By Brian Wood, Garry Brown, Jordie Bellaire, and Jared K. Fletcher
In the pages of The Massive, the 30-issue geological-disaster epic, Brian Wood and bevy of artists explored what it meant to be an environmentalist at the end of the world while traipsing through themes of perseverance, hope, and adaptability. Readers walked hand-in-hand with beleaguered captain Israel Callum, with mysterious Mary, and with the obstinate Mag and traversed a landscape as changing as those characters’ arcs. It was an intricate patchwork of genres and questions and a deftly focused work that revealed itself to be far more optimistic than its often stark presentation. Which is what makes Ninth Wave #1 such a conundrum. While it is unquestionably well crafted and executed, it offers up no justification for its existence.
While no one would know better than the creators themselves, this first issue provides little in the way of why these characters need to be revisited. Presumably, there’s something worth mining here, specifically an examination of who these characters were prior to The Crash that can or will make for an enrichment of what readers of The Massive already know to be their future. It’s difficult because The Massive was tremendously exhaustive in laying out a, well, massive arc for each of the players involved. Their stories were seemingly already told and the catharsis of watching them grow and struggle and accept and reject had already been expunged. Obviously, Wood knows this and setting Ninth Wave in this all-too familiar world with these proto-versions of these equally familiar characters is being done for a distinct purpose. The problem is, this first issue provides no indication of what that is or why fans of the original series should return for issue #2 other than a satisfaction of nostalgia.
Ironically, Ninth Wave #1 is a great issue that combines a frenetic heist sequence with rich dramatic tension that will likely appeal to those not familiar with The Massive. That’s really the kicker here: it’s a fun, well done first issue provided you have no context. Wood balances the playful ‘Ocean’s Eleven meets eco-terrorism’ elements with the more somber geopolitical commentary as well as ever. A showdown on a yacht that satisfyingly delivers a “I did it 35 minutes ago” vibe replete with righteous comeuppance in order to deliver the titular “Manifesto” of this direct-action group indeed. And yet, something is lost simply by knowing what the future holds for each of these characters. Wood almost knowingly winks throughout with dialogue that elbows you “eh?” with a confidence that would appear to tell you not to worry, that there’s a point to this revisit, but asks you to trust him on faith alone. Perhaps Mary holds the key to it all, yet again, as she sternly tells both Bors and the reader, “It’s history you fail to comprehend.”
If one needs to return to the world of The Kapital, The Massive, and their crew, then there are no better guides than Garry Brown and Jordie Bellaire. That would be true for virtually any world they crafted, but seeing the original series’ visionaries shape and mold the surrounds of this reality into the austere ambiance once more is a blast. Brown’s style evolved as The Massive progressed and what we see here in Ninth Wave is exactly where we left off; with a sketchy and sharp line that’s buoyed with a looseness borne from confidence. There’s a degree of sparseness to this particular aesthetic that mirrors the severity of the narrative’s tone. Brown limits what’s on the page to the bare essentials and refuses to muddle the page with any visual detritus. The rigidity of the structures and of the panels that house them complement the more amorphous and aged figures whose movements and parts are more unfettered even as Brown’s lines scratch and claw at their facial features. It’s effective and tonally smart; this is a world that’s harsh and uncompromising even before its final disaster.
As if one needed further evidence as to why Jordie Bellaire is one of (if not THE) best in the coloring business, Ninth Wave #1 is a welcome reminder. It’s a fully-realized chromatic story from start to finish and one that serves the script and story as much as shapes it by its own merits. Declaring itself loudly as a grainy tangerine affair as the sun sets, Bellaire presents a flat palette of slightly askewed complementary colors with expert application and choice texturing. Character’s pop against the diffused texture of the backdrops, save for the two-tone cerulean day sky that frames the sequence of Mag and Georg’s “vandalism.” The constant presence of the orange and smoke blue highlight the stark and sharp contrast of the conflict at play, it’s a world that rejects a muddied and blended truth and welcomes two distinct, battling statements. It’s bold and unobstructed throughout, a knowing clash of philosophies that seemingly fit together regardless and culminates in a brilliant gradient blend from top to bottom as the sky bespeckles itself across the strident line that separates sky from sea.
Ninth Wave #1 is a tightly written, beautifully looking book that indignantly tells you that “We have to go back!” with as much tact as Jack from Lost. If one has never read The Massive, this issue is highly recommended; a sharp, compelling heist mission intricately backed by smart and somber real world commentary. With only a single issue to stand on, it’s hard to fully judge the larger scope of this prequel’s mission and how worthwhile its new insights may be, but for fans of The Massive, one would be forgiven for coming away from reading Ninth Wave #1 asking, “why?”
The Massive: Ninth Wave #1 will be released on December 9th, 2015