4.22.2013

The Massive #11 [Advance Review]

The Massive #11 (Dark Horse): For the second installment of this arc featuring different artists, Brian Wood is joined by Declan Shalvey. This memorable issue sees the Ninth Wave Marine Conservationist Direct Action Force command vessel The Kapital continuing to track intermittent radar blips far up the Pacific Coast in an effort to locate their lost sister ship The Massive. One of the things the series has made great use of so far is allowing time for these quick detour junkets that support the larger objectives, though something always seems to go incredibly wrong in these hostile locales, and this issue is no different. Here, Mary and a pilot take a chopper to scout ahead, more aggressively attempting to get a lock on The Massive’s erratic location. It picks up after events in last issue, where Cal inadvertently ended up losing half the crew and one of the (last?) fast attack zodiacs. Cal, with some input from the command crew, has decided to focus on a dedicated mission to find The Massive, in order to lend a last desperate whiff of hope in an effort to unite the remaining crew and give his dwindling organization a sense of purpose to their post-Crash existence.

Shalvey isn’t an artist I’m super familiar with (Conan collaboration notwithstanding), but he’s able to jump right in fairly seamlessly. He captures the look and feel of the crew members and is particularly adept at balancing their emotive characteristics with their natural surroundings. From the craggy shores of The Farallones, to the heart-stopping visage of the prehistoric Megalodon, to the beady-eyed humans stressed out and consumed by the harsh conditions that envelop them, his style lends a crisp intensity. The lines are fine, almost delicate at times, emphasizing some of the quieter character moments, like Lars’ reaction to Mary’s bit of news, and her alarming questions regarding the future of Ninth Wave. The fine lines give way to some beautiful “tricks” up Shalvey’s artistic sleeve, stuff like the silhouetted silent beat panel between Mary and Lars, or the low slung final full page shot that laments a lost crew member. There’s latent power in Shalvey’s work too, hard and fast movement ready to pop off at a moment’s notice, as in the literal sea full of sharks with the massive shadow lurking beneath the surface, or the sharp skew of the panels when the chopper is in trouble. There’s a page where we see sharks diving deep into the ocean and they proceed down the page within long narrow panels. It’s an approach I noticed back in issue 5 when Garry Brown depicted Mary and Ryan diving down a bore hole. At the time, I gave Brown credit for that sequence, but perhaps this repetition now owes more of a debt to Wood’s script and his general design sensibility.

Along those lines, there are familiar rhythms in this series when your eye has acclimated to them. For example, we’ve come to expect another trademark Wood tool in this book. The stacked widescreen panels offer what is not so much “newsfeed,” like the excerpts of news reports we saw in DMZ, nor are they the type of ancillary Hickman style infographic charts and layouts that’ve become so popular. Wood’s efforts with these information stacks are more omniscient narration embedded in the story, world-building blurbs that contrast what Ninth Wave is doing in the micro with what’s going on in the larger macro world, allowing the audience to question what good they are, or what their purpose is, when there’s so many other dramatic events shaping this reality. If you’ve paid any attention at all, you also know that Wood is a strong researcher, and this issue reveals that flair more than most in an already well researched series, with a marine biology lesson encapsulated in the opening pages, explaining The Crash’s impact on local ecologies in sharp relief to lesser writers.

World-building counts for next to nothing but cool sound byte concepts if not grounded in character though, and thankfully Wood delivers on both fronts. In this issue, there’s another interesting shift away from Callum Israel toward the POV of two of his most trusted crew members. By now it’s no secret to the readership that Cal is sick, so Mary and Lars discuss his condition briefly and even go so far as to discuss a possible successor. Mary is one of the smartest and most intuitive characters in the book, and she can clearly see Cal’s need for a personal legacy in the form of Ninth Wave. Sonny Corleone questioned who was best suited to be his wartime consigliere, and it makes you think about who might be best served to lead Ninth Wave in a post-Crash, even a post-Callum, world. Poor Jim Gibson sort of typifies life post-Crash. This might sound contradictory given the way he goes out, but I didn’t find it particularly flashy, and I don’t mean that as a pejorative. I mean, for no reason at all, a giant shark simply leaps up and snatches you from a craggy shore off the coast of California. It rings true. That’s life in a new reality that’s completely unpredictable. There’s another scene, so intense and startling that I had to read it twice before it really sank in. It displays Mary’s almost preternatural power, as she’s in tune with man and nature. Wood once admitted that for a time he was subconsciously writing DMZ’s most prominent female character, Zee Hernandez, as the physical manifestation of New York City. With subtle hints along the way in The Massive, it makes you wonder if Mary herself isn’t written as some sort of Mother Nature composite, a corporeal Sea Goddess, or mythological Gaia figure. Grade A.

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