Brian Wood is no stranger to imagining a world at the edge of collapse. The first issue of his new ongoing series “The Massive” from Dark Horse Comics hit the stands a couple of weeks ago after an introductory story in the pages of “Dark Horse Presents.” Wood’s book with art by Kristian Donaldson takes a simple proposition (What does it mean to be an environmentalist after the world’s already ended?) and extends it into a vast and nuanced world.
“The Massive” follows the activist crew of the ship Kapital as they search the seas for their missing sister ship, The Massive. They navigate a drastically altered world, crumbling in the wake of a series of catastrophic natural disasters referred to as “The Crash.” The first issue finds the crew of Kapital drifting through arctic waters off the coast of the Kamchatka Peninsula.
We spoke with Wood about some key points in the first issue of “The Massive.” In this edition of The Commentary Track, Wood shares some insight into the crafting of the story, the research involved in imagining the end of the world and hints at mysteries yet to come.
CBR News: Brian, in the first page, you drop us right into the action, although in many ways, it’s left fairly ambiguous. At this point, the reader is unclear on who or what The Massive is, or its significance. How are you hoping this ambiguity serves the story?
Brian Wood: Well, at a minimum, we know what The Massive is, which is the sister ship to the Kapital, the other half of the Ninth Wave fleet. We know the Kapital crew is desperate to find it, and that its been missing for some time. But yeah, this is just issue #1 and so a lot of things are not explained in detail, and there are multiple mysteries that will unfold as we go. Right now, the reader has as much information as they’re supposed to have. We have 29 parts of the story left to go.
Here, Mary wakes Cal and is preparing to head out to intercept the zodiacs. We get a great scene of dialogue that’s very spare, but also reveals a nuanced picture of the characters and their relationship. How are these power dynamics between our three main characters Mary, Cal and Mag playing out?
The nuance is intentional. I wanted to drop readers into some complex personal relationships and have them piece it together, almost as if you arrived at a party of strangers in full swing and you walk around getting a sense of things. This doesn’t last too long. The first arc is three issues, and at the end of that you have a pretty solid handle on the Crash and a lot more character moments. The flashback scenes catch up to the “now” and we have a monthly comic series launched! The next arc after that, #4-6, go into great detail with each of the main characters background and a couple big mysteries are seeded.
What sort of research goes in to crafting the politics or worldview of these central characters?
No research, really. Who the characters are informs how they view the world. Creating characters is always the easiest, most fun aspect to writing a story, at least for me.
In the first flashback sequence, we get a series of reports on geologic and oceanic changes and the disastrous results they’ve wrought in this incident referred to as “The Crash.” One of the reports refers to a change in the undersea geology at The Cortes Bank with repercussions that seem less than disastrous. Why include this panel?
I think you might miss the point, which is not that a world-famous surfing spot is erased from existence — which, don’t get me wrong, is not nothing — but that the sea floor is so radically altered. The Cortes Bank is big — an underwater island 18 miles wide, a mile high — and also a pretty fascinating bit of geology: in the middle of the Pacific you have an area where the water ranges from a meter to a centimeter deep, depending on the tides. As you might imagine, I like what the Cortes Bank is, and I think it’s just as valid an indicator of the severity of the Crash as (almost) anything else I detail.
What sort of research goes in to imagining the possible effects of this catastrophe?
This is pretty different from character development. I’ve done, and am doing, a bunch of research consisting of reading books about climate change and, more to the point, about how climate change impacts societies. So in writing all those flashbacks, I think of a general type of naturally occurring event, like an earthquake or a storm or changing wind patterns, and use research combined with old-fashioned common sense to figure out what could happen as a result. Common sense is more of a factor than the research actually. It’s all cause and effect, just working through the steps and deciding what is most likely to come to pass. I did this a lot with “Northlanders,” actually; once I felt like I did enough research on certain aspects of Viking life I could make pretty accurate educated guesses on other, based on what I knew as fact.
Mary’s outmaneuvering of the pirates’ zodiacs is part of a great sequence of action and suspense, plotted out with very little dialogue and rendered very atmospheric and dynamic through Kristian Donaldson’s artwork and Dave Stewart’s colors. What goes into crafting a sequence like this, in building that suspense and dynamism?
It’s the artist, truthfully. It’s easy to write an action scene, but really hard to write one well, since describing action is nothing like having to spend days actually depicting it visually. My trick is to be as clear and simple as possible, have only one thing going on per panel and give the artist as much leeway as they need to make it work. I’ll give 95% of the credit for a fight scene, any fight scene, to the artists.
Here, we get a brief explanation of the disappearance of The Massive. The ship seems almost like a phantom ship, or like an idea: something perpetually out of reach. What do you see or intend as possible metaphorical interpretations of The Massive?
How can I possibly answer that without giving away one of the big mysteries of the series? I really can’t, except to say that it’s more than just a surface plot point. Let it unfold, it’s not what you think.
“Kapital” heads into the flooded city of Hong Kong. One can imagine that Hong Kong, here, is representative of a vast number of cities around the world, all decimated. There’s something to the description of the events of “The Crash” — its lack of explanation — that makes it seem imminently possible.
I’ve often observed that world capitals such as Hong Kong, London, New York or Mumbai are standing on the edge of very volatile water, volatile in the sense that not much in the way of change has to happen to the state of the ocean for these cities to be in desperate trouble. It reminds me of Galveston, Texas, which in 1900 was well on its way to becoming a world capital, believe it or not (I didn’t, at first). Then a hurricane came along and literally washed it off the map. And this was a hurricane, not a tsunami or sea rise or huge earthquake or anything as dramatic and epic as that. We’re all on borrowed time, coastal metropolises especially.
In that last panel, we see Mag climbing the ship’s tower. It’s a fairly wide view, and we see “Kapital,” alone off the coast of Siberia. Do you see this functioning as a theme of the book: a very small group of people, isolated and alone, up against unknown enemies, at the edge of the world?
You just described what my book “Northlanders” is to me. And yes, that is the primary thing I am bringing from that series into “The Massive.”
“The Massive” #1 is now available from Dark Horse Comics.