Review: Plunge hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

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And so we reach the end of the first wave of Hill House Comics. Joe Hill’s Plunge is the most intentionally referential (among plenty of references) of the Hill House books, given its frigid location and aliens diving down a person’s throat. At the same time, despite a familiarity that works against it, Plunge might be the most gory of the Hill House books (thanks to artist Stuart Immonen), if not also the most disturbing. Certain of Hill House’s books have toyed with this before — the horror of being out of control of your own body, the horror of the knowledge of the horror that could happen to you — but none in quite so many terrifying forms as Plunge does.

[Review contains spoilers]

What stands out most at the beginning of Plunge is just how much talking there is. I’m not one who minds my comics loquacious, especially when favoring dialogue over superhero fights, but there’s about nine pages in the first issue that are about as word-balloon heavy as I’ve ever seen (and may letterer Deron Bennett get a break after that). Surely all of this contributes such to make one particular death close to the end especially wrenching for the audience — to build in us the emotion that I’d otherwise imagine would be a challenge with only six issues — but no doubt Hill takes a risk here asking for that much audience attention before the worm-filled zombies arrive. (Not to mention how little of the intricate detail of who owns what in international waters is really all that necessary in the end.)

In a break from the Hill House series that have come before, while Plunge does have a strong female protagonist in biologist Moriah Lamb, this is far more of an ensemble drama than any of the previous. But in its ensemble is where Plunge perhaps bucks horror traditions. There is no romance in Plunge per se, or if there is a romance between Moriah and co-worker Bill, it is so subtle and restrained as to be nearly unnoticeable until toward the very end of the book. Or, looked at other ways, the love that drives the story is love between the three adult Carpenter brothers, not romance. And Moriah flirts with all three brothers, exhibiting a kind of platonic ideal that again I think is not always endemic to the genre.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

Hill cites John Carpenter’s The Thing as inspiration for Plunge (if not also Lovecraft), and of course it’s hard to do anything with body-possessing aliens without a nod to Ridley Scott. But in two of the main sources of horror in the book, the mind-reading headphones and the enchanting ingot, I was put in mind of Blair Witch Project and the person made to stand in the corner against their will. There is something assuredly frightening about the idea of knowing bodily harm is being done to you and being unable to stop it, especially with a faux calm blanketed over the proceedings; Russell Carpenter’s “please help me make it stop … i can feel my brain bleeding” (etched in lowercase by Bennett) is particularly terrifying.

But there’s also a bit of Jurassic Park in this team of scientists and deep sea professionals battling monsters (even the corrupt businessman who meets his bad end). What horror there is not — and here even differing from Jurassic Park — is the horror of fear of death. Even in the face of having alien worms invade their bodies, even when Bill has one eye ripped out and then later another and his hand severed, even when the cast is tied up to drown, there is at most indignation, never terror. That’s an interesting choice on Hill’s part, a place he could have gone for scary but instead turned against the norm.

I might be mistaken, but I’m fairly sure this is Immonen’s first horror work of this type. I am pleased to see his art looks as good, better even, than when I enjoyed it on Adventures of Superman (Immonen having the dubious distinction of being among the artists to best render the mullet-haired Superman). No small amount of what makes Plunge’s stomach-churning bits really stomach-churning is the realism to Immonen’s figures and facial expressions, more so than the absurdist decapitations by Leomacs in Hill’s Basketful of Heads. Bill’s face and the blood spatter when the alien-zombies take a hammer to his hand is one such terribly well done; Hill and Immonen get the silent panels where Gage Carpenter recognizes the death of his brother Clark just right, too.

Much like Basketful, Hill constructs something of a puzzle in Plunge, a story that seems to unfold straightforwardly but where the elements add up to something else in the end. The concepts are in their own way fascinating and also befuddling, a metaphor for the whole. The aliens have a bevy of gifts to offer whomever helps them with their underwater quest, though they (and the plot) forego these rather quickly in favor of threat of death, not to mention it’s all a ruse since they plan on humanity’s destruction anyway.

The items — the headphones, the ingot — factor into the heroes' victory in the end, and that the parasites create the implements of their own destruction is explained away by the influence of the parasites' human hosts on them. But it’s still strange that the aliens have a mind-reading Walkman that they themselves don’t use or an ingot they themselves can fall victim to, or that their grand plan includes offering up a Walkman that melts people’s brains or an ingot that causes riots. Indeed these are aliens, indeed they may not be fluent in the nuances of humanity, but that their offerings interest one person and repel more than a dozen seems a poorly constructed plan (or plot). There’s continuous math imagery in the book, but the aliens' mathematical prowess is all but incidental.



I have essentially binged now all five Hill House Comics series. It was interesting to see all the forms in which horror took here, aliens more often than demons, and even more often stories where the supernatural was the good guys and the evil was the evil of humanity (and there, very often, men). Plunge is more the former than the latter, though we can’t overlook in the end that the villains turn out to be sentient sperm. The Hill House books never gave me the heebie-jeebies reading in a dark room, though if another were available right now (aside from Sea Dogs), I might be inclined to take a break. I felt Plunge viscerally a couple of times, if not on its own than with the cumulative effect, so good on you Hill House. As the zombified Joe Hill says at the end of this book, “Be … seeing you.”

[Includes original and variant covers, author and artist interviews, sketches]

Comments ( 1 )

  1. Great to read your thoughts on this one! To be honest, I really enjoyed something quite different than the other Hill House books. The story borrows heavily from classic sci fi horror tropes....but for me Stuart Immonen's artwork really lifts the story to another level. I've always really liked his work, and his artwork really captures the creepiness and insanity of the story. This was one of the Hill House books that I read a couple of times...and enjoyed each time I caught more details in the artwork.

    All in all, I think the Hill House line of books was successful in filling a niche that DC all but abandoned when they closed up shop on Vertigo.....

    If you liked these books, then I would recommend Happy Hour by Peter Milligan and some amazing artwork by Michael Montenat.....from Ahoy Comics that has a near future storyline wherein everyone is basically forced to be happy all the time....and how two strangers join forces to preserve their unhappiness with the world. Solid storytelling by Peter Milligan, and really makes you think.


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