The Massive #1 (Dark Horse): I’ll start at the end and say that I totally loved the bonus content, especially the hints at there being division in the ranks between Mag and Mary as to who the most qualified second in command is. The DHS memo placing the Ninth Wave on a terror watch list and being essentially stripped of their rights is also a great way to frame their isolation. And hey, the second I can buy one of those Ninth Wave patches, I’m all over it. I generally hate the cosplay and all the silly merchandising associated with con, but I’d gladly throw that patch on a hat or t-shirt and rock that at Comic-Con. One of the things that comes across in this issue about environmental activists post-Crash searching for their missing sister ship is that I think Brian Wood is doing a better job at focusing on his core cast of characters and developing them to a greater degree vs. sheer reliance on killer plot hooks. Another thing that comes across is a flair for incorporating uhh… massive amounts of research into the script in an unobtrusive way, from wind patterns to wildlife to other weather phenomenon. I particularly like Wood’s use of the term “crash” as a proper noun. “The Crash.” It’s become a contemporary buzzword in the same way that he played with the made-up sociopolitical militarized words of the time in DMZ, like “insurgents” or “failed states” or “hearts and minds.” Kristian Donaldson turns in the best art of his career and I certainly hope he can keep up with the pace of a monthly book. I always like when the artist who helps define a series aesthetically is there for the duration of the run. His figure work is stronger here, with rounded edges instead of the sharp lines that defined his earlier works like Supermarket. The characters and backgrounds are full of rich detail, and I liked the striation lines he uses on some of the faces, like an early shot of Lars that reminds me of Tradd Moore in the recent The Strange Talent of Luther Strode. What is there to say about colorist Dave Stewart? He’s generally acknowledged as (one of) the best in the industry. His palette relays the crisp cold, and his colors over Donaldson’s art convey a slight ethnicity to the figures, not some homogenized superhero thing by any stretch. The best thing is that this is an utterly fresh path being blazed. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen. I have no idea where it will go. The only thing for sure is that it will entertain, surprise, and be socially relevant, only there’s a progression of something too. It’s so much bigger in scope for Wood than previous work. The pitch I’ve been using for people goes a little something like this: If Channel Zero was about a girl and her broken city, and DMZ was about a boy and his broken country, then The Massive is about a man and his broken world. When Brian Wood burst onto the scene in 1997 with Channel Zero, Warren Ellis gave him one of his first cover blurbs and said (I’m paraphrasing from memory) about his activist slant that "someone has remembered what comics are for.” You can easily say of The Massive with its wholly unique spin that someone’s remembered what creator-owned comics are for. I was actually getting a little worried that The Massive would not be able to live up to the full court marketing press that Dark Horse Comics was lavishing it with. It was an all out aggressive campaign for months on end. It lives up to the hype, serving as a marker for something special in an already stellar career. Grade A+.
Saucer Country #4 (DC/Vertigo): There’s something that feels very, I don’t know, “serial” about this. It’s like an episode of a good TV show. I’m not really sure what I mean exactly, if it’s pejorative or a compliment, so let’s just call it an observation for now. What I’m sure I like is the effort to separate fact and science from urban myth and group-think relative to alien abductions. Saucer Country delineates these as the “experiencers,” who may truly believe they were abducted, but their minds might also be pulling a bit of a transference of past traumas, something that “hypnotic regression therapy” would identify by replacing aliens and anal probing with a garden variety rape. On the other end, you have the scientists in the know who are tracking actual nuts and bolts alien craft in the sky, or at least a government conspiracy to hide all that, and trying to prove their existence with hard fact. That’s the part of this book I enjoy, the other soap opera elements between all of the characters, maybe what I was referring to up top as cheap “serial” stuff, well, that I could take or leave. I enjoy the smart level of detail that tries to differentiate fact from fiction in our cultural collective consciousness. I like how the supposed abductions start to be examined here, with the governor right in the middle of that story during her campaign run, as well as the more grounded security turf war. The coloring is maybe a little washed out for my taste in a few spots, but Ryan Kelly’s art is strong. I was noticing the body variation in his figures. I mean, for a book where 90% of the people are middle aged white guys in suits, he makes them all fairly distinct. I especially like his women and people of color who stand out from that crowd. There’s also a pretty dope house ad for the 12 volumes of DMZ. Grade A-.
Mind The Gap #2 (Image): Well, I guess my LCS didn’t get the memo that there was a printing problem with this issue and that they were supposed to pulp it, because it was right out there for sale like everything else. I decided to buy it just to kind of subversively prove the point that my LCS can be woefully uninformed about things. I don’t recall what the printing error is, but it must be something fairly significant since writer Jim McCann is so carefully placing clues and red herrings and assumably leaving everything we need to “solve the mystery” right out in plain sight. The “Who’s Who” chart definitely helps with such an intricate plot. Now, I’m not the type of person who is going to pore over every single little detail and re-read the books indefinitely to try and investigate this little mystery. I’ve done enough of that in my real life. But, I do appreciate the degree to which McCann will go to create an interactive experience with the readership. That’s not something you see a lot of today. I think that takes what would otherwise be a fairly mundane "whodunit?" with soap opera trappings and bumps it up to be something special which transcends its basic story. I’m happy to follow along, if not play the game outright. You know what I think a big clue is? That bottom panel where Edward Sr. is holding a picture of (what I’m assuming is) Elle’s birth. Who is that other man in the room? I’m getting a whiff of CDC medical experimentation, which is now impacting Elle’s “powers” and has created some type of conspiracy angle between medical community and family that needs to be covered up with murder. Anyway, that’s my loose guess for now. My only real complaint is that Esquejo’s art can be a little uneven. I think his strongest ability is with character faces and their emotive expressions. Those are really good. Where it falls down a little is on some of the larger figures’ perspective and proportions, which just come off a little awkward and unnatural at times, like the aerial two-page spread of the gurney being wheeled down a hospital corridor. The arms, the heads, the feet, almost everything is “off” in some way. He also doesn’t compose the panels with a ton of background detail or objects, so I don’t think this gives Oback’s color much to do. I’ve seen her do amazing coloring on X-Force, but that was typically with artists who had a much more detailed and full style, which is something that I can’t say of Esquejo. I’m still intrigued enough to come back for a bit, but it’s not without some glitches. Grade B+.