By: China Miéville (story), Mateus Santolouco (art), Tanya & Richard Horie (colors)
The Story: The Iron Snail may not be Spider-Man, but he has bigger guns.
The Review: Much as I enjoy this series, I always have this niggling worry in the back of my mind reading it. Dial H just isn’t your typical mainstream comic book, by which I mean it doesn’t have any of the words, “Bat,” “Green Lantern,” “Avengers,” “X,” or “Wolverine” in it. Maybe I’ve been traumatized by the sad fates of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents and Xombi, but it always feels like the most interesting and novel titles end up first in line for the axe.
Then I remember that this is a new DCU we’re working with, one where Swamp Thing, Animal Man, and Wonder Woman are solid hits, and I relax a little. Granted, Miéville only has a couple issues under his belt now, and it’ll take quite a few more than that to determine if Dial H will hit the same ambitious bar as its peers, but the chances look pretty good. With its quirky style and clever concepts, it definitely is quite unlike anything else on the market right now.
Nelson has a non-stop, distracted narration that perfectly captures the voice of a man who’s always worried, but acting like he has it under control. The biggest problem our protagonist has is his own self-loathing, which you can hear on nearly every page, whether overt (“Time to go. Before I change [back]. Into the worst identity of all.” “Stop thinking like a shlub.”) or not (“Is that a lead? I guess maybe it’s something. I sure as hell don’t know what’s going on.”). What makes him relatable is his awareness of his failings, yet his unwillingness to do anything about it.
This will no doubt be an inner beast he’ll have to vanquish in the long run, but right now you can see the red flags of disaster around the corner. Nelson’s not just losing himself in the power of the dial, he’s losing himself in this mission as an excuse to not concentrate on his own problems. Even as he makes a bit of headway in tracking his friend’s enemies, he’s actively not getting a job, still smoking like a Boy Chimney, and failing to reconnect with his girlfriend. At some point, he’ll have to deal with all these things; the temporary heroics can’t help in that respect.
By the way, the slew of superheroes Nelse keeps calling up are pretty fun, right? At the very least, you have to acknowledge how original each one is, which makes you wonder how long Miéville can keep generating them. The question we must ask, of course, is whether the dial produces these figures at random or in response to some need it foresees? After all, CONTROL-ALT-DELETE doesn’t strike you as a very helpful hero in a pinch, and yet when Manteau has Nelson backed in a corner, CONTROL’s power is exactly what he needs to get out.
So far, the baddies haven’t done much to make themselves all that interesting, but the Squid has just the right combination of calculation and aggression to come off as threatening. And you do want to know what force has “touched” so many patients in the city, leaving them catatonic and with a twinkle in their eyes—not the good kind.
Santolouco’s scribbly, angular style is a very unusual product, but somehow it works for what Miéville’s going for here. Certainly he has the capability to capture the unique design of each superhero that comes into play (Can you imagine Shamanticore any other way? Can you?), and he gives the action sequences quite a bit of zip, making even Iron Snail look menacing, moving like a force of nature.
Conclusion: While you can’t tell right now if there’s a storyline that’ll be worth your time in the end, you definitely have a lot to be interested in.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: – We’re all curious as to what exactly Pelican Army does, right?
– Seriously, when Nelson went back to normal and started hauling tail, I thought for sure he was going to have a heart attack.