Loaded with Lovecraftian homages and '80s horror flick easter eggs, Plunge marks Joe Hill's second outing for his new horror comic imprint Hill House via DC Comics. After launching the line with the creepy Basketful of Heads last year, Hill is closing out phase one with the terrifying tale of the Derleth and its cursed crew, who have been lost for 40 years.
After a tsunami washes a missing ship on a barren atoll off the coast of Russia, the salvage crew of the MacReady is dispatched to investigate. Upon arrival, Marine biologist Moriah Lamb along with the Carpenter Salvage team are stunned to find that its crew is still alive. Well, sort of. Now "gifted" with super-intellects and the seeming ability to not age, the survivors suffer from a terrible infection. But with their eyes missing, the remaining crew are still able to operate with unnerving certainty.
Inspired by filmmakers like Steven Spielberg and John Carpenter and the lore of H.P. Lovecraft, Hill told SYFY WIRE that he wanted to tap into that '80s horror feeling with an original tale of mystery and body horror. In an interview this week, Hill previewed the fifth title for his burgeoning imprint (out on February 19) and gave an inside look at creating the six-issue miniseries with artist Stuart Immonen.
Can you talk a bit about the work that inspired you, including some of the horror films of the '80s you reference?
If you talk to all of the special effects guys from any set, and you ask them what the high-water mark was for 1980s horror, everyone agrees. It's John Carpenter's The Thing [whose effects were created by Rob Bottin], you know. It was the decapitated head growing spider legs, the body splitting open and become a giant monster, the dog foaming and the legs splitting out of his side. All of that stuff was so visceral and intense. That particular film is one of the few remarkable landmarks from the era.
There's that and a few other guiding stars I thought a lot while I was working on Plunge. There's James Cameron's Aliens. Of course, I think about that every day. I thought a little bit about Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Hopefully, it combines a few elements from each of those while feeling fresh and new. You've got some characters we can love in a situation that has some echoes, but nevertheless is exciting and innovative on its own. I'm not interested in doing just a pastiche. That doesn't appeal to me.
Can you tell us how Stuart Immonen got involved?
I remember talking to Mark Doyle, who was the lead editor on this and my first lieutenant on all of the Hill House titles. We were talking about Plunge, and he asked what I wanted to do with the art. I said I was really thinking someone like Stuart Immonen and it would be great if we could get someone who draws like Stuart. Then he said, I think I know someone. Four days later, we were talking to Stuart. So I was beyond what I had expected, and I'm so excited to have him on this book.
I had been a longtime fan of his work. He draws incredibly vivid, specific, sometimes really photorealistic characters. They're so well characterized in detail, from their facial expressions, their body language, to the way they stand in relationship to each other.
I'm the guy who believes good horror always works when you can anchor it in characters you can fall in love with and believe in. If you don't love the lead characters then the horror will never work, because when those characters are threatened you have to be invested. I felt Stuart could bridge the gap and make readers care about these people. The other thing is, his visual style is so detailed, accurate and naturalistic, I figured when he brought on the monsters, brought on the horror, it would be a real slap in the face, a real shocker. Everything else is so authentic and so natural that we have to accept this as well. I think that's been true.
The work that he's turned in — the bloodier and more grotesque it gets, the more shocking it is, the more I'm impressed I am. I love it.
Let's talk about the story behind Plunge and where it starts.
You have the salvage crew that heads into Russian federation waters to reclaim a vessel, the Derleth, that's been missing for 40 years. Of course, they assume all hands have been lost, but when they get to the rediscovered ship on the shores of an icy barren atoll, they discover the whole crew is still alive, and mysteriously none of them have aged a single day. They've all been infected with some native worm on the island, and none of them can see either. Because they don't have eyes. Just empty gaping eye sockets.
They've compensated with the loss of their sight with a fascinating set of new abilities. And pretty soon, the team aboard the salvage ship McCready find themselves locked in a desperate struggle with a group of people who are no longer men anymore — who have an insidious agenda of their own.
Since this is the last book of the Hill House launch, how do you think it went?
The Hill House stable has been such a blast for me. I got in with good collaborators, and it really felt like we were making comic in the vein of vintage Vertigo, the kind of stuff I fell in love with in the 1990s. Things were a bit silly, really smart and really scary. From Daphne Byrne — which I pitch as a feminist retake on The Omen in the gaslight-and-coattails era — to In the Low, Low Woods and the Dollhouse Family, I was lucky to get in with good collaborators like Mike Carey, Peter Gross, Dani, Carman Maria Machado, Kelly Jones, and Laura Marks.
Anything else to add?
Well, I certainly hope people will go out and give it a shot. My feeling is "Just give us five pages." After that, it's on us to keep you entertained and provide reasons for you to keep going. My hope is that people will care about these characters and they'll want to stick around to see how it turns out for them.
Just like Basketful of Heads, I've had a great time with this one, and it's been very fun to write, in that things go wrong and quickly get worse and worse.