Advance Review: 'The Massive' #17 is built in the grey zone between action and the justification of action.A comic review article by: Justin Giampaoli, Keith Silva
Justin Giampaoli: So, Keith, my mind works in threes, man. If I'm giving a presentation at work, I use three bullet points on my slides, I always leave the audience with three key takeaway messages, and when I'm running incident command during crisis management, I give emergency responders three tasks for an action plan. I even used three examples in that sentence I just wrote. I was wondering if we could apply the Rule of Three to The Massive. The series is set to run thirty issues, starts with a three, divisible by three, comprised of 10 arcs that are all three issues in length. The three central mysteries driving to resolution as defined by Brian Wood himself are: 1. What happened to The Massive? 2. What's up with Mary? and 3. What caused The Crash? The three main characters are Cal, Mary, and Mag. The three B-listers are Lars, Ryan, and Georg. We've seen three primary antagonists in Arkady, Bors, and Sumon. Shoot, Cal is even visually inspired by the '70s glory of Robert Redford in Three Days of The Condor.
If we're talking Holy Trinities, well, you're an admitted fan of deducing the mystery of Mary. She's exhibited some rather unnatural abilities, which have moved from subtle to more overt, whether it's holding her breath an inordinate length while submerged in icy waters, riding with Megalodons off the California coast, or pulling some crazy Jean Grey TK mind burst. Wood wrote the character of Zee in DMZ as a physical manifestation of New York City, so I've said previously that Mary might be subconsciously written as some sort of Gaia incarnation, Mother Earth personified in the wake of man's attempt to destroy the planet -- The Crash as an induced 'hard reboot.' Mary's 'powers' seem all too immaculate, so let's just go head and call out the obvious, is Mary a Virgin Mary figure? She was there when Cal was ‘birthed' into this world after all, when a rogue Draupner Wave took out an oil platform. I'm going to finally go on record and speculate that I don't believe Callum Israel will be alive by the time the series ends. Is Cal a Christ figure then, one who will die for our eco-sins? If we continue this first initial thread, does this posit Mag as some sort of biblical stand-in for Matthew for Mark? I don't know; you're more learned than I about such parochial personas.
Moving on, this second installment of the anachronistic ''Longships'' arc opens with a muted gray rainy day sequence where we learn the history of the bad blood between Israel and Bors Bergsen, Ninth Wave vs. corporate oil and whaling interests in Norway. We move deftly to a quick lesson in the tools of warfare, how The Massive and The Kapital have run afoul of huge factory ships with guerilla naval tactics. But this time out, Bors's Viking Longships are the ones taking on the agile role of David, and The Kapital isn't at all accustomed to the Goliath role (because we needed more biblical references). This leads to Bors having an early tactical advantage, giving way to what functionally becomes a feigned retreat for Cal and his crew.
Garry Brown and Jordie Bellaire bring their A-game, hitting us with the art of violence-in-red as reflected in Cal's floored glasses, a primitive harpoon piercing the bridge much to Cal's chagrin, or the ominous silhouette of Cal walking down from his sniper's perch. Ultimately, Bors and The Stulke pull an in-your-face kill that escalates hostilities right to the finish. This scene is masterfully handled by Bellaire, who gives us somber pale yellow and sickly green, a one-two punch that both captures the aggressive nature of the act and Cal's humiliation about the whole damn thing. There's a surprise guest at the end, sure, but my lasting impression was how Cal countered with such an in-the-zone focus. Never underestimate a man with so little left to lose and the pounding of a ticking clock in his brain. It's like Jake Gyllenhaal says in Jarhead: once a man holds a rifle in his hands long enough, he can never let go his thirst to see the pink mist in the scope.
Keith Silva: As usual, Justin, you give me a lot to work with; many tacks to take, so to speak.
I've yet to see Oslo in the rain, but Bellaire brings me there with her steel blues and her denims. Is it an infamnia to say I don't miss Dave Stewart as colorist on this series? Given his skill at faces – Bors's tragic facial tattoo aside -- I forget to praise Brown for how well he renders backgrounds especially buildings and other architectural elements in the 'real world.' Thanks to Brown, if I ever visit Norway's capital, a stop at the Oslo courthouse will feel like old home week.
Three is a magic number, yes it is. You deftly mapped out (as usual) each support in the three-legged stool we call The Massive. I do have to question your police work here and I'll get to that. First: what's wrong with, ya' boy, Israel? When was the last time the Captain (so-called) of The Kapital made a command decision that was business and not personal? As you note, the history lesson at the beginning of this issue proves pre-Crash Cal was a lot more savvy -- or lucky, or both -- than post-Crash Cal. Back then the beatings he took were physical; now they're both mental and physical.
