'The Massive' #1 Continues The Renaissance For Smart SciFi Comics [Advance Review]

What’s most interesting about Brian Wood and Kristian Donaldson’s new scifi series “The Massive” from Dark Horse is how it doesn’t really feel like SciFi at all... Or at least, it feels like SciFi getting back to its roots in speculative fiction, instead of being mired in alien invasions, single environment planets, and the same old. That, in case you can’t tell, is a very, very good thing, and the largest reason to recommend this smartly written, subtle comic book.

In a way, The Massive is almost the opposite of recent Image Comics release Saga. Where that issue thrust you into a bold new world you never imagined, reworking old concepts with ease and immersing you in an exciting conflict that spans the galaxy, The Massive takes place squarely on planet Earth, in a time that feels like it could potentially be tomorrow. Yet if there’s a thread that connects both comics, other than both finding new spins on old SciFi concepts (the intergalactic war for Saga, and environmental disaster for The Massive), its that both books also focus squarely on the people NOT at the center of the conflict.

That’s not entirely fair, as in both books, our protagonists may be more key than we think (despite even the narrator in Saga telling us they aren’t the central characters). But for now, things are happening in the greater world, but both Brians - K. Vaughan and Wood - prefer to keep their narrow, razor focus on people who just want to survive, rather than save the world or cause a revolution.

However, Wood and Vaughan take vastly different approaches to their books beyond the subject matter, and that comes down to how Saga wears its heart on its sleeve - the book is pure emotion from the first page to the last - while The Massive is all brains. From a rundown of how the environmental disaster played out, to strategizing how to evade potential pirates, the main characters in Massive are calculating, smart, and have yet to make anything completely personal.

There’s a sense though that, after this set-up issue, the emotion and heartache is yet to come, and that’s what makes this book such a textured read. There’s plenty to understand about the scope of the book (if you’re wondering how big it’ll be, your answer is right in the title), but we’re just at the surface right now. The first issue is a taste, a teaser of what’s the come, and there’s still a lot we need to know about this world, and more importantly, these characters.

We find out a good chunk about them from accompanying materials and flashbacks, which only adds to the pseudo-documentary flavor of the book... But in terms of action, we know only a little bit about the crew-members of the environmental activist boat Kapital, which is looking for the larger freighter The Massive. That said? We know enough, and the situation is fascinating enough to keep us coming back for more.

As for Donaldson’s art, the lines are crisp and clear, and the characters unique and expressive. Plus, it’s stunning to find an artist who can draw faces as well as he can gigantic boats and global disaster scenes. If the art is vaguely reminiscent of another end-of-the-world comic - that would be, interestingly, Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra’s Y The Last Man - that’s not too much of a problem, because we liked that book, too.

Like I said, this book is the first taste of what’s to come. It’s a chunky, full meal, so don’t think we’re getting barely any story here... But this is the beginning of an epic scifi tale that has ramifications and ideas about how we treat and use our planet today; that’s just not something you can contain in one issue of a comic. Where we’ll go from here, how the mysteries of the book will be unraveled, and in the long run, what this will say about our planet? Stay tuned. And regardless, between this book and Saga, be happy that we’re in the middle of a renaissance for scifi comics.

The Massive #1 hits from Dark Horse Comics on June 13, 2012!