Dial H for Holy Hell!

After reading the new Dial H book, I knew I had to skip ahead by 30 years to bring you a special edition of Dial H - the post series that looked at disposable dialed heroes and asks whether those characters could be integrated into the DC Universe properly. I was thoroughly impressed with China Miéville's take, which fits quite well in the DC Dark line and feels like one of those odd superhero books that were coming out prior to Vertigo's founding. And Mateus Santolouco is more than up to the task of illustrating Miéville's bizarre heroes.

The book returns to Littleville for the first time since Robby Reed held the Dial, an industrial Littleville that's dark and dirty. Just for that, Miéville gets a lot of brownie points. The protagonist isn't your typical hero potentate either. Nelson Jent is an overweight, unemployed smoker, but he still tries to help a friend in need when push comes to shove. And does it ever. The Dial has been re-imagined too, but I'll let you read all about it in the casefile below...

Case 23: Dial H #1
Dial Holder: Nelson Jent
Dial Type: Phone booth Dial
Dialing: The Dial is now in a disused phone booth, in a dark alley. The phone has no dial tone, does not work, and its dial looks like a normal one. The first time Nelson gets into it, he instinctively dials H-E-R-O (or 4376), possibly because he's trying to save someone. Each transformation is accompanied by some kind of relevant effect - smoke for Boy Chimney, purple smoke and a torrent of tears for Captain Lachrymose (see below). Transformations last for 2 or 3 hours, Nelson can't be sure. Becoming a hero is a confusing affair as the hero's personality and thoughts seem to be overlaid over Nelson's. His thoughts are separate from the hero's, but he can assert control over the hero's actions and speech, either consciously, or sometimes accidentally. There is no guarantee he even knows what his heroic personality is talking about. After his first transformation back to Nelson, he passes out, so dialing may be physically as well as mentally taxing.
Name: Boy Chimney (an odd name, but it fits this strange creature who seems like an industrial spirit)
Costume: Twice as tall as a man, this gaunt, sooty creature in a frumpy, tailed Victorian suit wears a smoking stove pipe hat (literally!) whose length keeps changing. Boy Chimney also carries a walking stick.
Powers: Like some city elemental, Boy Chimney exudes sooty smoke and can turn it, for example, into semi-solid creatures able to choke criminals dead. He can fly, is super-strong and tough, and through a form of ESP, can see and hear everything in places where smoke exists or has existed. Boy Chimney's form, like smoke, isn't stable, not is his mind or mode of speech (it sounds like free verse).
Sighted: In Littleville. Almost kills a criminal gang attacking his friend Darren in an alley, and pinpoints the location of the bad guys' leader.
Possibilities: I'd love to see Boy Chimney again as some kind of urban elemental, popping up in various towns around the world and smoking the opposition. A good ally for Justice League Dark?
Integration Quotient: 100% (so original, he deserves to exist permanently in DC's dingy industrial cities)
Name: Captain Lachrymose (camp!)
Costume: A poster boy for the emo generation, the Captain is crying a tear of mascara and is wearing sad purples lots of leather bracelets. His studded belt is pretty sad too. On his chest, he sports an upside-down Superman shield with a crying eyelid on it. Again, pretty camp.
Powers: Captain Lachrymose feels the sadness of everyone around him and can psychically dig at specific memories of misery and bring them back to the surface, often disabling foes with their own self-pity. He feeds on such feelings, powering feats of great strength.
Sighted: In Littleville. Delivers a warning to the bad guys who attacked Darren.
Possibilities: Captain Lachrymose is a parody of an entire subculture, and as such has little place in a serious superhero universe. He might make an appearance in a Giffen-scripted comedy, but do those even exist anymore?
Integration Quotient: 5% (even if a book deigns to use a parody character, it won't ever be for more than a one-shot deal)

Read this book! It's gonna be a wild ride!


mkhall said...

Thank you for bringing this to my attention. This book certainly sounds like a must-read.

snell said...

You know, a Dial H/Resurrection Man crossover has a lot of possibilities. Could they be tapping into same source of power, just by different means?

And yes, nu52 so desperately needs an Ambush Bug series. But it will never happen...

Siskoid said...

Just too much piss to take out of it.

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

I loved this issue. I mentioned how the art took awhile to grow on me, and I think in part that was due to the clutter of Boy Chimney's word balloons. Which wasn't a bad thing. I'm over it. I love it.

@snell, there might be something to that. Resurrection Man does drag a bit, though in fairness, look back at the original series. Slow, but fun. The best part of the new RM is that every major character has returned now that we've seen Kim Rebecki.

Since Shelley seems to know enough about The Lab, it would be interesting to see our Dial H guy want to ask him questions.

The shining point of the four books I picked up yesterday, the other three being Action, Earth 2, and World's Finest.

Siskoid said...

The good news is that DC's second wave has more winners than losers replacing the 6 cancelled series (only one of which was a critical success in these here parts).

Dial H, Earth2, World's Finest and likely Batman Inc. will all be good series.

Martin Gray said...

It's brilliant that you've integrated the new book into your ongoing series, Siskoid. I'd love to see Captain Lachrymose again, perhaps confusing a serious hero such as Supes.

In fact, I'll cry if I never see him again.

mkhall said...

I picked it up on your recommendation, and really enjoyed it. As a double bonus, its quirky weirdness reminded me of Xombi, the second series of which I was delighted to discover has now been collected in a trade. If only the Milestone series could be collected...

Jeff R. said...

I'm not nearly so bullish on Earth 2 as you, but this one was good. And Captain L could easily be integrated into a Grant Morrison book (in his Doom Patrol or Seaguy modes)...

Siskoid said...

I'm bullish?

Captain L is just a bit TOO camp for a true career in the DCU, even in a Morrison or Milligan book, but not by much, I agree.

But he makes an excellent one-shot hero for Dial H! Can't wait to see what else they've got cooked up for us.

Unknown said...

I was really disappointed with this issue. Maybe I was spoiled by H-E-R-O (God knows Robbie had his share of misfires), but I felt like Mieville was almost making fun of the concept of Dial H for Hero with these heroes.

Granted, the second issue was slightly better with this, although I'm practically insulted by the Human Snail.

Siskoid said...

Clearly, I loved it.

I think Miéville's heroes are a cross between crazy Morrisonesque concepts from Doom Patrol (which I really dig), and concepts that might have been dreamed up by readers (in how random they sometimes are, or how, in Captain Snail's case, obviously Liefeldian).


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