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Dave Stewart

Plunge

Joe Hill saved the best for last in his five-volume Hill House Comics label!

The story takes inspiration from The Thing and Alien movies, and also a touch of the spiral-obsessed Uzumaki manga series. Set in modern-day, a distress signal from a drilling ship lost 40 years ago in the Arctic Circle is heard, so a salvage ship hired by an oil corporation heads out to find it. Onboard are Captain Carpenter, two of his brothers, a marine biologist couple, various crew members and a representative from Rococo International. They are quickly in over their heads when they stopover at an Aleutian Island near the Russian border, and discover the crew members from the Derleth (this is an Easter Egg reference, look up who August Derleth is), who are gaunt and eyeless but haven’t aged. 

In a somewhat convoluted storyline, the crew finds out that extraterrestrial worms have taken over the old crew, and they are purely vessels for the alien creatures. The greedy Rococo rep has had a secret agenda (of course) and wants to profit from the aliens with their math knowledge and an other-worldly component that could give them unlimited nuclear power. There are betrayals, deaths and action-packed scenes that will keep readers riveted. I also appreciated the poignancy of the brotherly love the Carpenter men showed one another.  

The art by Stuart Immonen was excellent, and his work elevated the story, so I am glad Hill convinced him to come out of retirement for this graphic novel. Often art in horror-themed graphic novels tends towards the sketchy and the dark, but Immonen’s work is precise and detailed, which brings the terror to the forefront more effectively. He really captured the personalities of different characters and made my heart go pitter-patter for the bearded captain, and that the alien creatures are Lovecraftian is an added bonus. The color palette by Dave Stewart was appropriately ocean-inspired with grey, blue and dull greens and the letterer Deron Bennett had fun with the opening chapter pages as he converted words into a new mathematical language. 

This new Hill House label has been uneven, yet very promising. The two titles penned by Hill, including Basketful of Heads were the best of the bunch, yet I appreciated that the horror-inspired graphic novels included a variety of authors to reach different audiences. Here’s to hoping there will be future Hill House stories!

-Nancy

Basketful of Heads

Joe Hill is having a moment. With his Locke & Key series now on Netflix, and his novels and short-story collections in high demand, DC has given him a prestige project, his own label- Hill House Comics. While not all of the graphic novels under this label will be penned by him, this first story is.

Set in September 1983, on Brody Island in Maine, the story establishes an 80s horror flick vibe. June is visiting her boyfriend Liam who is wrapping up his summer job as a deputy before going back to college in the fall. But a prison break (with a homage to Hill’s father Stephen King) puts their reunion in jeopardy. The two head to the police chief’s palatial estate during a growing storm and are amazed by the chief’s Viking artifacts collection. A battle-ax comes in very handy when the convicts land on their doorstep…

There are some twists and turns as to who the convicts are and who they are connected to on the island. As June fights for her life, grabbing the first weapon in sight, the ax’s power manifests in that the decapitated head is still alive and can continue talking. But heads begin to roll (!!) as June tries to find Liam and has to fight off several more criminals. Many secrets of corruption on the island are revealed by these talking heads. A final show-down discloses some heartbreaking truths and June obtains justice for a young woman who had been used and abused that summer.

Artists Leomacs and Riccardo La Bella really captured the era and northeast region well. There were crude jokes with some characters getting an almost Mad magazine type of caricature treatment, especially three times when a character is drawn with two heads as they are reacting to news. I loved the chapter breaks, as June’s basket fills and how the chapter numbers are symbolized. These sight gags, plus others, matched the tone of the narrative and made me laugh.

I enjoyed the dark humor as the horror-aspect of it all was played fast and loose. Thanks to NetGalley for this advance copy, for with this graphic novel as the first in the collection, I am looking forward to the others coming out in the months ahead. Joe Hill, both in graphic novels and books, is now definitely a favored author of mine.

-Nancy

The Massive: Black Pacific

Earth has suffered several catastrophic environmental disasters in the space of a year, resulting in mass deaths and a new political order. Two marine conservation boats, part of the group Ninth Wave, survive the chaos but become separated from one another.

Text in yellow boxes detail the many ruinous events that led to environmental and societal collapse. In fact some events truly changed the landscape with coastlines and islands being especially hard hit. In the face of this, Captain Callum Israel of the trawler Kapital searches for sister ship The Massive.  Along with Israel there is mercenary Mag, mysterious Mary and other idealistic but weary crew members. This small crew of hardy environmentalists question if they can keep to their no-violence pledge in the midst of attacks from pirates, assassins and the dangers of changed ecosystems.

To be honest, not a lot happened in this first volume. Author Brian Wood, whom I’ve been reading a lot of, is busy world building so the Kapital just seems to aimlessly travel around the world looking for any clues of The Massive’s location. Just when they seem to have found a signal from the ship, nope, they’re wrong. The repetitiveness got old and I’m questioning Mary’s origins. She seems too good to be true, and her background knowledge and ability to survive catastrophes seems suspicious.

The artwork has an extremely muted color palette, symbolizing the postapocalyptic new world, and has certain color schemes that represent the time shifts in the narrative.  The stylized ways the characters were drawn took some getting used to, but I soon came to appreciate the design format and wondered why I found it problematic at first. There was welcome diversity in the crew and in the ports they visited, with a hipster vibe throughout.

While not bad, this story was underwhelming. Although I liked how Wood made this world seem plausible (except for Mary) and presented real ethical dilemmas, it didn’t grab my attention like much of his other work has. I don’t believe I will continue with this series.

-Nancy

Image result for the massive brian wood black pacific
Wood, Brian, Kristian Donaldson, Garry Brown & Dave Stewert. The Massive. 2013.

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