"The Massive" #6 by Brian Wood and Garry Brown is the smartest action comic this week. There's plenty of gun play, blood and high stakes, but at its heart this issue is all about the ways people affect each other and the lengths they'll go for their beliefs. Brian Wood wields an ensemble cast and strives to make each character's journey incredibly personal. This month analyzes Mag Nagendra and how his world transformed because of Callum Israel.
Mag is the muscle of Ninth Wave. He's a mercenary who isn't afraid to become Cal's weapon. The concept of Mag's story is initially a moral dilemma -- or at least a hypothetical one. Some characters have ethical processes within them vastly different from their past and have adapted. However, it feels like Mag always had this side to him and it's only now he can justify using it without feeling bad. It's an interesting way to empower such a character.
The story has the potential to descend into a violent action romp, but Wood is smart enough to make it all work with brains still at the fore. Nothing is obvious, everything comes from emotion for the character rather than just simple exhilaration for the reader. This is a shoot 'em up scenario that Wood also uses as a test for Mag. He could easily cut loose and become a reflection of his enemy but Mag takes a higher path instead. The progression of character through choice and action is so subtly actioned that you don't need to think about it to enjoy it.
Flashback moments between Mag and Cal pepper the issue. These scenes break up the intense action but they also give great depth. This is a brilliant examination and deconstruction of what it takes for a man to turn his inherent violence into deliberate heroism. The final flashback page where Mag approaches Cal and makes the right choice is a brilliant moment made stronger through Wood's choice of scope for the scene and the art from Garry Brown. What could have been a simple panel of a handshake becomes another spectacular moment of two men in the very wild world.
Brown is an amazing addition to this title. His work on this second arc has added just as much as Kristian Donaldson's work on the title. I prefer Brown's work out of the two because his style is sketchier and feels more emotive on the page, whereas Donaldson is much better at the technical prowess of world and technology building through precision. Brown's pages work extremely well with the colors from Dave Stewart. The results are tapestries of men and women and places of exotic nature that lure you in.
"The Massive" #6 is an immersive experience. Readers know Mag, what Cal and this entire operation mean to him and understand what Mag's place in this new world is. This issue feels like a one-shot, but it also pushes seeds from earlier forward in tiny and effective ways. "The Massive" is clearly one of the best books of 2012 due to its exquisite ability to meld high concept ideas with real characters as Brian Wood continues to make comics smart.