I know you want to box me in, Giampaoli, use me for my sixteen years of parochial education to get into a whole thing about Holy Trinities and Mary as the Blessed Virgin Mary. Not so fast. That argument is for the tourists, for the old ladies. If Wood ever gets around to giving such a straight line explanation of Mary's Mary-ness, I'll eat my Channel Zero: The Complete Collection. You have a better handle on DMZ than I ever will. So does Wood come out and say point blank: 'Zee is a physical manifestation of NYC' in the course of the narrative or is this from interviews or inference? As a writer, why would he want to go back to the well? If there's one thing The Massive ain't is predictable.
Mary is a mystery. Even the note she leaves Cal is obtuse in its plainness: ''Until the end of the world maybe'' Maybe? What's to prevent ends and new beginnings? Mary may have the mental toughness and acuity to curb a nuclear missile strike, but can she heal a whole planet? Or does she wage a battle for one soul in particular, the soul of Israel? Maybe. Wood leaves Mary out of the goings on off the coast of Norway so let's leave her wherever she is out there in the æther and concentrate on more earthly, more mortal pursuits … revenge.
How cogent are you, Giampaoli, with the 'Just War Theory?' It's a philosophical and theological ethical acid test in support of violent conflict. Of course, the justification for war has been a question since somebody brought a closed fist to a spear fight, but the Catholic Church made it part of its catechism, its doctrine. There are four tenets which one may want to Google at their leisure. The simple explanation is this: Just War Doctrine is the exact opposite of whatever happens in Zack Snyder's Man of Steel.
The Massive is built in the grey zone between action and the justification of action. Everything in this series is conflict and in conflict -- dichotomies all the way down. For a bunch of characters bent on protecting the planet's dwindling resources, the amount of tolerance the crew aboard The Kapital shows philosophically and on a daily basis fits in a thimble. Their justifications are nothing more than their own personal politics masquerading as code. I like Minke whales as much as the next guy, but this immorality b.s. about killing a whale to feed a community is bullshit. Those Redford-esque mirrored shades Israel wears only allow him to look in one direction: backwards.
For me, The Massive #17 hinges on Cal's trek into the Norwegian wood(s), rifle in hand -- another trial in the desert of morality, if you want more religious signifiers -- to recapture his old flotsam and jetsam lifestyle. The narrator says this action recalls the time in Israel's life when he lived, ''mission to mission, little or nothing anchoring him to any one place.'' How is that different from his life now? When has he ever been tied down even by his precious codes? He is and always has been: ''just a man with a rifle.''
This last third of the issue showcases some of Brown and Bellaire's best work on the series to date.
My guess is Wood's script for this panel says something like [they ride off]. I could be wrong. ANYWAY. This scene takes place in that most magical of cinematic moments, 'magic hour.' Bellaire does sunsets as well as any colorist in the business, but here she plays it all topsy-turvy and highlights the riders and leaves the rest in darkness -- a reverse silhouette. She spatters color as if the dust the horses kick up splinters into flecks of sunlight. So inspired. Brown composes the panel with the figures at the far right-hand side of the page and each figure gets larger (and slightly more detailed) as it approaches the edge. Brown's composition invites the reader to follow along, become part of the caravan and to turn the page as the riders progress in their journey. The Massive is full of these quieter moments when the art doesn't elevate the story as much as show how a comic book can be (should be) told.
When I wrote about questioning your analysis, Giampaoli, it regards your compulsion to cast Cal as a Christ-figure and to fit him into some Holy Trinity of The Kapital. I see what you're after, but I don't buy it. Each issue of The Massive convinces me Callum Israel is nothing more than a thug with a big boat.
Each arc of this series is like standing in front of a 360° mirror with Israel at the center; the reader receives a different perspective, a different degree, of Israel, three installments at a time. When Bors calls him out in issue #16 to let the past be the past, it made me realize you can take the boy out of Blackbell, but you can't take Blackbell out of the boy. It's not that Cal has 'nothing left to lose,' that (long)ship sailed long ago. Cal settles scores because that's what Cal does, that's all he knows. Cal isn't a Christ-figure, he's a devil.
Giampaoli: But, he sure is a handsome looking devil.
You're correct in saying that Wood's writing is more intuitive and from-the-gut. He rarely writes, shall we say, prescriptively, instead favoring a subscripted approach that allows variegated interpretation by the reader. So, there you have it: Cal in a 360° mirror with a couple of different perspectives as refracted through the eyes of two critics.