In a lot of ways, Plunge represents the core of Hill House Comics. Limited miniseries offer creators a chance to tell contained stories and experiment, pushing the boundaries of what’s been done before; with a seasoned team like Stuart Immonen, Joe Hill, and colorist Dave Stewart, forging new territory isn’t surprising. At face value, Plunge #1 is an easy sell for a certain kind of reader: a deep-sea horror-mystery comic by a team as well-known and well-respected as this one.
Immonen took a hiatus from traditional comics back in May 2018; it would have to be something special to draw him back in. In the meantime, he’s been working on the excellent Grass of Parnassus on Instagram with wife and co-creator Kathryn, but it’s really great to see his work in a format that doesn’t max out at a few inches tall. Immonen has a particular strength with handsome bearded men, and Plunge is no different. Gage Carpenter is the tall, broad, gingery captain of a salvage boat that’s been commissioned by a large corporation to venture into international waters and recover one of their vessels. This is the crux of both the mystery and the horror in Plunge, as the boat disappeared almost 40 years ago and has only recently started broadcasting a distress signal. Gage isn’t sure about his new employers or the mission they’ve set for him, but he takes his two younger brothers, two marine biologists, and a representative from the company out onto what will hopefully be a short trip. Immonen’s character designs and expressions have always been a strength, and this is especially clear in a book that introduces a lot of characters in a very short amount of time.
That big cast, and the complicated story, are where Plunge struggles. The book is dialogue-heavy with a lot of exposition, which makes a certain amount of sense when readers have to be given sufficient background to jump into the middle of the plot. Because Plunge is only slated to be six issues total, front-loading a lot of the details feels normal, but it also makes some of the pages feel claustrophobic. Particularly in the middle section of the book, there’s a lot of banter, and some genuinely funny jokes; but given there are often four people on the page—and even more text to read—those jokes don’t have a lot of space to breathe. The first four pages are clearly setting something up for later issues, but they only add to the sense there’s not enough space in the issue to give readers all the info they’ll need. Letterer Deron Bennett has done a great job making sure that sometimes-cramped panels are still easy to read, and busy conversations still move organically through the panels and across pages.
Plunge is a stunning book. Immonen and Stewart have worked together to make something atmospheric and loaded with anticipation, as potent as a good horror movie score. The page turns are used to great effect, and the contrast in scale between giant squid and the cramped quarters of ships will keep readers reeling in the best way. The mystery that stands before the crew of Carpenter Wreck Removal and their guests is a fascinating tangle of corporate shenanigans, environmental catastrophe, and true supernatural horror. Hopefully the remaining five issues will benefit from all the heavy lifting this one did—and give the mystery more space to grow.