Wow, DC really went all out this week, huh? Wrapping up my reviews of the first four books of DC’s second wave of New 52 books is Dial H by China Mieville and Mateus Santolouco. China Mieville, a best-selling novelist with a PhD and a hand in politics, almost made it into DC (Vertigo to be exact) a few years ago with a Swamp Thing series that never got published. Now he’s making his DC debut on a book that by all accounts should be a Vertigo book, but the DCU is all the better for its inclusion. Click more to read on.
As I said earlier, the dark tone of this book along with its quirky nature make it seem like it would fit perfectly in DC’s Vertigo imprint, home to Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing. The book is even edited by the Executive Editor of Vertigo, Karen Berger. This in my opinion is probably the best part of the New 52. For a long time darker/more mature/wackier concepts and characters like Swamp Thing, John Constantine, and Sandman were confined to the Vertigo imprint and saw little contact with the DCU proper. This kept writers from telling interesting stories with this characters in the context that they were originally created. Now, since DC has reintegrated these characters, we have books like Snyder and Lemire’s Swamp Thing and Animal Man, and Justice League Dark. These books have paved the way for a book like Dial H.
Dial H is a DC property dating back to the 60’s and involves a normal person getting a random superhero identity from a magic phone dial by dialing the letter H-E-R-O. Pretty wacky huh? The concept allows for the imagination to run wild and for writers to plumb the depths of human imagination for ideas that just wouldn’t work anywhere else. Plus, it plays off of the superhero archetype of running into a phone booth to change into costume.
In this revamp of the concept Mieville gives us Nelson, an overweight, out of work, depressed 20 something who has hit rock bottom. When Nelson sees his buddy getting beat up by some thugs, he runs to the nearest pay phone to dial 911. After frantically dialing buttons, this is what happens:
That’s Boy Chimney. He has a chimney for a hat. He controls smoke. He’s awesome, and only a sign of what’s to come. You want more? Well, these transformations only last so long. After Nelson wakes up, he goes to try to put the fear into the guy who’s after his friend. To do so, he head back to the phone booth and we get this guy:
That’s Captain Lachrymose, he makes you relive your saddest memory or feeling and it makes him stronger. I bet he likes to listen to A.F.I. in his spare time too.
Mr. Mieville has spoken at length about his plans for Dial H. One of his goals is to explore the psychological effect of rapidly changing persona. How do you deal with becoming this many different people? The story will also touch on the addictive nature of the dial. It’s really kind of a meta-narrative on the nature of escapism. Here’s a guy who escapes the world not by reading stories of fanciful men in tights, but by becoming them. He also intends on delving into the origins of the Dial, something that has never been touched on before. Running along this is a plot involving a mysterious organization run by a man named X.N., who apparently keeps his undead black goo spewing mother in his office, because that’s normal.
This book is not for everyone. It’s really, really weird and it’s about as far from a mainstream superhero book that you can get at DC. In some ways I think this is a good thing, as the push towards creator owned and indie comics as kind of moved the spotlight away from the Batmans and Captain Americas and this is DC’s attempt at getting in on the action. I recently read Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s amazing Flex Mentallo (there’s a review inside me just waiting to get out) and for some reason Dial H really reminded me of that work. If you haven’t read Flex Mentallo, a book that in my opinion is as important a book as Watchmen, then you need to know that is good company for a book to be in. If you’re looking for something outside the box, give this a shot. I really don’t know how you could regret it.
And that wraps up this week’s additions to the New 52. Check back on the 23rd for my review of Batman Incorporated #1, and on the 30th when I’ll review the Ravagers #1.