9.12.12 Advance Review [The Massive #4]

The Massive #4 (Dark Horse): When you hear that quick tempo gulang gulang gulang of the trailer for this issue (note: music by Brian Wood), it’s almost as if you can sense Wood figuring out the direction of this series and now just having fun with it. He’s moved past the initial bout of shock the characters experience from The Crash. He’s moved beyond the basic world-building that needed to occur in the first 3-issue arc for the audience to get situated. He’s getting more to the heart of what he described in an interview as (I’m paraphrasing) "a socially aware story masquerading around in the skin of an action/adventure comic." The Massive is still partially about identity too (it is, of course, the underlying connective tissue that binds all of his work together thematically), but it’s about identity in a specific way. This group, Callum Israel and Ninth Wave, follow their own moral code, their own set of rules. Now they find themselves in a world largely devoid of rules. Redefining Ninth Wave also means redefining the man who dedicated himself to this cause after some epiphanic change of heart on a North Sea oil platform that should have taken his life.

Entering Mogadishu (colloquially “The Mog”) in this issue in search of a reliable resupply source creates all kinds of tension. There’s the palpable residual in the pop culture collective consciousness from Ridley Scott’s Black Hawn Down, to the point that the script references “The Day of the Rangers” and “the little birds.” It’s an aside, but it makes me want Eric Bana to play Callum Israel with all the warm precision he brought to a Delta Force Operator in that film. The issue literally opens with Mary swimming with sharks, an apt metaphor for Cal diving into The Mog as a citizen of nowhere, able to blend into any surroundings and just melt away physically due to his acquired skill set, sure, but out of place everywhere spiritually. “Ich Bin Ein Auslander.” Mogadishu is an important city to focus on, once thought of as Hell On Earth, one of the most dangerous places on the planet, drugs, arms, and low-grade tech fueling the local fiefdoms and regional economy. Now, post-Crash, Mosque and all, it’s probably more representative of what the rest of the planet actually looks like than being some Third World anomaly. The Crash was The Great Equalizer. It doesn’t matter who your parents are, where you were born, how much money you have, or the time you spent planning ahead. For everyone, the only thing that matters is a sense of immediacy; it’s all about food, clean water, and survival for the next 24 hours.

In search of these basic necessities, Cal stumbles into a meeting with an old Blackbell PMC acquaintance named Arkady, who fashions himself a Russian Mafioso. In a flashback, you’re given another plausible reason as to why Cal ultimately gave up mercenary work, because (without spoiling anything), it’s absolutely mercenary work, where the highest bidder gets the outcome they desire. Loyalty became meaningless, so Cal created a new ideology for himself. Post-Crash, in a world where a former associate capitalizing on shark fin soup is a greater atrocity than a man with a gun, how does this pacifist function in a world that just turned toward violent anarchy? That’s the heart of the series, all wrapped up in amazingly adventurous world-building and tense dramatic moments that could burst into action at any given time – just the way Wood promised.

When I first learned Kristian Donaldson wouldn’t be continuing with this second arc, I was a little worried. He’d helped define the look of the universe in an aesthetic I was drawn to. Yet, Brian Wood seems to have this knack, this eye, this draw, this don’t-call-it-luck for working with some amazing artists who are on an ascending path. Garry Brown wasn’t a name I was familiar with, but he will be now. The art is just gorgeous. I have a difficult time comparing it to the style of someone else, as I’m always prone to do. So you won’t see any “it’s like so-and-so meets so-and-so” in this review. This art is Garry Brown’s own unique intellectual property. He uses well-formed figures that are full-bodied people and doesn’t rely on many representational blocky lines, but more of a life-drawing emphasis (if that makes sense) with characters having very unique facial characteristics and body types. There is strength and weight to his figures, but he also uses a lot of gritty little detail and fine line work that adds a sense of kinetic movement waiting to pop off. He uses interesting camera angles, and when paired with the dynamite coloring of Dave Stewart, you start to notice these innocuous little things like how shadows simply fall across a back alley in Mogadishu, the way water ripples and distorts figures submerged beneath its surface, or the way strands of light pierce their way into a Mosque. It’s rare you see fully-formed rock star artists emerge right out of the gate, but I think Garry Brown might be one.

I guess the last thing I want to point out in this issue is the first panel atop page 20. Cal has just exited his impromptu meeting with Arkady. He’s leaning against a wall, doubled over, hands on his knees, and just whispers to himself “Christ…” in acknowledgment of the threat he’s just endured. It’s important because he’s not some uber-competent operator. Callum Israel is not James Bond or Jason Bourne. He’s a dangerous man, sure, but he’s also just a guy, who’s fallible, who can be scared, but a skilled survivor nonetheless. He’s just survived another day in this fucked up world and now must reassess and adjust his playbook on the fly, as all leaders must. The end of the issue perfectly sets up what’s to come, Mary and Ryan’s mission in the next issue. There’s also no reason that this issue can’t function as a jumping-on point. Everything you need to know about the world and the crew is seeded in the dialogue or text of the book.

Can I just say that I'm loving the backmatter in this series? Not only is it just plain fascinating and cool, but it’s also a serialized treat that nobody else in the industry is doing. I love it for the content itself, but I also love it for being unique and different. It's a new storytelling delivery mechanism. It offers a window into the post-Crash universe that the script doesn’t permit. It allows exposition about timelines and ships and characters and missions that the best sourcebooks always do. It offers clues and ways to get inside the characters’ heads that I hope continues.

The Massive is just “good art.” It’s the type that entertains and delights in all the ways comic books should, but also provokes thought, induces emotional reaction, contains social relevance, and reveals the marvels of craft, in all the ways that Fine Art should. If you’re a comic book fan not reading this series, you’re missing out on some fine creative performances. The Massive is also the type of book we should be forcing all of our children to read. If you break the world, this is the lawless and bleak stripped-down survival occupation it will become. Grade A+.


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