5.20.2013

The Massive #12 [Advance Review]

The Massive #12 (Dark Horse): I’ll caveat this whole deal by saying in seafaring parlance that it’ll be difficult to review this book without venturing into some spoilery territorial waters, but I’ll give it a try out of respect for the series and where it’s likely to go. It’s the end of this three issue run featuring some diverse guest artists and we’re offered a heartbreaking denouement to this arc, which has led The Kapital on a targeted 6,000 mile search up the Pacific Coast all the way into the Arctic Circle Zone. I immediately liked how Lars is already leaning forward a bit, exerting influence, and stepping in to make leadership decisions in response to the confidential conversations about the future of Ninth Wave that he had with Mary in the last issue. The Massive is in limbo, neither lost nor found, the crew of The Kapital incapable of confirming either status for their sister ship, so Callum Israel stands in solitude up on the bridge, self-imposed exile or social pariah of sorts, like Melville’s Captain Ahab. He’s weary, obsessed, and doggedly repeating futile radio traffic that goes unanswered, on the very precipice of being destroyed by his quest.

I’m not entirely certain which issue of The Massive is my favorite if I was pressed to say; issues 4 and 5 are up there, yet I think this is now a strong contender, and a significant reason is the art of Danijel Zezelj. Every time he and Brian work together is magic (see DMZ #58 and I could easily rest my case). I think this is simply the best these characters have ever looked in terms of pure design work and capturing their personalities. I’ll be a dick and say that my only extremely minor, not even a quibble, but a question, is seeing bearded Cal in flashback because (I think?) we’ve always seen him clean-shaven in the Blackbell PMC era, but that’s not to say he couldn’t have obviously grown a beard on assignment somewhere. If you’ve ever seen Zezelj’s black and white work, you know that to color it is almost a sin. Color can actually mute lively black and white art, and Zezelj’s lines need not be tamped down with any further adornment, no disrespect to the palpable palette prowess of Jordie Bellaire. It’s a very raw aesthetic and his use of negative space to give objects contour is remarkable. Bellaire swiftly recognizes this and shows incredible restraint, letting the inks and not the color do most of the heavy lifting. You notice how it’s the empty un-inked areas that tend to define objects in Zezelj’s moody space. It’s there in the ice shelf on a random coastline, the way the hair hangs heavy around Lars’ face, or how Cal’s beard appears like it’s chiseled out of marble. Zezelj also uses a certain texturing effect (I guess that’s just splotchy stippling?) that makes for ominous shadows, or lends a general grit to the way things appear.

Zezelj is a Croatian artist that I’ve loved forever, having appeared in numerous Eastern European anthologies and being prolific as hell there, yet he’s had relatively few projects pop up in the states outside of his work with Brian on both DMZ and Northlanders, Luna Park at Vertigo, and Rex from Optimum Wound. Simply put, this guy should be a superstar in this industry and if something about his grounded aesthetic doesn’t seem particularly marketable to American audiences conditioned toward superheroics, then American audiences need to have their damn eyes checked and alter their precious artistic sensibilities. Ahem. Nobody is better at capturing the bleak emotional and physical terrain of what’s contained in a book like The Massive, especially a somber issue like this one. It’s particularly evident around page 12 and the disturbing sequence which follows. It’s predominantly just shots containing silent expanses of ice, while Wood complements what he knew Zezelj would deliver visually, in what is the ultimate act of faith in an artistic collaborator for a writer. Wood consciously clips his words and phrases, letting the art shine to convey both narrative and emotional intent, as Cal walks solemnly and contemplates in flashback how he acquired the ship originally, pulling something of a Malcolm Reynolds in the episode “Out of Gas,” if you’re a Browncoat.

The other flashback is one of those historical moments, the crew have all had them (Cal seems to have experienced a few that had a cumulative effect), which functions as a turning point leading toward his decision to recuse himself from private military contract work and form Ninth Wave. Mary’s words “be better” continue to ring in Cal’s ears and influence his decision-making. “Be better.” It’s why he left his old life. It’s all he’s ever wanted for himself. It’s all he’s ever wanted to provide for his crew. It’s all he ever wanted for the world. He believes in the promise of change. He believes in hope. It’s one of the most romantic notions this book has ever put forth. By the time this issue wraps up this leg of the Pacific Coast journey, Cal confronts the disappointing pot of coal at the end of this erratic radar blip rainbow and it boxes him into an emotional corner. He feels that nearly all of that hope has been lost. Grade A+.

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