A new storyline begins in “The Massive” #19 by Brian Wood and Garry Brown, as Wood shifts the locale to post-crash Eastern Europe, leading up to the return of one of Callum Israel’s former allies-turned foe. Story developments that were kicked off in the previous storyline come into their own here, and quickly, as after a quiet prelude the issue starts off with a literal bang.
The first couple of pages are a flashback sequence to a younger Cal and Mary, but it’s different from the usual flashbacks effectively employed by Wood to provide historical background, and it lacks the wide-view perspective and alternate hues typically provided by Brown and colorist Jordie Bellaire, respectively. This wordless scene is just as effective, but its intent is unique, as though to simply take a moment and quietly commemorate Cal and Mary’s early days, in the wake of their just-ended relationship, rather than provide any kind of additional information. The sequence also sets up a stark contrast to the explosive events on the following page.
Wood immediately follows with another flashback, but this one is the kind that has served as the signature backdrop of the series, this time explaining the effects of the crash on the old Soviet-bloc nations. As usual, these explanations are often among the most fascinating parts of the story, and also as usual, Brown provides that dirty, gritty look that plays well into the bleak mood of the story and the world it takes place in. The mostly colorless, grey buildings and train stations of Eastern Europe also evoke the equally-bleak Cold War era, with quiet streets and the local populace struggling to survive.
The mood of despair is also fitting to Israel’s current state, as he continues to battle cancer but now does so alone. While this kind of brooding atmosphere is pervasive throughout the issue as it has been for the series, Wood offsets it with the tension of a driven Israel taking the bait left by his taunting foe and pursuing him across Latvia. There is also some emotional tension as shipmate Mag tries to reach out to the increasingly isolated Cal. Brown even exemplifies this with a symbolic panel of Cal looking through a barred window, as if to point to Cal’s emotional self-imprisonment.
Finally, not forgetting that he named the book after the missing seagoing vessel of Cal’s activist group, Wood reintroduces the ship’s absence into the story, providing a new lead that potentially could seed future storylines. It was a thread that was starting to stretch thin earlier in the series and was set aside by Wood possibly for that reason, but after a several issue break its return as a plot device is again welcome.
J.P. Leon’s busy and detailed cover doesn’t really represent the events contained with this issue, but its largely symbolic nature is striking. A grey-toned Callum Israel is central to the image but barely noticed, amidst the quiet, colorful, historic European architecture in the background and the foreground’s more subdued tones that embellish a riot scene as protestors clash with police in riot gear.
Wood’s post-crash world is still just as big as it was before, and he continues to find intriguing ways to explore it, while building up enough history and characters within the context of the series to keep it exciting. “The Massive” #19 takes full advantage of that history, and because of that remains as interesting as it did when it began.