Trading Up: The Massive Volume 1: Black Pacific

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This is a beautifully realised graphic narrative, both in terms of its visual approach and story structure. It’s also a breath of fresh air for those of who are starting to get tired of the spandex set.

Yes, it's an end of the world type scenario, but no, you haven't seen one like this before. It follows the Kapital who are looking for their friends aboard fellow ship The Massive, and have been for over a year after the world changing event of The Crash. What exactly caused the series of environmental catastrophes we are not privy to in these pages, but we see the results; economic breakdown, huge climate change, and the basic necessities of life which are no longer guaranteed. The entire world is now third world, and there’s a lot less people in it.

The multicultural cast led by captain Cal, his headstrong lover Mary, and the Sri Lankan first mate Mag are all part of the pacifist group known as Ninth Wave, and their past, presnet and future all intertwine to make for a riveting tale.

The action begins in earnest, with Siberian pirates on their tail, causing the Kapital to hide in the fog to avoid them, while simultaneously searching for both Mary in a Zodiac inflatable boat, and signs of the Massive’s whereabouts.

From there, the scale grows, as the name of the series implies. The intensity of the ongoing adventurous search is timed well with the flashbacks, showing the world’s devastation (bird and fish species dying en masse, cities are either suffering blackouts, or rising water) with the relationships of the crew of the Kapital, plus Mag’s past as a terrorist leads to some heated exchanges with the ideals of Mary and Cal. This desire to still change the world, while it’s a world they no longer recognise, coupled with the realism that they have no homes to return to means what the crew knew as normal is now just a memory. That, plus the growing doubt that Mary, and The Massive are still out there somewhere in the unsafe seas means that this family unit is facing serious uncertainty about what to do next. Growing desperation for supplies and Cal’s past as a mercenary, which brings an old acquaintance into his sphere, who despises his now pacifist methods all add to the tension.

I first saw Kristian Donaldson’s wonderful artwork in Supermarket, an underrated mini-series from IDW, (also with Brian Wood) that was a stylish standout. These two should really work together more.

Sepia toned flashbacks to the early travels of the Kapital, as well as news reports about the devastation wrought by the Crash around the globe add a reprieve to the frantic pace as well as building msytery about the beginnings of the current state of this world.

Garry Brown takes over the art chores for the last half of this book, and although his style is sketchier than Donaldson, it still works for the tale being told. It’s actually somewhat similar to sometime cover artist for this series, John Paul Leon.

Donaldson’s work is the standout however and hopefully he’ll return to this, or any other, series soon. His delicate use of lines make every character effortlessly cool, yet he’s also able to conjure big panels and whole pages that strain to withhold the destruction of cities, ships and the environment, and he doesn't skimp on details when it comes to crumbling architecture or ship's interiors.

Thankfully the three eight page bonus stories from Dark Horse Presents that preceded The Massive #1 are also collected here, along with the first six issues, so we get to see more of Donaldson’s fine artistry.

Dave Stewart’s colours throughout the series compliment both Donaldson and Brown by bringing subdued hues when needed, such as the aforementioned flashbacks, or a daring vibrancy in exterior scenes. Every page flows easily and never jars from one scene to the next. Stewart's work compliments the artists greatly; always remaining visually intriguing and adding another layer of constant danger.

It’s obvious that Wood has done his research, with science and geography woven with skill in to the tale. It all certainly sounds plausible, and as anyone who’s read his work on Demo, Conan or X-Men knows, he is able to give each character the unique voice they demand. The world may not be the only thing falling apart, as ideologies collide within the strained crew of the Kapital, but like any family unit, Wood shows that these characters are forgiving and faithful the majority of the time. He reveals great moments of honesty and emotional transparency when members of the crew partake in separate missions, such as looking for supplies or searching for clean drinking water within Arctic boreholes. At times when faced with the harshness of their surroundings, and the desperate people trying to make life within it, great stress brings the core of these characters to the surface. As Mary tells a young American volunteer, “This planet’s dying, Ryan. Nothing’s fair. What makes you think you’re so special?”

One thing that is special though, is the first collection of this widley praised series. Grab it.

The Massive Volume 1: Black Pacific collects the first six issues of the ongoing series, plus short stories from Dark Horse Presents #8-10. It’s a full colour, 176 page collection and is available now from Dark Horse Comics for $19.99.

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