In this column, I feature comic book reviews written by my students at Oxford College of Emory University. Oxford College is a small liberal arts school just outside of Atlanta, Georgia. I challenge students to read and interpret comics because I believe sequential art and visual literacy are essential parts of education at any level (see my Manifesto!). I post the best of my students’ reviews in this column. Today, I am proud to present a review by Caroline Knox.

Caroline Knox is a freshman at Oxford College of Emory University and is pursuing a degree in Political Science with a concentration in International Politics. She is from Duluth, Georgia and works as a volunteer Young Life leader at Druid Hills High School in East Atlanta. In the future, Caroline hopes to live abroad, while working for a Non-Profit Organization she believes in.

THE MASSIVE VOL 1The Massive Vol. 1: Black Pacific, written by Brian Wood with art by Garry Brown and Kristian Donaldson, is a post-apocalyptic science fiction comic book about a radical conservationist group, called Ninth Wave. The series follows the organization as they deal with the fallout from The Crash, a series of environmental anomalies that devastated the world’s economies, ecosystems and societies. Volume One focuses on the captain and crew of The Kapital, one of two vessels operated by Ninth Wave, as they search for their missing sister ship, The Massive. I enjoyed this comic because, despite being set in a fictional apocalypse, the story has overriding themes that address human morality and environmental conservation both of which are incredibly relevant.

The focus of the book is the crew aboard the Kapital as they search for The Massive: The team is led by captain and Ninth Wave director Callum Israel, a former mercenary turned pacifist, consists mostly of college-aged volunteers with the exception of two members: Mary, a Hutu activist and one of the founding members of Ninth Wave, and Mag Nagendra, also a former mercenary who worked alongside Callum Israel for Blackbell Special Ops. The story focuses mainly on the perspectives and backstories of Callum, Mary, and Mag, who are all close personal friends. Mary and Callum are in a romantic relationship that tends to be strained by the dangers of their work in the new post-Crash world. Callum and Mag have been allies since their days working as mercenaries for Blackbell Special Ops, but tend to butt heads over the use of weapons and violence by Ninth Wave. And while Callum is a staunch pacifist who believes that Ninth Wave can survive in this “new world” without violence, Mag feels they must fall back on their mercenary training. Before The Crash — a “global eco-socio-environmental cataclysm” — Ninth Wave’s mission was to protect the seas from harm. However, since The Crash, Ninth Wave and its members struggle to find their purpose. These concerns are all pushed aside when The Kaptial’s sister ship, The Massive, disappears without a trace. Callum and his crew face an indefinite future searching for The Massive. As humanity resorts to a no-holds-barred free-for-all, Callum and his crew face pirates, warlords. and friends turned foes, fighting to survive in a world unexpectedly thrown into chaos.

The real-world issues author Brian Wood addresses were what I liked best about The Massive Vol. 1: Black Pacific. The comic gets the reader to consider how he or she would act in a survival of the fittest situation. Would we throw our moral compasses out the window for the sake of staying alive? Or would we try to hang onto our humanity in hopes that others might have too? Mary’s character specifically challenges our notion of humanity when she says, “This new world we’re living in? It’s not always going to afford us the luxury of a personal moral code.” As most of us will probably never be put into a life or death situation, we cannot truly know how we would react. We can claim to be moral people, but in an extreme situation, might our ideals collapse, as Mary’s do?

The other major issue Brian Wood addresses is environmental conservation. In The Massive, Wood cites several major environmental disasters in recent history, ranging from the whaling industry in the early 20th century to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2011. Despite going quite extreme with possible future disasters, Wood still brings up valuable concerns. The juxtaposition of real world environmental disasters with a fictional environmental apocalypse forces the reader to consider how they might impact the earth negatively. The Massive Vol. 1: Black Pacific reminds us how vulnerable we are to the forces of nature, all while we continue to disregard and abuse it.

Along with a mentally intriguing plot line, the art in The Massive is visually appealing. Most of the book is drawn in muted tones in order to convey a serious, almost desperate tone, but becomes bright and daring during moments of heightened suspense. As the plot is not arranged in chronological order, the artists, Garry Brown and Kristian Donaldson, use specific color schemes to indicate a time shift; a technique that required assigning and returning to the same set of colors for each time frame — whether a flashback or flash forward — which helps readers keep up with the sudden shifts in the timeline. This clever use of color was what I liked most about the art.

This comic book will definitely appeal to anyone interested in the SF genre or post-apocalypse stories, but it will also appeal to any environmentalist or conservationist. I would argue The Massive is a valuable read for everyone due to its ability to make readers reflect on their own morals, how they treat others, and how they treat the environment. The Massive is a well-done and important series that I would recommend to anyone.

Issues regarding the way humans treat each other and the environment constantly plague us. Yet, the goal of this book is not to force the author’s personal opinions upon readers; instead, it allows us to reflect on our own actions and what we could do to help improve the world. Overall, I liked The Massive Vol. 1: Black Pacific and give it four stars because of the important issues it subtly addresses.

~Caroline Knox


  • Brad Hawley

    BRAD HAWLEY, who's been with us since April 2012, earned his PhD in English from the University of Oregon with areas of specialty in the ethics of literature and rhetoric. Since 1993, he has taught courses on The Beat Generation, 20th-Century Poetry, 20th-Century British Novel, Introduction to Literature, Shakespeare, and Public Speaking, as well as various survey courses in British, American, and World Literature. He currently teaches Crime Fiction, Comics, and academic writing at Oxford College of Emory University where his wife, Dr. Adriane Ivey, also teaches English. They live with their two young children outside of Atlanta, Georgia.