One of the things I love most about comics is the sheer breadth of subjects and genres that are explored. When people unfamiliar with the medium think about comics what is likely to come to mind is superheroes and heroines, capes and cowls. Now I like a bit of over-the-top superhero battle action as much as the next (comic book) geek, but I’m thankful that there is a lot more to comics than that. So much more.
Take this week’s pick for example. Brian Wood, fresh from wrapping up his historical Viking epic Northlanders, brings us another sprawling behemoth of a comic, both in themes and scope. Fittingly he called it The Massive.
The Massive follows Ninth Wave, an environmental direct action group, in the aftermath of a huge worldwide environmental disaster referred to as The Crash, which takes place in the very near future. We’re four issues in now and the series is settling down nicely. So far Wood is presenting The Massive in a similar way to the final issues of Northlanders – in three-part story arcs with overarching themes running through them. In issue #4 the art duties are taken over by Garry Brown.
The first arc was an introduction to the main characters and the world they inhabit. It was no less exciting for this however. Wood managed to pack a lot of action in to the first three issues and although he introduced a lot of characters, settings and themes, it was deftly handled and never felt overwhelming.
In this issue the action shifts on to dry land, with most of the comic taking place in Mogadishu, or The Mog. The landscape of the world has been fundamentally altered by the series of environmental disasters and so have a lot of the world’s accepted social and political norms and standards. It appears however that this part of Africa is relatively unchanged, ruled as it is by a few ruthless tribal leaders.
It is in this environment that Cal, the nominal leader of Ninth Wave, has gone to find much-needed supplies for his ship The Kapital. Despite his ability to blend into the environment Cal is taken by force to meet one of the new leaders of the post-crash world. He strikes a deal to obtain fuel, and also gains safe entry into the docks at Mogadishu whenever the ship needs to trade for supplies.
After striking the deal Cal heads back to the docks. The panels showing him walking through the dusty back streets and alleyways of The Mog, and the street scenes later on, give a real sense of place. Brown is ably assisted by colourist Dave Stewart, who has been doing a fantastic job on this comic, and here he excels. The sweltering heat almost burns your fingers as you turn the pages.
Cal comes across a shark fin in the street, which leads him to an unwelcome encounter with Arkady, an ex-member of the military contract team Blackbel PMC, which Cal walked away from over a decade ago. The reunion starts out awkwardly and ends disastrously, with a gun pointed at Cal’s head, and a threat from Arkady that will potentially lead to much violence for Cal and Ninth Wave.
The panel in which Arkady insists that Cal accepts his gift of the shark fin is spectacular. Garry Brown cleverly frames the two characters so that Cal is on the far right, pushed to the side. Arkady takes up a good half of the panel and you can feel his menacing persona pushing Cal, overpowering him, so Cal is made to look like he is almost cowering. It’s a brilliantly effective panel, drawn expertly by Brown.
Later, Cal manages to get away from Arkady without being harmed, and here we again glimpse the vulnerability that lies below Cal’s tough exterior, as he steadies himself against an alley wall. It is the quiet moments like this that make The Massive a truly great comic.
The cover by J.P Leon is really impressive; all the different elements within the comic are represented in the beautifully illustrated tableau. I’ve not seen much of Leon’s work before but it reminded me of a Francavilla cover, and that’s no bad thing. I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for him in the future.
There are so many good comics coming out every single week and today was no exception. Several comics could have been worthy picks for Comic of the Week, but The Massive, for so many reasons, stole it.