In that way, what it means to be an environmentalist doesn’t change: life has always been a struggle to survive, and for the crew of the Kapital, that struggle is no different in the wake of worldwide catastrophe than it was when they were out to “save the planet.” The only change, then, is context: the mission has gotten harder, maybe even impossibly so, as now they have to redefine what it is about themselves they are saving. As the flashbacks reveal–tinted orange by colorist Dave Stewart–some of the world’s great cities like Hong Kong are partially submerged and the world is experiencing a chain reaction of ecological disasters; Donaldson’s depiction of an underwater earthquake almost takes on the dread quality of a black hole. Naturally, war, looting, rioting, and piracy have gone on the rise as society redefines itself through blood and tears. It’s the heart of every post-apocalypse narrative, from the Fallout video games on back to Mary Shelley’s The Last Man and even the ancient religious apocalypses.
For the most part, Wood and Donaldson define their tale in these human terms: the past shows Mary and Kapital captain Israel face off against muggers and witness PLA jets shooting down a plane; the present has the crew contending with pirates in the fog shrouded seas near Kamchatka, Russia. Both focus on the exchanges between the crew–particularly Israel, Mary, and sharpshooter Mag–though every so often, Donaldson pulls back for a panel or two to show how tiny they and their ship is in comparison to the ocean they travel. Carlin also said the planet would “shake us off like fleas,” and those moments really speak to the truth of that statement.
Wood’s plotting also brushes up against the metaphysical when it comes to the titular research vessel The Massive, Kapital’s bigger sister, which has been missing for some time. Every so often, the radar of the Kapital picks up the Massive’s signal, a siren call just on the edge of detection leading them on seemingly into more barren ocean. As David Vanervliet noted when comparing this title with Wood’s Vertigo series DMZ, they are “grasping for a normal life.” What makes the post-apocalypse such an effective genre is realising exactly how much upheaval humanity can get used to: consider Fallout and how the populace, once banded together in rudimentary towns and cities, manages to treat an existence of worrying about constant radiation sickness and super-sized scorpions as par for the course. Or, to stay on subject, the Kapital at this point is so used to chasing the phantoms of their brethren (when Mary and some others get separated from them, Mag reminds Israel, “You know the drill”) that one almost has to wonder what would do with themselves if they ever find the ship? However, it’s that very adjustment, that attempt to hold onto something, that Wood had found worthwhile in the DMZ, and I suspect he finds equal praise should be given to the Kapital.
One could easily call The Massive bleak. From its darkened visuals, desolate seascapes, and the almost forlorn lost cause that can be read in “what does it mean to be an environmentalist after the world’s already ended,” it can be hard to see beyond the fog. However, the pages themselves, depicting its weary crew soldiering on in the face of dire circumstances (“If they want us, they can chase us,” Israel says of the pirates), the answer to The Massive’s question is seen on every page: what it means is to fight for your life.