Brian Wood has built a reputation for using the comic medium to tell highly complex and often bleak tales about both human nature and the state of our world. His career defining DMZ series, that ended in February after six and half years, chronicled life in a future New York City, where a second American civil war had left the five boroughs as a border zone between warring factions.
Many of the problems encountered by this fictional NYC’s inhabitants were analogous with those in real ‘failed’ states and developing countries, allowing for often brutal commentary on issues in present day United States. Managing to be hard-hitting, wildly entertaining and never less than gripping across its whole run, it set a high standard for Wood’s self-created work. Many of the aforementioned elements also appear in Wood’s new on-going series for Dark Horse Comics, which asks the question; what becomes of eco campaigners if their worst predictions came true?
Set in the aftermath of a worldwide environmental collapse, with the planet now flooded, the story revolves around the travails of direct action protest vessel Kapital, and the first three issue arc Landfall concerns its quest to reconnect with its sister ship, the titular Massive. By again using a near-future scenario closely linked to current concerns Wood ably mines the fears of a generation on a grand scale, coming up with a context for this story that is both terrifying and fascinating.
Wood excels at setting up a delicate interplay between epic world-altering events and compelling personal narratives, and it is this relationship that is the foundation of The Massive. With a cast of characters includes an ex-Tamil Tiger and a former military contractor, there are many interesting threads that draw together the diverse group at the centre of this book, only a few of which are explored in any depth during Landfall, but that doesn’t prohibit this first storyline from gripping you by the throat straight out of the gate.
Blending together introductions to the core characters, a tension-filled encounter with Siberian pirates that has serious ramifications for the crew and also teasing the reader with details about the cataclysmic events that placed the world in its current perilous state via a series of well realised flashbacks, The Massive avoids isolating the reader through overdosing on exposition. Instead the story focuses on the immediate, day-to-day life of the Kapital and its crew, even if this does involve fighting off motor launch-equipped buccaneers.
Landfall features a visit to a drowned Hong Kong, all that remains of which is a shantytown perched upon the roofs of skyscrapers protruding from the endless sea. In a book whose setting could be seen as somewhat limiting for an artist to render, Kristian Donaldson uses the stark contrast between horizon-to-horizon ocean and the overloaded, cobbled together nature of this settlement and other locations to great effect, and Dave Stewart’s glorious colouring assists this greatly.
Donaldson’s art across this opening chapter of The Massive is rich, meticulous and beautiful. The attention to detail used to capture the worn, dog-eared nature of clothing and technology post-environmental collapse, and the vast, lush seascapes complement the writing of The Massive perfectly. That Donaldson will no longer be on art duties from issue four onwards could have been a crushing blow for this title but for the news that Scottish artist Garry Brown (Dark Matter) will be following him, and anyone familiar with Brown’s work will identify that the long term future of this book’s art is in safe hands.
There is very much a sense of ‘less-is-more’ across this opening trio of issues, but this makes The Massive lean and focused rather than sparse. It’s pacing could be considered slow, but seeing as the book is set in a world of not just significantly reduced population but also land mass, a cacophony of action would grate with the carefully set up context. In each of the first three issues there is very strong sense of broader, deeper undercurrents building and moving in this sea-based title and, unlike the seemingly directionless ship that carries its lead characters, The Massive feels like a series with a very definite direction towards unknown locations that you want to discover.