Written by Joe Hill
Art by Stuart Immonen and Dave Stewart
Lettering by Deron Bennett
Published by DC/Black Label
Review by Scott Cederlund
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10
When a long-lost ship called the Derleth is uncovered after a devastating tidal wave, writer Joe Hill and artist Stuart Immonen unearth more than just the missing vessel. Plunge #1 brings a corporate vice president, a marine biologist, and a trio of salvaging brothers together in the northern Pacific to get to the ship before the Russians learn about it. Joe Hill and Stuart Immonen team up in this first issue to try and shape the tone and suspense of this new series. Like the crew assembled to find the ship, Hill, Immonen, and Dave Stewart spend this issue trying to find a hook to catch the readers with. While Hill brings sometimes quirky dialogue to Immonen’s always excellent storytelling and Dave Stewart's skylit colors, the trio set a stage that looks great but never gels into anything truly horrific or captivating.
More Stuart Immonen artwork is always a good thing, especially after he stepped back from mainstream comics for a time after Amazing Spider-Man. He provides depth for this story, able to draw the Lovecraft-inspired images that the issue both opens with and ends with, while also making all of the characters (and resultant talking heads and exposition) engaging. He brings the same excitement and energy to this book featuring ordinary people as he does to mutants, superheroes, rebels, and Jedis. Without the punching and kicking of those stories, his artwork here is more grounded but it shows off Immonen's ability to tell stories through the characters and settings.
And let me tell you, he and Hill’s characters have some depth to them. David Lancome, the representative of the company that owns the missing boat, looks to be a man out of his element, smaller, more proper than the rough-and-tumble Carpenter family, who make their living on the open water. Lancome has a story to sell to the brothers as he stands up to the more rugged men, going toe-to-toe with the bear-like Captain Gage Carpenter. Immonen shows Lancome being apologetic, thoughtful and forceful as needed to convince the Carpenters to lead this exposition.
Hill’s work on the character sometimes blends seamlessly with Immonen’s, but also occasionally clashes with it. Nothing about Lancome is obvious in the storytelling. He’s a representative of a large corporation and sticks out as the one person who doesn’t fit in with this crew, but he has to be there for a purpose. He was sent for a reason, and Hill and Immonen show him standing up for himself as needed. Hill reveals Lancome’s character through what he does and says.
The opposite can be said for Gage Carpenter’s two brothers, Russell and Clark. Their role in this story is less defined as they reduce themselves and their brother to the characters from the movie Jaws. One is the seafaring captain, one is the scientist who takes things seriously but not too seriously, and the third is the practical one. But we find this out through exposition rather than any kind of action - it’s an awkward bit of dialogue that doesn’t reveal anything other than all of these characters have seen Steven Spielberg’s classic film.
As the mystery of the missing ship builds over the general exposition of this first issue, this issue works hard to establish what’s normal for these characters before throwing that all into a deeper chaos. In many ways, this opening issue feels more grounded in real life tensions than any supernatural scares or monsters - much of this chapter seems to be about avoiding the Russians rather than what they may find on the ship, creating a timetable for this story that harkens back to Cold War thrillers. Meanwhile, we also get teases of climate horror as we watch the world burn and hear more and more about changing sea levels. But even that seems to be part of the “normal” world. It’s not until the end when the salvage team finds the first evidence of the ship and her crew that the horror moves out of our world and into the classic realms of horror.
As a first issue, Plunge #1 is a solid read, but it’s also weirdly weighed down by exposition and set-up. It’s structured to get us from Point A to Point B in this issue where Point B is the cliffhanger to get us back for Point C. It’s episodic television structure that prompts you to tune in next month for the next exciting issue of this basic cable thriller, but it's more exciting because of Immonen and Stewart’s work than for Hill’s writing. As a set-up to the rest of the series, this issue establishes everything it needs to before its second issue, even if it don't necessarily create a lot of excitement for it.