Joe Hill, writer; Stuart Immonen, artist; Dave Stewart, colorist
DC Black Label, 2020
Hill returns to the writer’s chair for this Hill House miniseries, which he describes as “the last of the first wave Hill House books.” The all-star art team includes veterans Stuart Immonen and Dave Stewart, so at the very least a good-looking comic is guaranteed. After a massive tsunami, a ghost ship begins broadcasting a distress signal from an atoll in the Bering Strait–after being lost for forty years. A salvage team headed up by the Carpenter Brothers (accompanied by a scientist and an officer of the corporation which owned the vessel), cross into Russian waters to recover the ship and the ship’s dead.
When they arrive they discover that the ship’s crew is not exactly dead…but saying more than that would quickly go into spoiler territory. Hill says he meant to evoke ’80s horror films like John Carpenter’s The Thing (signaled by the subtle naming of the salvage crew), and the finale delves into Lovecraft territory as well. So let’s just say that it is full of surprise shocks, with stakes far larger than the salvage crew’s survival. It makes for an exciting read–with story and art just as good as the creators’ reputations–and is arguably the best of the Hill House comics so far.
Sex Criminals Vol. 6: Six Criminals
Matt Fraction, writer; Chip Zdarsky, artist
Image Comics, 2020
The final volume opens with the gang (which now includes the Sex Police) trying to figure out what to do about their mutual enemy Badal, and the huge BankCorp he leads. At the same time, Suze has been having disturbing visions which seem to be coming from the future. Or maybe from the past: she also has disturbing memories, and wonders if she has not been a trauma victim without realizing it.
Two interesting facts about Badal: he gets off on causing pain to others (that’s how he enters the Quiet); and he has invented a technology to store the energy created when others enter the Quiet. Oh, and the first time he transcended via cruelty he had a vision of Suze. So she became a god-like figure to him, and he spent his entire career waiting to reunite with her. But in the meantime, his orgasms took him into the future, where he saw the opportunities that would make him rich. Their final meeting ends with a huge explosion that nearly destroys the BankCorp tower, and both of them go missing.
Suze’s friends look for her without success. And gradually they all come to realize that the Quiet was gone: for everyone. Suze travels through her own history, finally winding up where she left: three months and six days later. After Jon gets out of prison (due to taking revenge on Badal’s mansion) they reunite, and things look like they are back to normal. Cut to Issue #69, in which everyone travels to a private resort island for Dewey and Bud’s Destination Wedding. SPOILER: Jon and Suze are not together, but they’re OK. The series ends with them watching the sunrise together in a tropical paradise. If that’s not a happy ending, I don’t know what is.
Dying is Easy
Joe Hill, writer; Martin Simmonds, artist
IDW Publishing, 2020
A crime thriller starring an ex-homicide cop turned standup comic. The title (from the show business adage “Dying is easy, comedy is hard”) has multiple meanings. As the story opens we see Syd Holmes dying on stage at a comedy club–then enduring taunts by the up and coming comic Carl Dixon. He and the other comics joke about having Dixon killed. Turns out he’s sleeping his way to a spot on Jay Leno’s TV show. Worse than that, he is the most hated criminal that standup comedy knows: a joke thief.
Holmes confronts him about it back behind the club (just after using a pay phone, another period device so ubiquitous in classic noir), punches him out, and leaves him on the ground (also leaving his coat behind, because Dixon puked on it). Next thing he knows it’s morning, and he is being awoken by a phone call informing him he’s wanted for murdering Dixon. The rest of the story is a classic breathless chase: Holmes desperately trying to stay one step ahead of the cops while also trying to solve the murder. With all the enemies he left behind, he has no faith in the cops. They would be only too happy to pin it on him.
There turns out to be several players involved, and since this is a fair-play mystery the reader gets all of the clues when Syd does, giving us all a shot at solving the murder. He leaves a pawn shop in pursuit of a pair of heavies he saw at the club–wearing roller skates. This makes for a marvelous visual sequence, but it’s not the last, as there is also a motorcycle chase. In the end it is the unexpected plot twists that steal the show. Syd was surprised by most of them, and so was I. Simmonds’ hallucinogenic art keeps things interesting, along with creative panel layouts that recall the legendary Bill Sienkiewicz. Hill is best known for horror, but he clearly demonstrates range here.
While I loved Plunge by Hill (and most of his other work), Dying Is Easy was a rare miss for me from him.
It is very different. I noticed your review of the Noir crime comics collection was pretty mixed. Is crime noir just not your thing, or was it Hill’s handling of it?