DC's new "Dial H" series is an oddity worth checking out
- by Señor Editor, 20 July 2012
The new series is written by China Miéville, with art by Mateus Santoluoco. Earlier this year, when 6 of the original New 52 titles were cancelled, "Dial H" was one of the comicbooks to replace them. This time around we don't get Robby Reed (from the '60s) or Chris King and Vicki Grant (from the '80s) as the protagonists. We get a 20-something overweight chain smoking ex-boxer, who just suffered a heart attack, his girlfriend left him, he lost his job and he's just downright miserable.
The man's name is Nelson Jent. When we meet him he's given a serious talking to from his best friend, Darren, who's concerned about Nelse's health and the way he's going about his life. Darren leaves after the chat turns into an argument, and when Nelson follows him to apologize, he witnesses his friend getting a beatdown from some thugs. Desperate to get some help, Nelse runs to a nearby phone booth and accidentally dials the "H-E-R-O" on the old timey phone. And then, in a sudden burst of light, he magically changes into... Boy Chimney!
Yeah... I think now is the right time to say something about how the dial works and about the weird aspects that were always a part of the "Dial H" franchise. In the OG "Dial H for Hero" series, Robby Reed did change into a different hero each time, but none of them were exactly Superman or Batman. They were all bizzarre characters with weird powers and strange (often awful) looks. If you want to witness some of the weird heroes from the original volumes, the best place on the internet for doing that is Siskoid's Blog of Geekery.
In the new series the heroes dialed are arguably even weirder. China Miéville calls his style of writing "weird fiction", and that description definitely fits what he does on "Dial H". I don't know whether it's him or Santoluoco that's responsible for the designs of the heroes Nelse changes into for a limited amount of time, but they are the good kind of weird and crazy. The book itself is quite funny and unusual, and the surprise element of the changes keeps the reader entertained. Here's the ultra emo Captain Lachrymose, who feeds on traumatic and sad memories:
Nelson's intervention in the beating of his friend puts him at odds with the local gangsters and things go pretty fast from there. The book isn't without it's faults, it's not perfect, but it does seem to have a potential and makes me want to pick up the future issues. It's nice having a weird and not very serious book like that, and the authors put some thought into their spin on the "Dial H" concept. It went from the cheesy "regular kid changes into a superhero" fantasy of the past incarnations into something a bit darker, definitely funnier and much more interesting. Unlike the past dial owners, Nelson's life is nothing to be happy about, so when he changes into the odd heroes, he's not very happy when he has to change back. Despite his various flaws he's also a quite likable character, which is always nice. The vibe this series gives me so far kind of reminds me of old Tim Burton movies, when things he did were still watchable. It's a good mixture of weird, stylish, dark and funny.
The series is currently on issue #3, so it's very easy to start following it now without any problems with finding the back issues. It's developing quite well, but I'm a bit afraid it won't last long. It's no Superman or Batman, or even one of the spinoff books. The established fanbase for "Dial H" is small and may not sustain this book for very long. It would be a shame if it all ended before it had a good chance to make a name for itself. Let's hope comics readers, who are feeling more adventureous when it comes to what they follow, will pick this up and make the series last for some time. Who knows what cool things it could grow into.