By: China Miéville (story), Mateus Santolouco (art), Tanya & Richard Horie (colors)

The Story: When there’s something strange in the neighborhood—who ya gonna call?

The Review: Novelists who take on comic book writing can be very polarizing figures.  You have to remember these people come from a background where they have complete creative control, where they have the luxury of time and several hundred pages to explore any minute detail they please, where they can confidently employ any prose style they think is appropriate.  Most of these advantages are sorely lacking in the mainstream comics world.

Author Miéville seems well aware of the hurdles he has to deal with in this medium.  He knows the right balance of dialogue and narrative to keep the story moving, and he knows how to use both to convey information and character efficiently.  At times, his stream-of consciousness ramblings can’t get a tad disjointed and confusing, but when you have a narrator who is in fact incredibly disoriented and confused by what’s happening to him, this is no sin.

Nelson Jent starts off as a fairly complicated protagonist in a fairly complicated stage of his life.  While you can pigeonhole him into the “man down on his luck” type, Miéville makes him quite a bit more distinctive than that.  Though previously well-adjusted (“…You used to box.  You used to read.  You used to be interested in everything, man…”), a string of bad fortune has left him in poor shape and vacillating between denial (“It wasn’t a heart attack heart attack.”) and bitterness (“Yeah, tell me how I ain’t been the same since the plant closed, Dr. Freud… You gonna offer me work?”).  It all culminates in a health crisis, the kind that forces a man to re-evaluate his life, especially one who “ain’t even 30!”

Therein, perhaps, lies the ultimate allure of the H-Dial, despite the horror and insanity it puts him through.  When you feel like you don’t have much control of your life, sometimes it’s easier to let go of the reins altogether.  In this case, Nelse can actually be of good use doing it, and it doesn’t seem like he’s given himself over entirely to the heroic guises he can conjure up.

And what guises they are.  Kudos to Miéville for coming up with truly some of the strangest superhero concepts in a while.  Yes, there’s an intentionally campy quality to them that makes you laugh, but you can’t help being impressed by the imagination that goes into them.  You have the hideous Boy Chimney, “child-king of emissions,” with his brick skin, oversized limbs, and top hat constantly chugging out black, caustic smoke.  And yet in the absurd department, he may come in only second to Captain Lachrymose, who cripples people with their misery (“My mom died, boss…” “…Baby, I can change…”  “…He gonna be ok?…”).

And who do we have for our villains, Johnny?  Nelse’s best pal is apparently involved with some organized nastiness, but these are definitely not your ordinary thugs.  They seem well aware of the metahuman threats they have to deal with in these modern times (“Seriously? Green Lantern you buy, but this is too much for you?”) and they have the resources to deal with it, judging by the wizened hag who has “nothing at all” inside of her and who manages to scare off Nelse as Captain Lachrymose by spewing presumably dangerous black stuff from her maw.

Santolouco has an exaggerated style of art that fits very well with a comic where reality is just ever so distorted.  He doesn’t go for any complicated paneling or perspective choices that would separate him from DC’s mainstream art school, but there’s a gritty sketchiness that brings a Vertigo feel all the same.  Every now and then, he’ll throw in a particularly well-conceived, artsy panel, like Boy Chimney relishing his smoke visions, or Nelse trying every combination of number to reactivate the H-Dial.  Kudos also to the Hories for making things look distinctive and clear, despite the uniformly dark palette of colors they’re forced to use.

Conclusion: Once again, DC proves its devotion to oddball concepts in this surprisingly enjoyable debut.  Miéville clearly has a long-term vision for this series; let’s hope it garners enough attention so we can actually see that vision come to fruition.

Grade: B+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Captain Lachrymose not only forces you to recall every sad memory you have, but he makes you relive it afresh.  Explains why one guy curls on the floor in tears at the memory of not getting the cowboy hat he wanted for his seventh birthday.

relive the memory of not getting a cowboy hat for his seventh birthday…

– You know, I didn’t think to look in the other “Second Wave” debuts, but when Boy Chimney sifts through his smoke visions, we catch a glimpse of Pandora.