Dial H
China Miéville and Mateus Santolouco
DC Comics
April 23, 2013

Any schmuck can be a superhero? That sounds nice and all but does anyone really believe it? Heck no. There’s no way that my fat ass is going to be running around saving the world from super villains. If I could I totally would. But unless we’re talking Butterball from the Avengers Academy most of us average everyday bums aren’t going to have the opportunity to do much about the world around us.

That’s the same sort of mindset that the hero of Dial H had.

Rather, it’s the mindset he probably would have had if he had much of a mindset at all. When we meet Nelson Jent he’s in a rough patch in his life. He’s lost his job, his girlfriend, and just gotten out of the hospital with a heart attack – and he’s not even thirty! Overweight and self-loathing, he’s not the kind of guy everyone would have pegged for the hero type. But after in inadvertently dialing ‘H-E-R-O’ on the outdated rotary dial of a nearby phonebooth while trying to call for help as his friend is beaten to near death by a bunch of thugs all that seems to change.

The phonebooth turns Nelson into a superhero – Boy Chimney – and he’s able to defeat the thugs and get his friend Darren to the hospital. Nelson has no idea how or why any of this is happening and he’s also pretty sure that no one uses a.) payphones or b.) rotary phones any more. But over the next few weeks he uses the phonebooth repeatedly to turn into any number of outrageous superheroes with altering powers, personalities, and usefulness. (Seriously, though, Iron Snail? C’mon.)

Nelson finds himself wrapped up in a battler larger than himself in the underworld of Littleville. There are those who are after the phonebooth’s dial and the powers it wields with the hope of harnessing them for evil.  But maybe with the help of Manteau – a shadowy figure with her own dial – he can begin to understand that power. Because he’s not the only person whose ever used this dial. He’s not the only one to use it’s powers. And if he doesn’t keep in mind who he is he could get lost inside the tattered memories of other users or the personas of the heroes he turns into. Meanwhile he also has to evade and strike back at the criminal underworld that’s after him and figure out what the hell is going on.

Basically, he’s living every lazy, fanboy schmuck’s dream. I know it would be mine. Running around turning into various superheroes? I think Nelson would probably enjoy it a lot more, though, if it hadn’t all cost him his best friend, his home, and all that. But hey. Nothing is entirely perfect.

Dial H is a witty, modern revamp of an older DC classic Dial H for Hero. It was launched last year as part of the New 52 and is penned by English writer China Miéville. Who, if you’re not familiar with, you totally should be. He’s awesome. KapowComicBookShow best summed him up as sort of “steampunk, noir by way of H.P. Lovecraft.” Seriously, check out some of his books. Anyway. Mateus Santolouco’s artwork looks great. I’m not usually the biggest fan of the art style used in this comic (I’m a Marvel fangirl – I like rounder curves and bright, flashy colors!) but it works for me in Dial H. It fits the book; it’s meant to be a darker, grungier story. Coming from Miéville’s warped imagination of course it is. And Santolouco does a fantastic job of bringing Miéville’s weird, outlandish stories and heroes to life. Honestly, some of this stuff is pretty freakin’ weird and Santolouco just nails it.

The only thing to really note is that the book splits between Nelson’s POV and the main villain’s POV. And, I’ll be honest, I didn’t find that second part of the story nearly as compelling as reading through what was happening with Nelson. It’s important and it adds a lot to the story but I relate to Nelson. I like Nelson. If I had gone through everything knowing only what he knew I probably would have been okay. Maybe a little confused but if Nelson was equally confused I could have rolled with it. (Actually, to be perfectly honest, there were times I had no idea who was who or what was going on because I did kind of skim through those parts.)

Honesty, I haven’t kept up much with DC comics since the New 52 launched. No real reason behind it except laziness and a lack of funds. Dial H might have been a title I would have chosen to skip over in favor of the other more well established brands. Trust me, though. That would be a total mistake. Dial H really surprised me. Maybe it’s because I really relate to Nelson or I just find the concept to be a lot of fun. China Miéville makes it fun. There is a lot of dry humor intermixed with the seriousness of other parts of the story.

I really enjoyed it and if you’re looking for a superhero experience that’s not as mainstream as some of DC’s other titles – Batman, Superman, Teen Titans, etc. – then maybe give it a look. Just don’t be expecting much of a traditional superhero story. This one is probably more for fans of series like Hellblazer, Hellboy, Watchmen, and I guess maybe the darker Batman stories but yeah. Titles like those.

Basically, don’t expect to see Nelson turning into someone like Superman super straightforward morals or Captain Fluffy Puppy and you’ll be good.

The Dial H: Into You Vol. 1 tradepaper back comes up next month on April 23rd.

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