Edited by Kaitlin Campos
The Massive has become a very frustrating title for me. When I first decided to pick up a copy of #16, it was the start of a new arc that genuinely felt interesting and exciting, with a neat idea and interesting characters. But as this arc ‘Long Ship’ has dragged on, The Massive has managed to snatch serious failure from the jaws of victory.
The Massive chronicles the adventures of one Callum Israel ( a chief contest for the award of dorkiest comic book character name), an environmental activist for an anti-whaling group called Ninth Wave. He and his crew aboard a large sized ship called ‘The Kapital’ have become a dominant power in the world since an event called ‘The Crash,’ a worldwide flood-based apocalypse. Most of that is established on the inner cover text recap; what isn’t covered is the current storyline.
Long Ship has focused on Callum taking the Kapital to the waters around Scandanvia to discover a colony of neo-Vikings who have begun whaling again. The Vikings are led by Bors, a former corporate raided and rightwing advocate who Callum encountered many times in his pre-crash life. The Massive 17 ended with Callum taking a rifle out and shooting Bors off his horse as he road along the Norwegian countryside after a severely lackluster naval battle between the Kapital and the neo-Vikings.
The Massive Issue 17 picks up almost immediately after the end of The Massive 16 with Callum closing in for the kill on Bors while his crew discovers he’s missing from the ship. Most of the issue is taken up with Callum’s crew mates searching for him and eventually making a peace deal with the Viking people, while Callum himself fools around with Bors out in the countryside.
If I sound unenthusiastic about that, it’s only because of how un-enganging two men having a shootout really is in this comic. Issue 17 has a lot of the same problems as The Massive 16 before it, specifically, it’s made of several disparate parts that never coalesce into a real whole. Looking at the story as a whole, I get the distinct feeling the actual conflict between eco-activist and neo-Vikings was never meant to be the driving force of this story, as it’s almost constantly pushed to the background. The real focus is something I haven’t mentioned before, because I honestly thought it was too much of a tiny detail to actually be important.
Israel has, at some point in a previous story, been diagnosed with cancer, a fact which caused his rather Marry Sue girlfriend (or possible wife it’s not really clear) to leave him. That’s the real focus of this story arc— Israel trying to deal with the fact that his cancer has driven away the only person who could actually stand him. Honestly, the story this reminds me of the most is last year’s abysmally pretentious Looper, in that the story has been constructed in set-up to facilitate a large form violent conflict, but the payoff is meant to be much more personal, dramatic, and character-driven.
The biggest reason that this issue and Long Ship as a whole doesn’t work is the same reason Looper doesn’t work; the main character’s arc is boring and alienating to the reader. I actually hazard to even use the word arc to describe Israel in The Massive, as he doesn’t really come to much of a realization or change all that much by the end of the issue; I suppose it’s implied that he’s now over getting dumped, but it’s not very clear how or why.
The best we get is that, at one point, Bors tells him to cut all his ties with the past, which is really generic advice when you get right down to it. It’s impressive how much of the dialogue in this issue is just Bors pointing out Callum’s laundry list of character flaws, and how it was only a matter of time before his live-in girlfriend got sick of him (I have no proof of that assertion other than my superhuman power of being able to pay attention), because it neatly highlights just how broken a character Callum really is.
Over the course of the story, his accomplishments are severely limited, and he comes off as needlessly stubborn, maddeningly prideful, and shockingly ineffectual, while also having childishly simple motives of just wanting to still be important. In the first issue, that was all fine, as it felt like this wasn’t meant as a norm for the character but more a direct reaction to being abandoned and having the world changing under his feet, but as the story has drug, on it’s come more and more into focus that this is just the character Callum is. These aren’t endearing flaws or even fascinating flaws; they’re infuriating and really quite boring flaws, especially with how often they’re afforded central focus of the story instead of the more interesting internal politics and mechanics of this post-crash world.
Very quickly, I will say the artwork is decent in this book; there’s no call for the ship-to-ship proportion comparisons that have given the artist trouble in the past, so things work out fine that way. I do make special note that the cover is a lie— there’s no point where anyone scales a cliff in this comic, nor is it ever the daytime come think of it. It feels wrong to call The Massive #23 bad because it’s not; it’s just maddeningly tedious and dull. You reach the end and it just feels like nothing was legitimately accomplished on any front, or if it was, it happened off screen and is quickly dismissed as not worth the character’s time, so why should it be worth yours?
This will probably be the last issue of The Massive I’m going to review, as the downward trend doesn’t seem to be changing anytime soon. Maybe one day, I’ll come back to this series, but probably not any time soon. All I can say is: not recommended.