The Massive – Black Pacific

Following up from East of West in the post-apocalyptic theme, this week I read The Massive, Brian Wood’s newest end of the world saga. Nothing about this is religious however; The Massive is concerned by the environmental damage we are putting on the earth and seeks to explore the world in which we let this happen. I’ve always felt that what makes a story scarier is to know that it has elements of truth in it, and Wood has skilfully woven in real events, such as the mass-death of birds and the volcanic eruption in Iceland with natural disasters which just as likely to happen. The Massive is the story of what happens when you have set out to save the world, and failed. What next?

Callum Israel, founder of the Ninth Wave Direct Action Force, is at sea at the end of the world on board the Kapital with his crew of peaceful conservationists, and one ex-mercenary. These are the people on the front line of helping with marine disasters, but in the wake of the Crash have had to re-assess their mission and work out exactly what they are fighting for. The Massive fits in a very fine groove between two genres: the end-of-the-world scenario, and the post-apocaylptic period. The Massive isn’t about saving the world, because the world has already ended here; instead it is about persevering in the face of ultimate failure. Wood also plays with the ideas of identity and history, and how those come to change when the world as we know it has ended.

On the marine conservation ship The Kapital, Callum Israel and his crew are searching for their partner ship, The Massive, when they have to defend themselves from Siberian pirates. Already we can see the moral issues that come into play, especially in terms of violence and killing. While Israel is entirely a pacifist and is determined to keep his crew that way, the ex-mercenary Mag wants access to weapons, and the mysterious Mary is willing to kill to protect The Kapital, if necessary. As in most end-of-the-world scenarios, it is the other humans that are of the biggest threat, and it seems doubtful that a stance of non-violence would be effective in a new, changed world. Throughout the storyline are flashbacks to The Crash and its events; mass-suicide of fish, geographic alterations, terrorist attacks, and billions of tons of ice breaking from an Antarctic iceberg. Most of these things are unavoidable, and could devastate any single city or country.

Seeing the cities in The Massive feels nothing like the world we know. The first they approach is Hong Kong, which has sunk a hundred feet underwater, and a new city is emerging above the water line made of billboards, crates, and the still-remaining sections of skyscrapers. In other countries, clean water has become incredibly scarce with its source fuelling wars, and entire sections of ocean have been rendered unusable. Most of the crew members onboard the Kapital are volunteers who now have no home to go to, but no clear idea of how the mission will progress – and no say in it. This fear and insecurity spins out and factions of the group are formed with different agendas but what is especially interesting is the conflicted history of Callum Israel which is shown through flashback when he meets fellow ex-Blackbell member, Arkady, whose corrupt nature was the reason for Israel’s departure from the mercenary team.

In Coats Land, Antarctica, Mary has taken a young American volunteer to salvage fresh water from an abandoned research centre when they are attacked and faced with death. In spite of it all, Mary is strong and determined, believing completely that the ocean has a use for her and their team. She is incredibly mysterious and seemingly invulnerable as she saves lives like it’s no big deal. Her origins are unknown as of yet, but she says she is Hutu. The graphic novel of the first volume includes short back stories of Callum and Mag and a short present story of Mary in which she shares some words of wisdom with Callum – that “as much death as we bring to the ocean, we should just feel fortunate and humbled when it gives us life in return.”

The Massive is being written by Brian Wood as the second phase of his career, along with Mara and Anthem, and is pre-occupied by the environmental state of the world as it is right now. Wood has talked about his fear that his children will grow up to inherit an earth which does not enjoy the luxuries – or necessities – of our life now. The Massive is action-driven environmentalism combining the man-against-the-world character of Northlanders with the political world-building of DMZ, and Wood has promised a huge twist in the ending which no one will see coming – perhaps an answer to what truly caused The Crash. Kristian Donaldson’s artwork in the first half Landfall and in the three short stories is exquisite, building up a re-modelled world through an industrial landscape. The design of the ship, The Kapital, is precise and almost architecturally drawn, and while Gary Brown’s artwork is a little less detailed but instead presents a gritty world full of dark expressions which works wonderfully with the tone of the book.

This is an incredibly interesting book which marks the next phase in Wood’s career, with artwork by two different but tonally appropriate artists, colours by Dave Stewart and lettering by Jared K. Fletcher which sit well together within the book to create a well-rounded new world which we are adjusting to at the same time as the characters. I can’t wait to see where this one goes, and what Brian Wood has in store for the Kapital.

Originally posted on the Travelling Man blog


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