THIS WEEK: The Plunge #1 marks the start of the final book from DC’s so-far excellent Hill House imprint, while Superman Smashes the Klan #3 marks the end of one of the publisher’s best recent projects.
Note: the reviews below contain spoilers. If you want a quick, spoiler-free buy/pass recommendation on the comics in question, check out the bottom of the article for our final verdict.
Writer: Joe Hill
Artist: Stuart Immonen
Colorist: Dave Stewart
Letterer: Deron Bennett
The Plunge #1 has arrived, marking the fifth and final (for now) series to launch under the DC Comics – Black Label – Hill House imprint banner. Marking the return of artist Stuart Immonen to comics after he kind of (but not really?) retired of late, this book has received as much buzz as any within this line. My expectations for it were also perhaps a bit heightened by how strong the rest of these Hill House comics have been to date. With the exception of Daphne Byrne, all of these books are close to the top of my stack on their weeks of release. In fact, this week alone I could have just as easily written about how much I loved Low, Low Woods #3 (my favorite of the Hill House bunch), but The Plunge #1 won out on account of the newness.
So, how was this much-anticipated comic? I found it engaging right from the start, with Immonen’s artwork deserving the lion’s share of the credit for that, although the script does give him (and best-in-the-business colorist Dave Stewart) a chance to shine early with a grandiose visual that also speaks to the thematic subject matter that is to come in the book (see the art below). From there, the middle portion of the book slows down a bit to introduce us to our cast of characters and set up the plot, which involves a sea voyage to a ship that was long ago written-off lost but has as of late been discovered to be caught on a coral reef, with a turn into the sun that activated previously-obscured solar panels being credited for the ship just-now sending out a distress signal.
That’s all straight-forward enough, and the talky, orienting introductions to cast and conflict are necessary business. I’ve certainly seen debut issues handle them better than this one, but I’ve also seen many many more debut issues forego the character development, complex ideas and general immersiveness that this book fosters. Really, the text-heavy dense sag in the middle is no big deal once we get past it. I was certainly motivated to power through, and I was richly rewarded, finding that every bit of information counts, either toward informing me as a reader or toward lending The Plunge #1 a foreboding tone. By the time I reached the last page of this comic, I was thoroughly engrossed — primed for what turned out to be simultaneously the most gruesome and most intriguing cliffhanger in a new comic I’ve read all year.
Overall, The Plunge brings yet another diverse comic to the already-stellar Hill House imprint. There’s a beautiful tonal contrast between this and the other Joe Hill-penned book in the line, Basketful of Heads. As that one’s name implies, it’s a bit more over-the-top and a bit lighter, despite the presence of multiple severed heads that are carried around in — you guessed it — a basket. The Plunge has more serious ambitions than all that, working to unsettle readers right from the start with its aesthetic and mystery. Even in this first issue, this series hints at questions about Big Oil, the value of discovery, and business’ tense relationship with the environment…all of which are prime ground for horror stories given the climate of the day.
In the end, I enthusiastically endorse this comic along with the rest of the Hill House line. I’ve written this before, but if you’re sad DC shuttered Vertigo Comics, these books continue to be a great way to soothe that sorrow.
Writer: Gene Luen Yang
Letterer: Janice Chang
I wrote last year that Superman Smashes the Klan might be DC’s best comic, and, obviously, I meant that. Everything I write on this site is august and serious. Anyway, I’m happy to report that this already-excellent book really stuck the landing this week with its finale, and while I enjoyed reading it in periodical format, I fully expect it to be an even bigger deal once it gets to collected trade. The reason being is that this book just does such a great job in using the episodic format to holistically create a really strong inverted structure to its story, one wherein the titular and best known character — Superman — is explored most thoroughly in the third act, while the children who’s immigration situation his own parallels get to shine in the earlier sections.
What this does is create a really subtle build to the exploration of Superman’s own immigrant experience, leading us gently to earned questions about the role of the immigrant in America, the responsibility of assimilated Americans to embrace and support newcomers (played out excellently through the characters of Perry White, Jimmy Olsen, and Lois Lane), and the journey immigrants go through with their own identities, essentially being of two places the same way that Superman is.
The other major accomplishment in this third and final act is a thorough exploration of several types of racism, from simple and insidious hate of the other to the financial gain that stoking that hate and pandering to bigots can bring and has brought to more dastardly forces in America life. There’s a lot of inherent power in all of this, but writer Gene Luen Yang does an even better job teasing it out by steeping the entire thing in history from the start. It can feel like the conflicts in modern America are new and unique, are very much of this time, but by so heavily referencing a bygone Superman radio serial, this book gets across the point that this has been a recurring problem as well as a long journey toward fixing it. There’s a lot of power in that, especially when its held up against the idea of Superman and his many heroic acts.
In closing, I’ll just go ahead and quote something Yang wrote in the backmatter of this issue, because it doesn’t get more poignant than that: “Even today, the immigrant from Krypton challenges us to follow his example more fully and more perfectly. We have to meet his challenge. After all, though our yesterdays may be different, we all share the same tomorrow.”
- I didn’t realize I’d missed the world of DCeased, but with DCeased Unkillables #1 this week, I was glad it was back. The art here from Karl Mostert (inked by Trevor Scott, Neal Edwards, and John Livesay) is just tremendous, and writer Tom Taylor picks a great mix of villains, one that makes this first issue of this side comic just as (if not more) interesting than the main book about the heroes.
- There was real competition between Superman Smashes the Klan #3 and Joker: Killer Smile #3 to be the finale I wrote in-depth about. The former won out (obviously), but I really liked the latter as well. The team of writer Jeff Lemire and artist Andrea Sorrentino are just so good together, and they really create an enjoyable single issue reading experience here, complete with tense pacing, Sorrentino’s usual fearless experimenting with form, and an expanded set of stakes that really bring the rest of the story into focus.
- Also this week, Wonder Twins #12 is a nice ending for that maxi-series. It also had a great joke I laughed out loud at, even though it was as dad joke-y as it gets, with this…”Cynicism Club meets today at lunch. There may be snacks, but probably not.” Har!
- I’m far less embarrassed about how funny I thought Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #9 was, which felt like one of the strongest issues of that series yet, with a very high batting average for its jokes as well as an especially dense rate of jokes per page. Here’s hoping writer Matt Fraction and artist Steve Lieber continue working together on other projects once this wraps up. Great synergy.
- Confession time. I haven’t totally hated the Ric Grayson stuff in Nightwing (I know! resigning my DC fandom now…but I love soap opera-y tropes like amnesia being used absurdly in superhero comics, sorry), but I’m very much ready for it to wrap up. We’ve had the Court of Owls and now we’re getting The Joker going up against Dick Grayson, who doesn’t even care because he doesn’t know who they are. Strikes me as missed narrative chances.
- With Teen Titans #39, regular series artist Bernard Chang has now departed, heading off to X-Men land at Marvel. He is missed. Chang and writer Adam Glass had a good thing going here, even if it felt a little too different from the rest of the franchise to be called Titans.
- Finally, Aquaman #57 is another strong issue within the Kelly Sue DeConnick and Robson Rocha run, which has perhaps been flying (or swimming? Har!), a bit under the radar.
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