The Massive: Revisited

Darryll Robson Darryll Robson
June 4th, 2017

Lifetime reader of comics and fan of Planet of the Apes. When the two combine I can barely contain myself. Image, Boom and Titan comics fight for shelf space with Doctor Who DVDs.

The Massive: Revisited

Due to a cut back in new comic book reading, our contributor Darryll Robson has taken to re-reading chunks of his collection. In this Revisited series he looks back at a selected run of a particular comic to see if they are still worth reading and, for newbies, if they are worth seeking out

The Massive: Revisited

Every year I tend to find a comic that I really love, one that I wait for each month and read first before any other. At the moment this is Image’s Invisible Republic, I just can’t get enough of it, But from June 2012 to December 2014 it was Dark Horse Comics’ The Massive that I fawned over.

Written entirely by Brian Wood and illustrated by a number of different people but most notably by Kristian Donaldson and Gary Brown, The Massive was a tale of ecological idealism in a world on the brink of destruction. A number of characters’ histories are explored as they try to find their place in a new, harsher world.  Running through it all is a mysterious character called Mary.

Dark Horse Presents and Opening Salvos

I initially started reading The Massive from its first issue in June 2014 unaware that it originally started in the pages of Dark Horse Presents. In issues #8 to 10 of DHP three short stories introduced some of the characters and set the scene for the rest of the series. The feel and tone of the 30 issues that were to follow was set in place in those early 8 page stories. Although the story developed over the next 30 issues the layout of Brian Wood’s narrative approach and general pacing of the stories was evident from the very beginning.

Those opening shorts were collected firstly as digital special and then reprinted in the first volume of The Massive: Black Pacific

The first Monthly issue kicked off with a story entitled Landfall: Kamchatka. Brian Wood begins his opus by throwing the reader in at the deep end. The characters are all slowly introduced aboard the Kapital with a number of different flash backs setting the scene not only for the main cast but also for the world in general.

The central relationship between Callum Israel, leader of the Ninth Wave, and Mary, his mysterious cohort, is explored by a forced separation between the two in the first issue. Callum is torn between his need for Mary and his desire to find The Massive of the title; The Massive is the main ship of The Ninth Wave and has been missing since the crash. The Crash is a yearlong sequence of events that cripple the world and change everything. Callum feels lost without both the ship and Mary but his duty to his cause and his crew draws him away, prioritising the search for The Massive.

Mary, on the other hand, is a strong, independent woman; she doesn’t think twice about heading out in the ‘zepha’ and take the fight to the pirates. She is strong-headed and appears to have no sense of fear.

The other crew members of the Kapital include idealists, students, ex black ops hitmen and a range of people lost in an unknown world. Each of the central cast gets a spot in the lime light over the course of the run. None of the characters are two dimensional or insignificant.

The Descent of Callum

One of the most captivating elements of the overall narrative is the character development of Callum Israel. Any central character should grow and hold the reader’s attention and Brian wood does this brilliantly with a number of his characters but Callum stands out; Callum is a tragic hero figure. He starts off very strong, very determined. From the moment he is introduced the reader can tell what sort of person he is; a man of principles and beliefs; a man of honour and loyalty. His determination to find his lost ship drives him but he puts his crew first, even if they can’t see that this is what he is doing. He has their best interests at heart.

Unfortunately, this all changes as the narrative progresses. The loss of The Massive, the ever increasing uncertainty brought on by the Crash, and the breakdown of morale aboard the Kapital lead Callum down a dark path that is escalated by Mary’s disappearance and his own health issues.  He is a man on the verge of a breakdown and the majority of the Massive gives the readers front seats to his downward spiral. He retreats from the people he has sworn to protect, loses sight of the reasons he started Ninth Wave, and his faith in humanity diminishes almost to nothing. Callum Israel becomes a broken man.

However, Brian Wood deals with this decline with such emotion and empathy. You root for this tragic hero from the very beginning and stand shoulder to shoulder with him at the end. You want to see him emerge victorious, even when he’s at his lowest depths and, with the cancer eating away at him, it suggests that it can only end one, terrible way.  Callum represents struggle in the face of unsurmountable odds just as Mary represents hope. But more on her in a moment.

The Megalodon Metaphor

Issue 11 is a spectacular issue. It is the second part of the Polaris Arc and is illustrated by guest artist Declan Shalvey. It is called Megalodon.

