The Massive: A Retrospective and Review Part 2
If you missed Part One, go here first!
“Don’t forget about the ghosts. Cut your ties to your past, Callum, and then maybe you’ll be free. You may never be happy, but you’ll be less haunted.”
With a renewed vigor after falling to his lowest point, Cal is determined to have Ninth Wave fulfill their original mission even if the world is not the same one he vowed to save. These opening 3 issues, “Americana” has The Kapital head to The United States, specifically the drowned remains of New York City, in an attempt to recover the stolen nuclear submarine from Moksha Station. And while this arc does build the tension between the commanding triad of Cal, Mag and Mary to the boiling point, and it continues to examine the ideas of trust and adaptation, it is also the precipice of the entire story. This is where our grounded dystopian story smirks at you, tilts you sideways and says, “oh, you didn’t realize what you’ve been reading this whole time, have you?” as the undeniable sci-fi element rears its magnificently shrouded head. Beyond the initial shock of seeing the unexpected, it’s also just as jarring to realize how perfectly it fits with what’s come before. The structure of the story is evident now and we are firmly at the halfway point as Wood transitions from “Americana” to “Longship” and has the reader asking “where do we go from here?” To quote his dudeness, “New shit has come to light!” and the world ahead will be seen through drastically different lenses pressing forward.
“Longship” dredges up more ghosts of the past for Cal, as he himself is once again stuck in place unable to move forward. He’s trying to fight a familiar war against a familiar foe, the terrifically written Bors Bergsen, in unfamiliar circumstances. He’s struggling, despite his reignited resolve, to accept the changes in his world. There’s lots of testosterone to be found in this raw, stubborn arc and it’s invigorating watching Bors and Cal play their chess match as two old men unable to fully adapt to different battlefields. Their final confrontation is a violent therapy session, one that cuts to the quick of Cal’s character without spelling everything out.
Garry Brown puts his stamp on The Massive here, staking his claim as the series’ de facto artist. His line feels more confident here, looser and less inclined to add the finer lines around eyes and the like. Shadows are utilized brilliantly, often allowing the dark negative to shape the larger form, while still conveying the expressive sense of horror or hope necessary for the given tale. The kicker is Brown is only warming up here, as we’ll soon see. The continued radiance of both Dave Stewart and Jordie Bellaire doesn’t hurt either, of course. Stewart concludes his contributions with issue 15 and Bellaire will remain through the end of the series. Two of the industry’s most talented colorists are as inextricably responsible for shaping this book into the immersive visual experience as any of the other artists, if not more so.
While it is quite literally the halfway point, volume 3 very successfully indicates to the reader that it’s time to turn the corner, start asking new questions and come to peace with what came before.
“It was a brave new world then. We were truly on our own, doing work like that. All we had was each other.”
The Massive vol. 4: Sahara (issues #19 – #24)
Picking up speed, as the clock ticks exponentially faster towards the finishing point, Wood throws his cast firmly into an action-espionage setting (in the storyline “Bloc”) that inexplicably feels perfectly natural despite coming directly off the heels of a high-seas whaling conflict involving Vikings (or at least very good Viking stand-ins). Again, past demons are forcing themselves into the present and the change of tone into The Bourne Identity does nothing to disrupt the established motivations of our characters. The result is quite the opposite actually, it manages to progress our characters to a moment of realization, if not quite a full major dramatic reversal. Cal and Mag grow as characters here, not quite fully into what they will be, but light-years away from where they were in issue 1. Ironic perhaps that this growth comes at the end of a gun’s barrel, that the pacifist needs to fire a bullet into his violent past in order to press on to a new phase, but that’s the pleasure of this penultimate (for The Kapital crew, anyway) chapter.
Before looking at the second half of this volume, Garry Brown’s work needs to be thoroughly acknowledged as mouth-droppingly beautiful in “Bloc.” In a cloak-and-dagger setting, Brown is able to pull out all the stops. A clandestine meeting in an old church between cigarette-smoking, trench coat-draped former mercenaries as the cold, yet lovingly solemn face of the Virgin Mary watches over them? Yes, yes and yes. One would hope that Ed Brubaker and Mike Mignola take a look at this work one day because Brown absolutely passed the audition to add immeasurable depth to the next noir-heavy hit or macabre Hellboy yarn with his work here.
