As the "Longships" arc continues, "The Massive" explores its central premise -- "what does it mean to be an activist after the world's already ended?" -- with one of the Kapital's most promisingly conflicted missions yet. However, some too-easy plotting and too-quick solutions detract from what could have been a rewarding and rigorous look at Callum and Ninth Wave's priorities.
Issue #16 opened up a genuinely provocative debate between Callum and Mag about the Kapital's latest mission. Callum wants to attack a group of Norwegian survivors, led by former corporate cutthroat Bors Bergsen, who've taken up whale hunting in wooden longships. Mag argued that this doesn't make moral or logical sense. Like some of the series' best arguments, this one got very honest; Mag actually referred to Callum's approach as "college student protest shit."
In some ways, Issue #17 operates in this same hard-hitting vein. The storyline not only reverses the traditional David-Goliath dynamic between environmental activists and those they fight, but explicitly calls it out. The crew of the Kapital is using a massive, industrial machine to take on shirtless men in longships, and they're fittingly disabled by the same guerrilla tactics that they once used to disable corporate mega-ships. The reader sees Callum, despite ostensibly wanting to work for a better future, fixate on the past, while his supposedly vicious enemy looks toward a simpler tomorrow, even saying of Callum: "My history with this man doesn't matter." It's a smart reversal.
However, Wood drops this ethical element of the story and focuses instead on the mano-a-mano contest between Callum and his old enemy, Bors. It's a well-executed rivalry, with expertly curated flashbacks and a heavy sense of hateful menace, but the transition from a fascinating moral morass to a shotgun-slinging, horse-riding showdown is...disappointing. Instead of justifying his battle against the whalers itself, Callum just talks about how Bors is one of "only two men I truly fear" and "a nasty, vicious piece of work." I love a formidable villain as much as the next reader, but whether Callum or Bors can be scarier is a far less interesting question than those Mag raised.
It would be one thing if Mag's questions had been answered, or at least fully addressed, before Wood moved on. Since they were simply dropped, it's a much more noticeable lapse. Added to the dropped threads from previous arcs, it's getting a bit frustrating as a reader, and detracting from the many wonderful things about "The Massive."
That being said, Garry Brown and Jordie Bellaire continue to create some beautiful art. I swear, no one colors ocean like Bellaire. I'd never think that a flat, contour-less blue could work so effectively, but it does. In addition, even though the crew has been on the same ship for pretty much the entire series, Brown and Bellaire are still finding fresh ways to present the same environment in-panel. Whether switching up the color or using a new angle, it's clear they're thinking and experimenting. They even managed to get me invested in the mano-a-mano aspect with one particularly frightening shot of Bors' face. He was palpably crazy, cunning and cruel, and that panel did more than all of Callum's stories combined to make me fear him.
I'll acknowledge that I'm asking a lot. It isn't easy for a comic to zero in on political issues when it could instead devote its pages to an awesome showdown between a post-apocalyptic Viking and a Greenpeace guerilla in aviators. (Let's be honest: I'm excited to read that.) However, "The Massive" has proven itself capable of asking and examining important questions in the past. Here's hoping it rises to its own challenge at the end of "Longships."