In the main story, Callum’s obsession with tracing the Massive has shut him off from the rest of the crew. Mary has turned to Lars to prepare him for stepping into the Captains position if needs be, despite Mag’s obvious seniority; Mary doesn’t trust Mag, she knows what kind of person he is and respects him for it, but doesn’t trust him. A later helicopter accident and rescue brings Lars and Mary even closer, so close in fact that she shares Callum’s secret with Lars. It is a very gripping emotional drama with a tragic end for one of the extras.

However, it is the side story that is of real interest. In the depths of the ocean an ancient beast wakes. A Megalodon has risen from the depths and is being drawn towards the shore, surrounded by a fleet of sharks. In one exciting, nerve teasing scenes, Mary leaps in the sea and touches the leviathan before swimming by its side.

Not only is the Megalodon drawn exquisitely by Shalvey, with some real menace in the prehistoric like underwater scenes, but narratively it is very interesting. The whole sequence acts like a metaphor for the larger story, for The Massive as a whole. The ancient shark represents the Crash, the Earth fighting back against Mankind and attempting to return to an early, simpler time. The scavenger sharks that follow in its wake are the human survivors desperately trying to salvage something from this unstoppable beast that has significantly altered their lives. And Mary is Ninth Wave; continuing to fight its corner while being on the side of nature. Ninth Wave, and Callum Israel especially, have found themselves alone in a vastly altered ocean but their determination is strong, they believe what they stand for is ‘right’. When Mary faces the Megalodon, when Ninth Wave face the after effects of the Crash; they stand firm and strong. And there will be some loses, some battles that can’t be won but it doesn’t alter who they are or what they have to do.

Megalodon is a superb stand-alone issue but is also a magnificent piece to the larger puzzle. It’s about Mary and Callum but more importantly, it’s about the larger narrative. It’s what The Massive is all about.


This three-part story is my favourite arc in the entire 30 issue run. It’s part environmental drama, part Mad Max adventure and all Mary centric.

The story sees Mary away from the Kapital and traveling with an all-female security detail escorting a four-mile-long convoy of water trucks, all driven by men. There are some very strong gender politics being played in this arc. The women do the hard work, for the least pay and are expendable. In the convoys hierarchy the water is the most important, followed by the drivers (Men) and then the women. Mary however has other ideas.

Throughout all three issues the narrative is gripping and deals with some difficult issues which reflect almost too closely ideals that are still held in some areas of society today. Wood doesn’t shy away from the mistreatment of the women but he uses his central character as a way of empowering the others. He also adds to this the complication of child birth which is depicted as another trail that women have to go through. At moments it seems like a weakness but only because of forced social beliefs, in reality it’s nothing that can’t be handled and just another part of the women’s lives.

As with the other arcs in the series, one of the true highlights is the artwork. Danijel Zezeij creates tension with a series of close ups and long shots that illustrate the barrenness of the world and the character’s futures. Add to this the amazing color work of Jordie Bellaire and you get some outstanding scenes. There is a sandstorm scene which looks like it came straight out of Mad Max and a night check point sequence in issue 23 that is one of the tensest scenes in the entire run. The unease and fear from the characters is illustrated with harsh black and white visuals. This is perfect comic book story telling.

Sahara is the battle between Man and the environment and Mary is the victor of both.

Ragnarok and the End

The final six-part arc, Ragnarok, ties everything up and in ways that you probably weren’t expecting. With the end in sight it’s not surprising that they find The Massive and a number of Mary’s secrets are finally revealed but to the nature of both, well that is surprising.

The end is quite catastrophic which is befitting the story of The Crash. However, it also allows for some of the most beautiful published comic books. The combination of Wood’s script and Gary Brown’s art produces heart stopping scenes.

The Massive is a story about journeys and endings and how they don’t always link in the way that you would expect. It is character driven and beautifully illustrated by each artist that worked on it.

But is it really the end?


Although, there was a six issue prequel mini-series, The Ninth Wave, so maybe this is a world that Brian Wood may return to in the future. If he does, I for one, will be reading.

The Massive is available in a number of collected editions. Ask your local comic book store for them.
Darryll Robson is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Occasionally he remembers his Twitter account: @DarryllRobson

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