Speaking of Mary, her statuesque doppelganger mentioned above was likely not mere coincidence as she looked down on Cal and Mag reconcile and grow. She’s been omnipresent throughout their lives and that important moment was certainly not going to be an exception. The concluding arc “Sahara” takes us from sea to sand, focusing on Mary captaining her own ship, of sorts and a crew of fiercely capable, confident women in a society of weak, but no less oppressive men. Before launching into the final arc, Wood makes this choice to turn the spotlight solely on Mary, never once checking in with The Kapital after their Eastern European exploits, and it’s subtlety brilliant. Mary as mother to this group of women, as guardian, nurse and teacher all at once both figuratively and literally throughout the 3 issues, serves as a revelation as to the larger questions of The Massive. At the end of her journey, but not THE end of her journey, it’s apparent that she had already made up her mind. She was either delaying the inevitable or lying to herself at this stage, but it’s a moot point in either case once she is again smacked in the face with humanity’s inability to see the world outside of their own tiny minds. She wanted there still to be hope, but she knew there would be none. Her confrontation with the greedy man at the gate is her speaking to all greedy men throughout time, those responsible for the current state of affairs. Wood, through Mary, is giving us the keys to a better world for these characters – one part threat and one part plea. The larger question beyond the answers provided however, is: “Is it too late?”
Danijel Zezelj returns to sculpt a beautiful, almost ethereal visual narrative in “Sahara.” With a painterly brush Zezelj creates a dream-like world despite the harsh happenings found within. Characters move with a confident grace, their stylized and slightly elongated features never looking frail. The textured landscapes and motorized behemoths appear in sharp contrast to the smooth, strong elegance of the character’s faces. It’s whimsical and sullen at the same time, striking a wonderful chord as the series takes a moment to reflect before plunging into the final chapter. Bellaire, ever the chameleon, adapts her colors to best suit the style and allows the warm palette to embrace everything on the page, blanketing them in blended reds and oranges and browns, only to give way to a tremendous pallor at night. “Sahara” is an artistic wonder, a near fever-dream in the often frigid world of The Massive.
This volume is all about balance; the male-driven, cold, stubborn and old themes of “Bloc” create a harmony with the female-laden, warm and life-giving tale of “Sahara” all culminating in a final moment of exhalation before setting sail on the final leg of this journey.
“That’s why you should stop trying to solve the puzzle, and just listen. And accept.”
The Massive vol. 5: Ragnarok (issues #25 – #30)
As they say, all good things… With the final arc, the only 6-issue arc in the series, Wood does indeed wrap up all that he has laid in a manner that is both heart-wrenching and heart-warming, while answering questions and asking a few new ones. It’s a surreal experience finally seeing the realization of things, up until now, had only hinted at. While the title is ominous, the actual events are surprisingly peaceful, if not terrifyingly performed (i.e. “the slabs”). In many ways the ending tells us many things we already knew, about control, about balance, about will and about acceptance. For Cal, Mag, Ryan and Lars, it’s about surrendering to something greater, something bigger to themselves that was always there, guiding them when they weren’t aware. Not unlike the seven stages of grief, Wood finally allows the ships and their crew to dock at acceptance after braving the waters of denial, guilt, anger, reflection, lift and reconstruction. Ultimately, it hammers home what it means to change both for the world and for ourselves.
Garry Brown’s style is as free as it’s ever been in this concluding arc. There’s a softer hand behind the lines than there was back in issue 4 and in turn, more emotion conveyed. It’s a different world with characters in a different place, so the evolution of Brown’s art is appropriate and welcomed. Tasked with drawing all manner of landscape, flora and fauna, the mechanical and the natural, the mundane and the other worldly, Brown never misses or fails to plunge you into this brave new world. Jordie Bellaire has a field day with colors, alternating from the vibrant and saturated to the murky pea soup green depths of the past and present. Bellaire’s bright, hopeful blue skies in the final issue really say it all.
“An opportunity and also terrible responsibility. We will see awful things, I reckon. Also, most beautiful things.”
The Massive may be steeped in and framed by environmental commentary, both as a warning and as tsk-tsk at what’s already occurred, but that was never really what the book was about. Set in a world that no longer resembles the only thing we’ve ever known, it’s always been about change and how we cope with change. How do we learn to change ourselves, learn to come to terms with our past, learn to trust, learn to survive? The world brought to life by Brian Wood, Kristian Donaldson, Garry Brown, Dave Stewart, Jordie Bellaire, Denijel Zezelj, Gary Erskine, Declan Shalvey and J.P. Leon is a world not at its end, but rather, in flux. Running underneath this changing mass is a constant that has always watched and always hoped, and eventually even this cannot escape the tides of change either. No doubt this story took on a life of its own beyond what Wood and Donaldson originally thought when premiering it in the pages of Dark Horse Presents and thank goodness it did. The Massive is an important work, one that takes us on a journey through a reality that should hit far too close to home, but one that never loses its humanity or sense of hope.
“What does it mean to be an environmentalist at the end of the world?” Change or die. Adapt. Forgive. Live.