A longtime showbiz journalist and fan's thoughts on comic books, movies and other cool stuff.

Tag: Dark Horse Comics

Wood’s eco-thriller is Massive-ly entertaining

The Massive #1-11 (Dark Horse Comics, $3.50 each) is a highly engrossing series that’s probably the best entry in the relatively new (to comics, anyway) sub-genre of eco-thrillers. Written by Brian Wood with art on various issues by Kristian Donaldson, Garry Brown, Gary Erskine and Declan Shalvey, The Massive takes place after a yearlong series of ecological disasters collectively known as The Crash has radically changed the Earth’s surface. Rising oceans have put major cities under water while other disasters have knocked out power, technology and communications with large portions of the world.

In this bleak setting is Callum Israel, leader of a pacifist, direct-action marine conservation organization called The Ninth Wave. Based on a converted warship known as the Kapital, Israel and his international crew are both struggling to survive and to continue their mission of conserving the world’s oceans as best they can. The series starts with an over-arching mystery, as the Kapital’s sister ship, The Massive, has gone missing for months. Israel believes The Massive is still out there, somewhere, and the search for the ship is ongoing. In between that, there are pirates, utopian communities and a constant need to resupply the ship’s food, water and fuel stores. 
This series benefits immensely from Wood’s research and his broad, international view. The characters have complex but believable backgrounds and hail from all over the world. They include first mate Lars, the can-do Kenyan Mary (also Israel’s lover), and Mag, a former colleague of Israel’s from his days with a Blackwater-style private security (a.k.a. Mercenary) group. No one is quite what they seem and their stories and viewpoints are revealed naturally through the series, offering a welcome relief from extensive contrived exposition. 
The series is so far broken down into three-issue arcs, though the individual issues stand up on their own very well, again providing relief from the unfortunate norm in comics publishing. The art is overall very good, with Donaldson setting the tone in the first three issues with most of the rest of the series drawn in a similar and satisfyingly gritty style by Brown. The colors by Dave Stewart are a major draw, as are the covers and backmatter pages, which have Wood’s very welcome design fingerprints all over them. 
If there’s a flaw to the series, it would be the deliberate pacing. A fascinating premise and characters like this cry out for stories that are ambitiously broad and that just plain move a bit faster. The Massive is a bit of a slow burn so far, but it’s a consistently fascinating and satisfying one that I look forward to seeing build itself up into an even better series over time.

Star Wars #1-3 tries hard to recreate late-1970s excitement

This is a good Star Wars comic book series, but not a great one.

Star Wars #1

The good parts of Star Wars #1-3 (Dark Horse, $2.99 each) are the intangibles: This is a comic set right after the very first movie (Episode IV, not Episode I) and therefore carries none of the weighty baggage the franchise began to carry with the complications of The Empire Strikes Back. It evokes the most simple pleasures of the series, back when Star Wars was just a super-cool, exciting movie and not a mythology or a franchise. For folks like me, who were kids in the summer of 1977 completely enthralled by the movie, that’s pretty powerful stuff. The covers by Alex Ross, the simple cover logo all evoke that simpler time and pure childhood love of Star Wars.

As for the insides, it’s pretty good, but I have some quibbles. Brian Wood overall has done a good job extrapolating events from Episode IV, and his focus on Princess Leia is very welcome indeed. But there are some areas where it falls short of the excitement a Star Wars title like this promises. A lot of it comes in the characterizations of the main characters: Luke, Leia and and Darth Vader. I’ll start with Vader, who Wood writes as embarrassed by the defeat at Yavin. Palpatine punishes Vader in his own special Sith way, handing control of Vader’s command vessel to another officer. These issues show a certain amount of political jockeying at the higher levels of the Empire, and that Vader is not very adept at it. (At least not yet — we’re only three issues in). Episode IV and V showed Vader as being so good at being bad that it’s scary. And seeing him mope about the Emperor taking away his keys to the family car is out of line with that.

Star Wars #2

Looking at Luke, Wood has him having grown up rather quickly. Episode IV showed him to be a promisingly gifted pilot albeit still naive, cocky and hotheaded about a lot of things. Here, he’s flirting with another female pilot and declared one of the top pilots in the Rebel Alliance. That may be true, but I don’t think anyone goes from day-dreaming teenager to some one so self-assured so quickly. That maturation is at the heart of Luke’s arc as a character throughout the trilogy.

And, lastly, Leia. It’s always nice to see the girls front and center in Star Wars, because there’s so few of them in the movies and, I think, so much demand from the legions of female Star Wars fans for more. I liked Wood showing Leia mourning the loss of Alderaan, but take issue with portraying her as a kick-ass pilot and ruthless soldier capable of killing an Imperial pilot with a point-blank laser blast as she does in the first issue. I always thought Leia’s strengths were more in her leadership abilities, her intelligence and a compassion that compelled her to act. In the original trilogy, we never see Leia fly anything except the speeder bike in Return of the Jedi. She completely sat out the battle of Yavin itself, and it makes no sense to ground so talented a pilot in such a last-ditch effort to save the base.

Star Wars #3

Those issues aside, the book is attractive, slick and entertaining to read. The art is by Carlos D’Anda, who delivers a clean and clear look for the series with a modern comics art style. It’s a bit cartoony in some cases for my taste, and I wish Han Solo looked his age here, but as someone who really digs the radical approach Carmine Infantino brought to Star Wars comics in the late 1970s, I can handle it and maybe it’ll grow on me. The Alex Ross covers are a huge selling point, though I can’t help but think the first three were a bit busy with their collage style — the more I look at them the more I have to think about what I’m looking at and the more I wonder what’s going on.

With Lucasfilm now part of the Disney machinery and Dark Horse’s Star Wars license widely expected to be living on borrowed time, I hope Wood and D’Anda have enough time with this series to really ramp up the excitement and deliver some Star Wars comics that add a chapter worthy of the name.

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