ADVANCE TAG-TEAM REVIEW: The Massive #1A comic review article by: Jason Sacks, Steve Morris
ADVANCE REVIEW! The Massive #1 will go on sale Wednesday, June 13, 2012.
Jason Sacks: We people have kind of made a giant fucking mess of the environment, haven't we? Animals and plants are going extinct at a rapid rate, the polar ice caps are melting, and our relentless pursuit of more, more, more, has created a feeling of great ecological fear.
Like a lot of good science fiction, Brian Wood and Kristian Donaldson's new series The Massive extrapolates our current zeitgeist into the near future, offering readers an intriguing look at what the world might look like if the current rate of ecological change reached a much more desperate level, with the Earth almost seeming to rise up in an attempt to shake humans off of it.
This makes for a pretty fascinating setting for a first issue, but I'm not sure how much the human elements of the story get lost in the ecological horror. Was this comic more background than story for you, Steve?
Steve Morris: Aye, and not least because several pages cut away from the story in order to directly deliver a background unto us. For the most part, the story is densely decompressed, so we see a very small sliver of Brian Wood's world by the time the first issue is over. Although we've been told about the rest of the world (which isn't looking too neat right now), the actual story is centered around a small cast, and we don't get to find out much about them whatsoever.
Ignoring the sequence of pages which narrate the world's woes to us, there's actually very little development of the characters or story, here. We see them in a tight, enclosed space -- in this case a boat -- which is how most of my favorite stories start off (Alien, The Thing…). But while we're kept in the dark about the outside threat of "the Massive," whatever that may be, I felt like the vagueness actually undermined the drama, instead of pinning it down and keeping the plot tense.
Instead of a taut, tense atmosphere for the characters in this extreme situation, I actually felt increasingly dismayed by what feels like a loose, rather dull mission statement, which has no central hook to keep readers interested…
Jason: Yeah, I think you said it right, Steve -- there's a lot of setup here and not a lot of character stuff. I get the feeling that Wood has very specific ideas in mind for his characters -- there are enough small little hints in this story that imply that these folks have a depth beyond what we see on the page -- but we get very little of that depth on the pages of the comic itself.
And Wood falls for one of the classic flaws of storytelling by telling and not showing us the major events that happen. It's effective having the comic take quick jumps through each step of the ecological catastrophes that are depicted here, but didn't you feel like the ecological problems are a bit distant for our main characters? It really felt to me like our characters were literally drifting in a fog, far away from everything that makes their world compelling.
It's that grayness -- or vagueness, as you put it -- and distance that makes this a tough comic to love. It never really grabbed me; instead, I admired its craftsmanship and complexity but not its plot at all.
Steve: I normally don't subscribe to the idea that "telling" is necessarily a bad thing in comics, but this did come across as a huge wedge of text, spread over a fair few pages, which could've been better served by throwing something in to hook readers. On a technical level, the lettering on these pages -- which I imagine was conceived to look like a block of bright internet blog text -- clashes dreadfully with Dave Stewart's subtle, subdued work as colorist. Stewart does a lot of heavy lifting in the issue, having to show life in a dingy, misted, Antarctic environment. He adds character to every panel through his choice of colors both on the boat and in the surrounding environment.
Unfortunately, it also has the effect of making the rest of the book rather dulled. Without a standout main character or particularly riveting dialogue, the story remains stilted, and the coloring inadvertently emphasizes this. I could appreciate the work that Wood is doing here, but there's nothing about the book which stands out to me whatsoever, and I can't imagine anyone but a hardcore Woodaholic being interested enough to pick up a second issue.
And in other inadvertent artwork mishaps, Kristian Donaldson's art really reminded me of Pia Guerra's work on Y: The Last Man. While some of the body language was a little difficult at times, the facial composition and expression helped sell parts of the script which didn't have an emotional spur by themselves. Unfortunately I couldn't help seeing the art, lovely as it is, without wishing that the script was more interesting. I keep coming back to this! But it really did feel like a problem to me. The art team have a natural chemistry together, but they're working on a story -- which, perhaps it's going to work as a long-term narrative -- in the short term is kinda super-boring.
Jason: I think I liked this story a bit more than you, Steve, though I see your point about everything having a bit of a patina of gray. I'm sure this was a conscious decision by the staff, perhaps reflecting the incredibly difficult world that these characters live in. But that coloring does add a level of drabness.
I was intrigued a bit by the environmental destruction portrayed in this comic, but I'm not sure that element of the story will make me want to come back. I'm actually a bit concerned that I'm going to end up being lectured about environmental issues by creators who may have an ax to grind. Though that may be me projecting my feelings, more than anything else.
Mostly I was disappointed because Wood has always had so much success with his first issues. The first issues of Northlanders and DMZ were compelling because they balanced the book's setting with character work, and that level of balance isn't really on display on this issue.
I guess in the end I felt like this issue really was a disappointment, unfortunately.
Steve: This is my first proper exposure to Wood's writing, and I'm not sure what to really make of it. Perhaps this is the sort of work which would be better suited to full release as a fully-formed graphic novel, with the entire first story laid out in one go. As it is, I feel like we're being offered a particularly non-thrilling first look into a world which doesn't explain much to readers, and doesn't give us any insight into what we can expect the story to become. We know the ecological background, and there's a super-serious tone to everything, but there's little warmth or humor to be had here.
I do tend to usually gravitate towards work which has a light-heartedness to it, somewhere, and preferably something with mermaids. At the moment, we have a bunch of dead killer whales, a cast of adrift driftwood, and vague rumors of a threat somewhere out across the beautifully-colored sea. It's not a particularly striking first impression in my opinion, and it's certainly not the sort of book I'd recommend readers.
While it's a decently made book, I can't see any reason for sticking around for issue #2.
Unless there's mermaids.
Steve Morris is the head and indeed only writer for Comics Vanguard, the internet's 139th most-favorite comic-book website. You can find him on Twitter at @stevewmorris, which is mostly nonsensical gibberish you may enjoy or despise. His favorite Marvel character is Darkstar, while his favorite DC character is, also, Darkstar. He's on Team X-Men, you guys.