Dial H for Hero #1 by China Mieville & Mateus Santolouco

I love all sorts of comics. The fact that the medium can throw out everything from the deepest tales of introspection regarding life in another country to space opera set in the furthest reaches of the universe is something that means, no matter what, it has a little something to offer everyone. Sure every medium can offer something from those genre’s but for me personally comics combine the introspective nature of books whilst still being totally unrestrained by the visual limitations of film. That said the thing I like most about the medium is that when it wants to it can make me feel like I’m tripping balls at 10AM on a Sunday morning, which brings me neatly onto the subject of DC’s Dial H for Hero by two people whose names strike fear into the hearts of spellchecker’s everywhere, China Mieville & Mateus Santolouco.

Dial H comes in as the obligatory “Dark” title along with 5 others in DC’s second wave of the new 52. By rights they probably should have called it the new 58, but then DC cancelled 6 of the first wave so it’s still 52 technically & if, like me, you can’t keep up well one month from now it’s not going to matter because everyone will be talking about Before Watchmen instead. Now it may sound like I’m being a little snarkastic in my observations before I’ve even made any & I don’t mean to be, because I really do like this book, but after 22 pages it left me feeling somewhat conflicted & like somebody had put a completely different kind of sugar cube in my tea.

Dial H revolves around the concept of a phone booth that is not like other phone booths. For a start it works & hasn’t been vandalised (though that hasn’t stopped tramps using it as a rest stop), & for another, it bestows temporary super powers on whoever uses it. This book is an update of a previous DC title from way back before I read comics & while I know very little of the original I get the impression it was more light hearted in tone than this current effort. Mielville’s writing has a particularly English sensibility to it & the story feels like it would be more at home in an Eagle comic from the 90’s alongside something like The 13th Floor than it would in the current DCU continuity. The “dark” aspect of the story is clearly apparent from the get go as the first hero we get a connection with is Boy Chimney. A character whose smokestack hat makes you wonder if he’s taken The Tamperer’s pondering a little too literally. Not to be outdone, the cubicle of costumed Avengers later on deals out the maudlin monikered Captain Lachrymose who looks like the next morning’s come down after Boy Chimney hot boxed his alter ego the night before.

Mielville clearly has a ball with the concept & his fever pitch imagination is easily matched by Santolouco whose pencils lend the proceedings an eerie swoon that again hearkens back to the age of Eagle. This is no bad thing & the pencil work, whilst occasionally looking a little rough in places is remarkably detailed. What’s more Santolouco’s work here stands apart from his pencils for IDW’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or his work for Marvel during the Dark Reign run, but still remains very recognisably his.

So why the conflict? This is a good book, right? Well yeah it is. But as much as I dialled into the concept of Dial H & enjoyed the dark spin put on the proceedings by both writer & artist, the book seems a little out of place for me in the current DC continuity (or the bits of it I’ve been reading at any rate). Try as I might I just can’t imagine any of the Justice League having an adventure that sees them teamed up with one of the many potential hero’s from H’s phone booth. Then again I do find myself wondering what would happen if say, for example, The Flash ended up making the call, or what if there’s an alternate version of the booth on Earth 2 that spits out villains instead of heroes.

Now I don’t have a problem with Dial H being different (in fact it makes me like the book even more), but I can’t help thinking that this title would have been more at home if they dropped in a few curse words & sent it out with a Vertigo label on the cover. Its ideas about people being unwittingly coerced into the super hero game feels reminiscent of the imprint’s mature take on Unknown Soldier & the similar character dynamics involved are quite possibly a huge part of why I enjoyed the book so much.

While I appreciate that it seems a little early to be making such criticisms of a story when I’ve only read the opening chapter this is simply my thought process on reading the first issue.  The reason I’m putting it here is because I want this book to do well so I can carry on reading it.  I could be completely wrong about this book not feeling like it fits into the DC continuity & if you think I am then say so in the comments by all means. Admittedly I haven’t read all of the other 51 books & there’s every chance this fits in just fine, in which case I’m being an arse. Granted the title isn’t for everyone, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t any good. So if you’re sat there reading this review pondering whether Dial H is worth putting on your standing order then I’d say give it a go. You might like it you might not. Truth be told though I can’t remember the last time a single issue of a comic made me think to this extent which, when it comes down to it, is what I love about the medium most of all.

As a side note if you haven’t read Unknown Soldier then I highly recommend that you do as it contains more relevant facts about Uganda & its inhabitants in one panel than Kony 2012 managed in 30 minutes.