First Impressions – DIAL H #1

Who knew a comic starring an overweight man using a magic telephone booth could be one of, if not the best new book the New 52 Second Wave? I sure didn’t, and now I’m talking about it.

Originally appearing in House of Mystery #156 (January 1966), Dial H for Hero depicted the adventures of a number of individuals over the years who possessed a device, usually a rotary watch, that provided them with a random superpower every time they dialed the word “Hero”. The series mostly ran during the Silver Age, where fans were encouraged to send in concepts for superheroes, which DC would transform into one-off hero forms of those dialing in. Over the years, the concept would be brought back and played with for a while, before fading back into obscurity.

But apparently, one fantasy writer turned comic writer named China Mieville fondly remembered Dial H for Hero, and when offered a chance to make an ongoing for the Second Wave of ongoing series for DC comics, he opted to revive the idea. And thus DIAL H was born.

DIAL H #1 introduces us to Nelson Jent, an overweight, unemployed, chain-smoking former boxer who gets a heart attack while not even 30 years old. Also his wife or girlfriend left him, meaning all together he’s trapped in a cycle of depression and unhealthy habits that caused him to have a minor heart attack in the first place. As a result of helping him to and from the hospital, Nelson’s best friend Darren can’t make it to a job as a hired thug, and the gangsters he works for beat him up in an alley. Nelson stumbles upon them and, lacking his cellphone or the strength to fight off the thugs himself, tries to call for help via a nearby phonebooth. And it’s here he accidentally discovers that it’s a magic phone that turns him into different superpowered beings.

I hesitate to call them superheroes, per se. The first of the two we see in this issue, Boy Chimney, is a monstrous gangly figure, with skin like brick and command over smoke and toxic fumes. And if Nelson hadn’t commanded he stop, Boy Chimney would have allowed the thugs to die choking on smoke in that alley.

Although it does lead to one of my favorite lines in this issue. “Besides, off-handedly is no way to kill.” This book has a wonderful pitch black humor, like one panel early on with sprayed message on a wall denouncing murder as “rude”, and a bum carrying a sign asking requesting money for karate lessons.

The other hero we see is Captain Lachrymose, an emo-looking dude in purple tights, a cape, and running mascara, with the power to manipulate people’s deep seeded sadness and gain power from it. And come to think of it, this book moves a fairly brisk pace. A lesser book – in fact many of the ongoings in DC’s New 52 from last year – would have spent a good chunk of the first issue leading up to Nelson’s discovery, and end right when Boy Chimney showed up. So if nothing else, Mr. Mieville knows how to start an issue off right. So far as I can tell, his only other comic work was a single issue of Hellblazer back in 2008. So we’ll see how well he adapts to the medium.

Mateus Santolouco also deserves praise for the art, especially when it comes to the Boy Chimney scenes. That smoke man. You don’t even know. If there’s something about the art direction in general I like, it’s that the characters all look like real people. No pretty people or fashion models here, except maybe Captain Lachrymose. And believe me, he’s not going to be any squeeling fangirl’s object of obsession. Or none I want to meet anyway. I’ve become kind of tired of always having that ideal beauty with all main characters, so this art direction is a breath of fresh smoke.

It’s weird. Not the comic, though that too is very odd in places. No, what I mean is this book wasn’t even originally on my list of things to pick up come the new ongoings. It was mainly an afterthought, but one in retrospect I love. And I probably had more fun in this one issue than in most all of Red Lanterns first nine issues. When you get right down to the nitty gritty, a lot more attention is paid to Superheroes in the medium than most every other type of story. Which is a shame. And yes, this book also includes super beings, but not in the same manner. The two we meet are hardly traditional in their themes, and in other books they’d have been villains. And the book plays with the idea of Nelson only being partially in control of them when he becomes them, like he’s trying to direct a car with its own ideas and will do them if left alone.

Do I recommend this book? Yes, yes I do. I do because books like this don’t come around every day. And thinking about it now, I’m sad. I said the same things about OMAC, and no one bought that. No one except me. You should all be ashamed.

And yes, I’m still going to do the retrospective. I have other duties, you know?

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