The Ninth Wave is an environmentalist group operating at a time when most of the world is just struggling to survive after a weather-related catastrophe upended society as we know it. Much of the world is either underwater or in a state of total panic due to the breakdown of government powers in many countries. With only a few points of safe harbor and pirates roaming the seas in search of supplies, the Kapital (a ship under the Ninth Wave’s command) cuts a perilous path across the oceans in search of it’s missing sister ship: the Massive. Led by ex-mercenary turned non-violent environmentalist Cal Israel, the crew of the Kaptial are now on the ragged edge, scrapping for food, water and supplies. In issue #6 they happen upon a container ship outside of the Marshall Islands in Micronesia. Seemingly abandoned and likely full of much-needed food and supplies the crew wrestles with the idea of salvaging the ship’s cargo. Some see it as re-purposing unused items for the greater good, while others view it as outright piracy. Weighing the options between starving and setting off an international incident, Capt. Israel lets Mag Nagendra (Ninth Wave member and not-so-non-violent former mercenary) board the ship, with explicit instructions to leave immediately if another person is sighted on board. Of course, when people become desperate, things are never so cut and dry.
The world Wood has created is rich in it’s level of sophistication, but still grounded with a sense of potential reality. It’s less high fantasy or sci-fi and more an extrapolation of current trends into what could conceivably be our near future, provided a huge ecological/climatological disaster occurred. The concept is a bit heady, but the story and characters themselves retain a much more emotionally accessible quality. Cal Israel and his crew aren’t just running and gunning on the high seas – they’re trying to thrive and survive with a strong sense of morality in what is essentially a post-apocalyptic setting (the rare kind, that doesn’t involve zombies or other mythological creatures). It becomes an exercise of sorties paradox as they grapple with the question of at what point do they stop being people just trying to survive and start to become pirates? The question feels even more apt as two of the Kapital’s crew are former mercenaries who worked for a private military contractor called Blackbell (a thinly veiled reference to Blackwater, no doubt). The story flashes back to some of Mag’s dirtier deeds, revealing a bit more about his sunny disposition. Wood writes the Massive in a way that makes you sit back and ask yourself the big, tough moral questions, well beyond “are we human or are we dancers?” He also artfully ties it back to the root of the story – a group of people trying to survive and just how far they’ll go in order to do so with a clear conscience.
Hopefully people do not wash their hands of this title, thinking it is yet another post-apocalyptic story, as that is not the case. Honestly while reading the Massive #6, sparks of Joss Whedon’s Firefly dances in the back of your imagination. They have two very different stories and characters – so Wood is not aping Whedon at all, but there have similar themes of redemption and finding your own balance between outlaw and citizen in trying times. Brian Wood is no stranger to handling the delicate matter of aligning a character’s moral compass with extreme situations, but he takes it to a new level with the the Massive. It’s not a book about how humanity will survive at the end of the world, it’s about people deciding who they really are now that society has drastically changed.