since we might wind up living it if things continue on as they are.  You don’t need to introduce things like supernatural get-out-of-jail-free cards to make the story more compelling, and now that we know they exist we start wondering what other magical weirdness is out there for this title.  I don’t think Wood is about to turn “The Massive” into a full-on fantasy title, but his world feels less credible as a result.  Worse still, without explaining this particular plot point he comes off, for now at least, as someone who is willing to cheat in order to keep his narrative on track.

Fortunately things get back on track a bit with the title arc, “Longship.”  In it, Israel and the crew of the Kapital wind up facing off against some old foes:  whalers.  Bors Bergsen, a former member of Norwegian parliament, businessman and right-wing activist is now part of an Icelandic collective that is hunting whales for food and resources.  As Ninth Wave was founded in part to fight injustices like this, Israel and his crew get ready to hopefully fight the good fight again.

However, is whaling really that bad in this post-Crash world?  That’s the most compelling aspect of this story as Bors and his countrymen are presented as hunting these whales for survival rather than sport.  Yet its still barbaric to people like Israel and his crew, and the narrative reveals itself to be more about how these two men -- Israel and Bors -- remain locked into their respective mindsets even as the world crumbles around them.  There’s a great scene early on which illustrates this as Israel pays a visit to Bors’ home and they share a drink and talk about old times.  You get a sense that they’re trying to work things out so that they don’t need to go to war, but some beliefs are just too deeply held to let go in their case.  The Israel/Bors dynamic ultimately makes the story worthwhile, even as it tries to cram a bit too much into its final act with Arkady and the resolution with the Icelandic Council.

Though I have my issues with this volume, artist Garry Brown isn’t one of them.  Now established as the book’s regular artist, he continues to do a great job of realizing this decaying world.  While he brings enough detail to properly establish a scene, there’s still a bit of abstractness to his style that keeps things from going distractingly photorealistic.  New York’s sunken ruins appear appropriately haunting under Brown’s pen while the Icelandic wilds come off as fairly inviting in their natural splendor.  His characters all have that same “angry” or “vaguely depressing” air about them, but those are the kind of characters he’s being asked to draw based on Wood’s script.

I hope that “Longship” represents an aberration and that we don’t see further unexplainable deus ex machina-based plot twists in this series.  At several points in this volume, I could really see the series that “The Massive” has wanted to be since its beginning.  Yet the volume’s major plot twist did more to pull me out of it than anything else.  Truly disappointing, though things aren’t dire enough to make me give up on this title yet.

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