China Miéville's Dial H, along with Jeff Lemire's Animal Man, is DC's best book in its New 52 initiative. The writing is dark, edgy, sharp, surreal, smart and most of all, fun as all hell.
Dial H is DC's third relaunch of its Dial H for Hero series, which tells the story of a mysterious telephone that transforms its user into a superhero when the numbers 4-3-7-6 (H-E-R-O) are dialed. Dial H #1, which hits shelves today, is about an overweight, cigarette-smoking loser named Nelson who morphs into a pair of strange, but intriguing heroes after accidentally dialing the magical numbers to save his friend from a serious thug-induced whooping. Miéville allows his hero's heroes to be an extension of his own insecurities, insignificance, and weaknesses. The first alter-ego that we see, in what I assume will be a long list of characters, is the bizarre Boy Chimney, a lanky, Jack Skellington-esque creature who can see and experience all the "smoke" or debauchery in the City. The second hero, Captain Lachrymose is, to put it in the simplest of terms, freakin' awesome! Captain Lachrymose feeds off the misery and sadness of others and my god, does that ever scratch me where I itch. I love Captain Lachrymose. Love him. I love his design and I love his powers and I want more. Do you hear me, Mr. Miéville...give me more!
Dial H is a prime example of the kind of storytelling that can exist in mainstream comics if companies like DC and Marvel allow themselves to embrace the weird world of writers that work in other media. Miéville, a mystery/horror novelist, brings raw energy and intelligence to Dial H and it's amazing just how refreshing and invigorating that is. It has the pulp pacing, the sense of humor and the fearlessness to go over-the-top in gloriously inventive ways that is severely lacking in comics from the big two.
Mateus Santolouco's art is dark and gritty, full of the kind of line work that makes me sit up and take notice. There's an energy and urgency in his work and he is unafraid to explore the page in interesting and exciting ways, thrusting us into the action to allow us to soak up and experience the zaniness. One side note: I read an advanced, uncolored version of this issue and after seeing the final version, I wish it was black-and-white. It's a well-colored book, but black-and-white just feels more appropriate.
In all honesty, it's surprising that Dial H is part of DC proper because it feels like a Vertigo book. Which for me, the slightly-jaded mainstream comics fan, is a vote of confidence for DC's willingness to try some crazy on for size. Miéville was previously slated for a run on Swamp Thing for Vertigo Comics, but it didn't work out, due to, I assume, DC's New 52 plans, but in an interview with io9 from March, he let this tidbit slip:
[io9:] You were previously slated to pen a Swamp Thing series that didn't pan out — did any of your ideas from that series make their way into Dial H in some iteration or the other?
[Miéville:] Not directly — I have that run, those written issues, on ice, in my drawer, and one day, who knows, they might get used for something one day. But some of the sensibility, the emotional tenor, a few little images here and there, come from the same shared headsoup — as, I guess, most of what I write does — so I'm sure someone who did read the unexisting Swamp Thing would recognise some stuff.
And there is, in truth, one character in particular I am sorely tempted to use. So one of these days, maybe, sure.
I wonder if we'll see Nelson from Dial H get mixed up with the Green and Red worlds of both Scott Snyder's Swamp Thing and Lemire's Animal Man? I'll bet ten bucks we do...and Dial H will fit right in.
Pick up Dial H #1 today and show DC that we need more comics like this. We deserve a better hero and Dial H gives us that and more.
Dial H is on shelves now.