The Massive #10 (Dark Horse): This issue kicks off a trio of installments with art by Gary Erskine, Declan Shalvey, and Danijel Zezelj. While there’s not what most will consider a “major” plot advancement until the end of the issue, there’s still a lot of smaller scale pieces of intrigue coming together. The largest theme is probably that the very identity of Ninth Wave is disintegrating, as a mysterious death appearing to be a suicide gets quickly assessed, while other members of the crew question their very purpose and relevance, wondering if they’d be better utilized back in their home countries. Mag and Ryan are still keeping secrets from Cal, who’s now symptomatic in ways that he can no longer hide. There’s tension between Mary and Mag. While I think there’s probably always been some tension there (mostly on Mag’s part) surrounding who was best suited for second in command, this specific tension now seems to stem from Mary being suspicious about Mag not being completely forthcoming about his actions, probably related to what’s going on with Ryan. That might sound convoluted, but you can read it on Mary when she asks Mag what else he’s got. All the while, it seems that Callum has focused on just finding The Massive, it might be just the break he needs to bolster morale and hold the crew together in order to avert mutiny or mass exodus.
Brian Wood talked recently in an interview about seeding a series with access points, and this effort seems to do that in the context of his larger body of work. I’m guessing if anyone was stuck on a ship (or any job for that matter, trust me) for months on end with no clear sense of mission or purpose, they’d either want a change or they’d begin to regress and slip back into old habits. You can see that here, as Mag acts more of a mercenary, Ryan acts more withdrawn and timid, both with little stated direction from their captain. Wood wraps all of these story threads and human access points in a world he continues to push on and build. We again get the trademark three tiered news snapshots, where we basically have South America descending into local conflicts, with regions vying for resources in an attempt to define themselves, economically, territorially, or otherwise post-Crash. I love the way something innocuous like “Hudson Secessionists” denotes an entire other story element and visual with no additional explanation. I love the way Wood doesn’t bother to define terms like “O.A.S.” and just assumes, probably without even thinking about it, that if you’re reading a book like this, from him, you either already know what that acronym is, or would at least care enough to go find out. I love the way he uses this richly coded terminology, like “agribusiness paramilitaries,” that automatically denotes a conflux of environmental collapse, and the ensuing economic and social crashes that extend from it. It’s this unique verbal shorthand that, for me, is instantly recognizable as his own authorial voice.
John Paul Leon delivers the first in a trio of interlocking covers here that are just beautiful. They capture the global reach of The Massive and many of the story elements on deck, in addition to being visually cohesive and striking. On the interior, Jordie Bellaire is doing an admirable job following in the footsteps of Dave Stewart (which is really a beat that nobody envies!), using some of the same rich palette he established for the series. Unfortunately, that’s about where my appreciation for the art in this issue stops. Erskine’s art is consistent and clear in the sense that it tells the story and gets the job done without distracting from the narrative, but it’s also quite flat at times, depicting the faces and various settings two dimensionally with little sense of depth. There’s an odd shot where Mary and Mag are walking down a corridor and their feet don’t appear to be touching the ground. I have an advance PDF here, so benefit of the doubt, maybe it’s something that’ll be corrected prior to printing. I will say that I liked Erskine’s evocative shot of the moon on page 13 and also felt moved by that final image of The Kapital sailing off into the sad sky, but for the most part I found his style lacking the emotional heft of Garry Brown or even the cold precision of Kristian Donaldson, with no distinctive traits or memorable "pop" of its own. For my money, I feel like the art will progressively improve in this arc. Declan Shalvey is an artist who is becoming more and more on my radar screen (collaboration on Conan being key), and Danijel Zezelj has been a personal favorite for years. By the end, it’s crazy to think that in his attempt to hold it all together, Callum lost The Holle and half the crew in the process. If anything, it signals that the next arc or two will be crucial turning points for the remainder of the series, and I suspect it’ll all start moving faster as Wood nears the halfway point of his latest epic. Grade A-.