1.21.2013

01.23.13 Advance Review [The Massive #8]

The Massive #8 (Dark Horse): One of the things that comes with being a critic is that I read a lot of (mostly boring) comic book reviews. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone comment on the 3-issue arc structure that Brian Wood and his collaborators have been delivering on this series. It’s the distillation of a classic formula: Act 1 is the set-up of a compelling story proposition, Act 2 ratchets up the conflict, maybe has some action, and Act 3 offers some form of resolution. I remember, I think it was Warren Ellis, saying that this is one of the tried and true approaches he uses; in his paraphrased words, Act 1 is “what does your protagonist want?” Act 2 is “what obstacles does the person encounter?” Act 3 is “what is the person willing to do to overcome said obstacles?” Doing this in just 3 issues as The Massive does, instead of stringing it out over 5, or 6, or even 8, is like some kind of direct injection narrative delivery system. I’m hooked on the stuff. You get into scenes as late as possible, you get out as early as possible, and that well-used David Mamet method tends to avoid insulting the intelligence of the reader (aka: exposition), doesn’t try the patience of the audience while they await forward progress, and dodges the biggest sin of all, being boring, because it forces you to engage with the work instead of being a passive observer. For example, there’s a late scene in this Act 2 installment where some Moksha Station soldiers rough-up Callum Israel. On the next page, he’s already in the hospital bed being woken from the ordeal. You never see him carted off down the hall or anything that occurred in between. It’s the very opposite of last decade’s tendency toward decompression in comics. It’s a hyper-compressed method that forces the audience to interact with the story and provide “closure” in the gutters between the panels. That’s where Scott McCloud said all of the real action actually occurs in comics. You have to process information fast, and that makes me feel kinda’ smart. This issue, this approach, is one of the best recent examples of Wood really understanding the true power of the medium. Like all good Act 2 offerings, there’s plenty of action here, all in different micro-sets. The super-cyclonic storm hits, the station is on lockdown. That’s probably jarring enough. Cal is banged up, essentially held captive. Lars is aboard The Kapital solo, being asked to carry out some drastic orders. Mary has apparently gone rogue, and makes a startling discovery below the surface. We have the interesting strike team of Mag, Ryan, and Georg heading off to meet a contact, in the form of the old Soviet engineer Yusup (which is a reminder that I seem to be enjoying the b or c-characters even more than the main cast, I loved Yusup, while Ryan and Georg have quickly grown to be favorites as well). Garry Brown is one of the emerging artists of our time, capturing all of these disparate moments and weaving them together with a unifying aesthetic style that is perfect parts warm and emotive, cold and gritty. He helps Wood bring everything right up to the precipice of change, the direction of events abruptly turning on a dime, everything is in flux and the tension around who’s carrying out which task under who’s orders is palpable. It underscores what a fragile existence Ninth Wave occupies in the post-Crash world. John Paul Leon is another artist not to be underestimated. He brings a smart cover that skews the cover layout for the first time and thematically mirrors all of the fractured story threads contained within the book. As we await the final chapter of "Subcontinental," we see that loyalties can upend control, power is subject to whim, and survival hangs in the precarious balance, subject to cunning, but also to basic human error. I still miss the print backmatter, but there’s a robust online substitute you should check out at www.the-massive.net. Grade A.

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