Review: Dial H #1 by China Mieville & Mateus Santolouco

Dial H #1
What’s the 411?

Written by: China Mieville
Art by: Mateus Santolouco
Coloring by: Tanya & Richard Horie
Lettering by: Steve Wands

Published by: DC
Cover Price: $2.99

Note: This review is for the digital version of the comic available from DC Comics on Comixology

Warning! This review contains quite a few spoilers!

There are some comic concepts that always seem to be around, even if they just can’t ever quite build up a huge following. Dial H for Hero started back in 1966, and was about a character who could use an alien dial to turn himself into a wide random array of superheroes. There have been a few attempts to bring this back over the years, most notable in the excellent H.E.R.O. series which ran about ten years ago.

The idea of an ordinary person who can can random superpowers seems to have a great deal of appeal to it on the surface, but it just doesn’t seem to have a lot of legs for some reason. The only time I have really seen this concept do well was in the cartoon Ben 10.

When it was announced that author China Mieville would be bringing Dial H back as part of the second wave of DC Relaunch, I was definitely curious. I haven’t read anything by Mieville, but I’ve heard a lot of good things. Kraken has been on my “to read” list on Kindle for a while now. Honestly, I am not always certain about bringing in authors or TV/film makers in to write comics. It just always seems strange to me, even though I have loved a lot of comics by guys like Kevin Smith and Brad Meltzer.

So, all that considered, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Dial H. Actually, after reading the first issue, I’m still not quite sure what to expect from Dial H…

Summary (contains spoilers): Dial H starts a guy named Darren is trying to force his overweight, chain smoking friend Nelson to get back into shape. Nelson was an athlete at one time, but he’s let himself go and recently had some kind of “non heart attack cardiac incident.” Nelson has allowed his life to fall completely apart after losing his job and then his girlfriend. Nelson gets pissed at Darren for trying to help him, and sends him on his way.

After Darren leaves, we find out that Darren is a low level flunkie for some criminal named X.N. Darren’s “intervention” tonight with Nelson resulted in him failing to do a job for his boss, who has sent some goons to beat a reminder into Darren to never do that again.

Nelson comes following Darren to apologize and sees him getting beat up by X.N.’s goons. Nelson dives in a nearby phone booth to try and call for help, when he touches the dial, he is turned into a super powered being called Boy Chimney. He’s able to use Boy Chimney’s smoke powers to defeat the thugs and get Nelson to the hospital. A few minutes later, the powers vanish, leaving Nelson on a rooftop confused by what happened.

Nelson goes to visit Darren in the hospital and finds out that the goons were sent by Darren’s “handle,” a man named Vernon Boyne. Nelson returns to the phone booth to try and figure out what happened, so he can go after Boyne for some revenge. He tries dialing random digits on the phone to repeat the effect, and stumbles upon the numbers “4376” which turn him into another hero, Captain Lachrymose:

Captain Lachrymose tracks down Boyne, using his “depression powers” to weaken Boyne. Boyne is protected by a strange old woman who seems to be spewing some kind of shadow energy. He wants Boyne to leave Darren alone, and escapes. Boyne calls his boss (presumingly X.N.) to tell him what happened, and X.N. promises that they are going to kill Darren.

Nelson returns to the phone booth, and realizes that the numbers 4376 spell out “hero.”

Review: I try not to let plot contrivances bug me too much, but there were two in this issue that just seemed to be too much for me. The first was that when Nelson stumbled into the Dial H booth the first time, he must have randomly punched in “H-E-R-O” instead of 9-1-1, which doesn’t make a lot of sense. And later on, when Nelson returns to the booth, and is trying to figure out what he dialed, he tries a lot of random words before stumbling on “IF SO” which happens to be on the same digits as H-E-R-O.

I did like that the Dial H device in this continuity was an old style phone booth. Not sure why, but that really appealed to me.

I thought that the two heroes that Nelson turned into were really clever. I especially loved how Mateus Santolouco made them both look unique, and this was further expanded on by the unique color palettes and lettering styles used to really bring these characters to life. A lot of times when I have seen Dial H in the past, the heroes felt very generic, and Mieville and Santolouco seemed to have avoided that pitfall perfectly:

There was a lot of weirdness in this comic, including the strange shadowy woman in Vernon Boyle’s apartment who started spewing shadows at “Captain Lachrymose.”

But the weirdness was balanced out really well by the simple story of a man trying to save his friend from his own bad lifestyle choices, even at the cost of his own safety. Hmmm…when I typed that sentence, I just realized that can be said of both Darren pissing off his bosses while trying to help Nelson get out of his cigarette and junk food induced funk or Nelson becoming a superhero to try to save Darren from his criminal connections. Really nice parallels there.

Even after reading this comic two more times to try and prepare for this review, I’m still not all that certain how I feel about it. There were great moments of characterization, the art looked great, and there was a perfect balance between weird and clever. But at the same time, I didn’t quite feel a strong connection with the book. In H.E.R.O., I immediately felt a hook to the charactesr. Here, I couldn’t even remember Nelson’s name after reading the book twice. And as I mentioned above, I did think some of the plot contrivances were heavy handed.

Dial H is a comic I enjoyed, but it is not something I am going to rush to read when it comes out. It definitely is on my “wait a month, save a buck” list. To be fair, I felt the same way about Swamp Thing and Catwoman after their first issues, and they are now two of my favorite series. So, maybe after a few issues I feel feel differently, but right now I rate it as slightly above average, but there are a lot better comics out there to get your “weird” fix on.

Final Score: 7.5 – I thought there was some clever story telling here, though some major plot contrivances kind of turned me off. I will definitely pick up a few more issues to decide if I like this comic or not, right now, I am not quite sure.

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