What do you do when a cause you truly believe in, one to which you’ve devoted your entire life, suddenly becomes irrelevant? In “The Massive,” a new three-part serial by “DMZ” and “Northlanders” writer Brian Wood and “Supermarket” artist Kristian Donaldson set to begin in January’s “Dark Horse Presents” #8, an environmental disaster has radically altered life on Earth, leaving a group of surviving activists to question where they go from here.
The project was announced Friday at Comic-Con International in San Diego, and CBR News spoke with Wood about the series and how it fits into his post-“DMZ” plans.
CBR News: Brian, I’ll start with a basic question: what does “The Massive” refer to?
Brian Wood: “The Massive” is a title that works on a couple different levels. It can refer to the ocean, that vast 95% of unexplored space, but it also refers to one of the ships in the story. One with a significant degree of mystery surrounding it.
The tagline asks what becomes of an environmentalist after the world has ended. I take it that, in this strip, we are done in by natural forces then?
“The Massive” is one of several story ideas I came up with that I refer to as “post-crash”. In each case, that means something a little different — an economic crash, and environmental crash, a breakdown of society, a man-made disaster of some kind. Basically, a disaster story that starts after the disaster has already come and gone. That probably sounds a lot like “post-apocalyptic,” but in no way am I writing this as genre. But yeah, in the case of “The Massive,” this is an environmental collapse, a rather unique one, and the story starts in the aftermath.
I thought it was interesting to write about activists and environmentalists who have formed that entire identity around efforts to save the world, and then finding out they utterly and completely failed. Where do you go from there? Talk about a massive (pun!) identity crises. And these are not necessarily tree hugger types, these characters, and this story is not something that can be categorized as some lefty fearmongering. I think if I’ve proved anything with “DMZ,” is that I can take a socio-political, topical issue and write both sides, and make it not at all preachy. There’s actually very little partisan politics in the story concepts I wrote for “The Massive.” In a way, you can call it post-politics as well as post-crash.
What does the world look like as the story begins? How difficult is simple survival, for example?
Oh, that would be giving an awful lot away. But the characters in the story exist on ships in the ocean — think Greenpeace or Sea Shepherd in that respect. When the crash happens, they are out on the ocean, and are still out there for most of the time. But when they do have to come in to land, for refueling or for water or whatever else, it’s grim business. The crash that happened is an unexplained and rapid acceleration of not only the effects of global warming, but some freakish geological activity. There’s not a coastal city on the planet, most likely, that isn’t in serious trouble as a result of this.
Who are our protagonists for this strip? Who were they before the catastrophe, and who are they now?
They are part of a group, similar to Sea Shepherd, but that fact is pretty much background, since we start after the point that such organized environmentalism has been rendered obsolete. What we have is a loose group of like-minded folk, brought together as volunteers initially, but now really bonded with each other by shared adversity, and if anything have to learn how to be closer in order to survive. The main character is the captain of one of the ships, Callum Israel, an older man with a great many lifetimes lived under his belt, from his youth as a unskilled laborer in shipyards, to working for a military contractor in the early ’90s when such things were not so socially acceptable as they are now, and, eventually, finding his true calling as a direct-action activist, pushing 50. He is a mashup of cultures and experiences, none of them American. This is a notable thing about this series: it’s not set in America, doesn’t star American characters, and has very little to nothing to do with America.
The rest of the cast come from the crew of the ships. Mag is a Sri Lankan, ex-Tamil Tiger. Mary is an East African woman, barely into her twenties, who not only has a connection to Callum but also a connection to the ocean in a way that borders on supernatural. Or maybe just really spooky. There are more characters, who will be revealed in time.
With this sort of “too late” scenario, what is our heroes’ first instinct? What is and is not possible at this point?
I think the question on all of their minds is “what do we do now?” I mean, to one degree or another they’ve devoted their lives to the cause, and not only did they not accomplish anything, do they even have homes to return to? So, what next?
Other than a hostile landscape, are there other forces working against these characters?
Total societal breakdown. This is a huge world of conflict and chaos. If you take a look at “DMZ,” a lawless city and all the danger and detail I put into that, this is a global “DMZ.”
I’m known for building worlds… specifically “DMZ” and in a way with “Northlanders,” and the work my agent gets me in the videogame industry is all focused on world-building. I do a lot of research for everything I write, and my aim is to really fully realize this “post-” world, to exceed what I’ve done on “DMZ” by several orders of magnitude.
Are you interested in continuing “The Massive” beyond its initial three-part run?
Absolutely interested. This is too big a concept. We’ll see how it goes. It’s a tough market for creator-owned work.
You’ve worked with Kristian Donaldson before on “Supermarket” and arcs of “DMZ.” How does Kristian’s art complement the story you’re telling?
Kristian and I go way back, and he did some amazing work on “DMZ” and “Supermarket.” Now, those are not easy books to draw, especially “DMZ.” Drawing “DMZ” is an ordeal, with the city backgrounds and all the detail and accuracy required. Kristian – who is a young guy – handled all of that with style and confidence. Total confidence, and I know he can handle anything I throw at him, whether it be hundred-foot rogue waves, a semi-submerged Hong Kong, or an carrier battle group.
I also got a look at his upcoming Vertigo OGN called “99 Days,” and it’s amazing to see his growth.
“The Massive” will run as three parts in Dark Horse Presents. What do you enjoy about this shorter, serialized format?
I like a challenge, especially a format challenge. I tend to assign those to myself, whether it be perfectly the single issue story, or trying out a new monthly format like in Northlanders, or summing up hundreds of years of combat theory in the span of a singleÂ sword fight, like in “Northlanders” #17. But I’ve never written an 8-pager, or been serialized in an anthology, so I’m excited about it.
When we were setting up this interview, you described this project as “the next step in the evolution of what I’m doing in comics.” Can you elaborate on that at all?
I sorta feel I can group my past work into specific “eras,” defined by a couple things but mostly by my personal perceptions. This may be boring to people who aren’t really familiar with my backlist, but all the books I did prior to “Demo” I put in a category, where I was sort of playing around with comics and trying to figure out not only how to write them but what I wanted to say, what my “voice” was. And then along came “Demo” and up to and including my current Vertigo work, “DMZ” and “Northlanders,” where I figured that out and got a bunch of stuff out of my head and became, in my own eyes, a fully realized writer. And now I am in the position to take the next step, to build on all of that which came before, and advance myself to a next level.
In these last few years of being DC exclusive and working on these long-running series, I’ve accumulated a lot of new material. “The Massive” is one of about 6-8 books more or less ready to go, and they do feel like part of a whole, part of a next phase in how I want to work in comics.
Lastly, a lot of people forget this or don’t realize it, but “DMZ” was my first attempt at a monthly ongoing series. It was very successful and I’m proud of it all, but it was my first try and I’m ready to a second and a third and fourth tries and see how much better I can make them.
“The Massive” will run in “Dark Horse Presents” #8-10, beginning in January 2012