A little while back, I reviewed the first trade of Northlanders, Brian Wood’s viking saga. In looking at my trade paperback collection, I notice that I also own most of DMZ (the volume 11 trade is proving a pain in the ass to acquire on the cheap), the graphic novel/trade paperback collections of The New York Four and The New York Five, as well as his Star Wars and Robotech runs (though I did sell the Star Wars series on eBay). Those latter two series were not 100% my favorites–the Star Wars series was so decompressed it was almost Bendis-like and it wasn’t until Simon Furman came on to Roboetch that I thought the series really got going. But the original stuff I’ve read? It’s all be outstanding.
The Massive is no exception; in fact, next to Northlanders, it’s some of my favorite of Brian Wood’s work. Published by Dark Horse in single issue form from 2012-2014 and then collected in five trades plus various library and omnibus editions, the series centers around a Greenpeace-like group called The Ninth Wave, who are aboard a ship named The Kelvin and are searching for their movement’s sister ship, The Massive. All of this is happening in a future where the Earth has been decimated by a series of monumental natural disasters that are called “The Crash,” and what is left of humanity is pretty much in chaos.
The Ninth Wave’s leader is Cal Israel, who, along with his first mate and friend Mag, is a former mercenary, having worked for a Blackwater-type organization called Blackball throughout much of the 1990s and early 2000s. At one point prior to the crash, he turned his back on that life, went off the grid, and then resurfaced to help work for and then head The Ninth Wave. With them on the Kelvin are Mary (Cal’s girlfriend and fellow Ninth Wave crusader), Ryan (an American college student who joined the Ninth Wave pre-Crash to make a difference), Lucas (another young member who tends to be the navigator/tactical guy) and a number of other crew members.
While the Massive as a ship is the series’ Maguffin, we don’t expect the crew to ever actually find it, at least not in the first trade. Wood has them on a very long Odyssey that traverses the globe and takes us to a number of locations that any audience with a basic knowledge of geography would recognize. Along the way, he clues us into the details of The Crash, flashing back to what must be hundreds of small and large environmental upheavals that happened over the course of a year. Moreover, as the series goes on, we start to get a hint that The Crash isn’t over, a second wave of disasters is coming, and Mary has some sort of role to play in it.
The book is well-paced and has enough in each issue that I suppose if you were buying this off the shelves in single issues, you would have gotten your moneys worth. But that’s not my only compliment. I was fascinated by the world that Wood created, both in the present day of the comic and during the history of The Crash. I’m a mark for a good post-apocalyptic story, but very often the ones I get only hint at what happened because the apocalypse happened so far in the past that the circumstances surrounding it actually don’t matter. Or, the apocalypse is still going on and it’s zombies or something. Not that I don’t like zombies, but I gave up on The Walking Dead after checking out two trades from the library because while it was entertaining, I didn’t feel like I was going to get much of a broader scope beyond a story that seemed to be repeating itself. Unlike that series–or any zombie apocalypse, for that matter–The Massive has end times where society is crumbling while the survivors still have their faculties.
That’s refreshing and it makes for an outstanding series that is more World War Z than TWD (if we’re going for the zombie apocalypse comparison) in that it gives us a true look at how different parts of the world might handle such disasters. You have warlords and pirates as well as the eerie emptiness of drowned cities; however, it’s not disaster porn by any means, and Wood sets up a message about how our current environmental practices are bound to put us in a similar spot. Plus, with the flashbacks to Cal and Meg’s former life, we get a setup for a good showdown with former Blackball members led by their colleague Arkady, who wants the dead organization’s resources in order to make a power play of his own.
Those are all intriguing plot points, and I’m not even getting into half of the bigger picture because I’m trying to avoid spoilers, but The Massive wouldn’t be half of what it is if Wood didn’t write the characters so well and it didn’t have consistently outstanding artwork. Even when the story diverged from the search for the Massive, I cared so much about what happened to everyone that I couldn’t stop reading (in fact, I used a gift card from my LCS to buy the final two trades at full price just so I could finish the story). And the art is great throughout. Kristian Donaldson and Garry Brown are the main artists during the run and they not only give us real-looking characters who look like they’ve lived through everything, they are able to fully relate the scope of what has been going on. It’s something that I wish The Bunker would have given us.
This is definitely one to check out if you’re the type who loves a good end of the world story. With only five trades and a couple of omnibuses, it’s pretty collectible (and I can imagine also available digitally).
Keep, Sell, Donate, or Trash?