As pop culture's obsession with zombies has cooled, post-apocalyptic worlds have replaced them as the spec-fic trope everyone wants to put their mark on. It's not hard to see why, following a decade of socio-economic, political and environment turmoil, but the genre's underlying message -- we're doomed to fail, so let's figure out how to deal with that -- is inherently defeatist. Enter Brian Wood, Kristian Donaldson and their creation: "The Massive."
"The Massive" steers against the pessimism of post-apocalyptia. In a world where the environment has collapsed, it follows a group of environmentalists who have redoubled their dedication to the cause, apparently determined to save what's left. It's a choice of setting that's razor sharp, and like Wood's recent Vertigo book, "DMZ," it isn't set in some distant, unrecognizable future -- rather in a world that feels like it's only one bad day away from becoming reality.
Wood spends the issue introducing the book's lead characters, all of whom are ensconced in a search for The Massive, the lost sister ship of their own vessel The Kapital. Offering a tight focus on three senior members of the environmental movement, Ninth Wave, Wood quickly establishes who these guys are and what they want, as well as showing the threats they face. Small details offer insight into their daily lives, while expository flashbacks explain, from an omniscient viewpoint, how we got from here to there. It's a great use of the comics form, avoiding unnatural dialogue exchanges and infodumps between characters, while still giving readers the details they need to understand what has occurred.
Artistically, Donaldson is Wood's perfect cohort, bringing not just fantastic detail to the work, but also the sense of scale required to illustrate a story like this. To go from small moments of human interaction to fast-paced action scenes to images of global catastrophe is no easy task and Donaldson shoulders the burden well. If there's any criticism, it's that the environments are perhaps a little too bright and clean. The characters look fatigued, but their world doesn't -- or rather, not to the same extent.
Narratively, the only real irritation is that the overarching question of the first issue is left hanging: What makes The Massive so important? Right now, we're not sure if there's more to The Kapital's quest than a simple attempt to find their friends, and the matter gets little explicit attention from the story itself. Still, you can bet that the problems won't really start until the two ships are finally united -- after all, this book is called "The Massive," not "The Kapital" -- so it's worth giving the benefit of the doubt.
In any case, "The Massive" is everything readers have come to expect from Wood: provocative, original, and fiercely intelligent in both conception and execution. Don't you dare miss it.