Soul Plumber #1 review

You have to appreciate DC’s willingness to lean into the darker side of things for not only their movies, but comics as well. That enterprising attitude has brought us Soul Plumber, a horror comic with a story by Last Podcast on the Left hosts Marcus Parks, Henry Zebrowski, and Ben Kissel (written by Parks and Zebrowski) with art by John McCrea and PJ Holden.

Here’s the official synopsis:

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Edgar Wiggins, a disgraced former seminary student, is desperate to find a way to answer what he believes is his higher calling. He thinks he’s found it in a seminar hosted in a hotel conference room by the Soul Plumbers, who have a machine that could be the secret to delivering souls from Satan. Edgar’s too broke to buy in, but that’s not enough to stop this true devotee: he steals the blueprints and builds a pirated version with what components he can afford on his gas station attendant salary.  Then he goes after a demon, misses… and ends up pulling out something much worse.

DC Comics

Similar to Saint maud, a horror movie that came out this time last year, Soul Plumber is a view into religious fanaticism through the POV of a crazed protagonist. While many stories seek to skewer organized religion and cults, projects like this focus on outlier individuals who feel set apart from others. The popularity of this sub-genre (if you can even call it that) was likely exacerbated by Paul Schrader’s works like Taxi Driver—“God’s Lonely Man” stories. So in theory, who better to tackle a story like this than guys behind a horror podcast? (Admittedly, I hadn’t listened to their podcast until reading this comic, but I’ll take that as a pro since I have no bias).

Sadly, the approach to this type of story in Soul Plumber is so over the top, it detracts from thematic effectiveness. Stylistically, Plumber is decently similar to the potty-mouthed excess of Rick Remender, even down to the broad, obvious, trying-too-hard-to-be-edgy commentary. It’s hardly news that Southern Baptist Evangelicals come across as phony; and adding a giant machine out of a Kafka short doesn’t add thematic relevance or as much entertainment value as the team might expect.

Soul Plumber is overwhelmingly silly and not scary at all. Granted, horror stories don’t need jump scares or grossout gags to be effective; that’s why psychological horror is a thing. However, Soul Plumber is practically dark comedy, and it doesn’t even have a psychological, creeping effect.

DC Preview: DC Horror Presents: Soul Plumber 1
DC Comics

Perhaps the absurd premise would work better if the team was selective in their dark comedy bombast…but Soul Plumber blasts at level 11 the entire time. There’s nowhere to go, no point to escalate toward.

Beyond the tone, I have to ask: what are the stakes? We’re following a delusional guy who wants to save people in a demented way…but why should we care? What is he going to lose if he doesn’t accomplish his goals? At this juncture, we’re not given an answer and therefore it’s hard to become fully invested.

Grain of salt warning: all these criticisms could be resolved further down the line. There have been many a comic that’s started off rocky only to impress in the long run. However, first issues have the admittedly hard task of establishing the roots of a story, and if that’s not strong, it casts doubt on the whole affair.

DC Preview: DC Horror Presents: Soul Plumber 1
DC Comics

What did make this issue a breezy read was its main character, Edgar Wiggins. He’s deranged and delusional…but he’s so different from the ultra-crass and insincere people around him, we feel bad for this guy — maybe even like him. Maybe there’s a part of us all which identifies with him — we’d all like to think we’re doing better than the people around us. It’s all too easy to judge others, isn’t it? Also: props to the team for giving Edgar a slew of sleazy side characters to bounce off of and truly reveal Edgar’s character under pressures.

As for John McCrea and PJ Holden, their art fits this story well. There’s a lot of grimy, weathered texture to these images and praise must also be heaped on colorist Mike Spicer whose sickly palette seems to be based off the feeling of nausea. Soul Plumber is rank with swampy, roiling greens and sick yellows.

However, the downside of the art is its brightness, for lack of a better word. There’s a strange lack of shadows that renders these pages so bright and clear, the possibility of creepiness is sanded away. How much more effective would the soul machine and the exorcism scenes be if they were more mysterious and we readers weren’t blinded by all the brightly colored details?

One more problem: there’s a glut of panels per page. There are too many unnecessary story beats given too much space, crowding the pages and clogging up the pace. This leads to visual clutter and with only 24 or so pages of art, bigger story beats aren’t given the room they need.

Soul Plumber could very well turn out to be a satisfying, well-rounded story when collected into an arc. But that doesn’t excuse the messy storytelling and lack of immediacy this first issue is drowning in.

'Soul Plumber' #1 review

‘Soul Plumber’ #1 review

Soul Plumber #1

Soul Plumber could very well turn out to be a satisfying, well-rounded story when collected into an arc. But that doesn’t excuse the messy storytelling and lack of immediacy this first issue is drowning in.

Art has fitting gross texture and bombast

Main character is unnervingly likable

Art is crowded with too many, bright, shadowless panels

So over-the-top, it’s not scary and doesn’t have room to escalate

Commentary is silly but not entertaining

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