Thursday, 16 April 2015

Dial H, Volume 1: Into You Review (China Mieville, Mateus Santolouco)

Nelson Jent is an out-of-shape, unemployed schlub who discovers a mysterious phone booth with a rotary dial in an alley near his flat. When he dials a specific number – H-E-R-O (the letters are underneath the numbers) – he transforms into… well, any number of random whacky “superheroes” for a short time before reverting back to his normal self! With his new powers he’s going to get revenge on the bad guys who killed his buddy. 

Dial H isn’t a very good comic but I didn’t hate it. One of my issues with DC’s New 52 has been a lack of variety in the cast and if there’s one thing Dial H has plenty to spare, it’s variety. I liked the gothic Boy Chimney, the ultimate emo Captain Lachrymose, the utterly brilliant Iron Snail, and Tugboat – a dude with tugboats for hands! Those are great characters – it’s just a shame they were poorly written so the only memorable thing about them were their appearances. 

The Brian Bolland covers are amazing and I liked the David Lapham-drawn issue where casual racism in older comics is addressed after Nelse transforms into Chief Mighty Arrow, who looks and sounds heap big exactly as you’d expect (also I would’ve loved to have seen David Lapham script a New 52 book – missed a trick, DC, unless he turned you down). 

China Mieville is also an award-winning sci-fi novelist whose stories are set in, and are about, the modern urban environment, which is where this comic takes place – the dingy, forgotten parts of cities – so it seems like a good fit. But here’s the thing I’ve noticed: novelists do not make good comics writers (and vice versa – I dare you to try and read some of Alan Moore’s prose!) with very rare exceptions – arguably Neil Gaiman is the best example of this though Warren Ellis’ novels are pretty good too. 

Mieville just isn’t experienced enough to think like a comics writer – the two mediums of novels and comics aren’t interchangeable at all. And the irony is that a novelist known for producing imaginative fantasy stories is given a comic full of strange characters and then places them inside the most stereotypical comic book story you could have. 

The variety in this comic doesn’t go beyond the surface level. Beneath the wild and crazy characters is a tediously generic revenge plot: main character vs gangsters. Then it’s main character vs super-powered villains: a lizard man, another forgettable baddie, and a giant formless void called Abyss; main character has to stop them. 

It doesn’t help that the main character, Nelse, is just too broadly written. He’s a stand-in for the average comics reader to project upon, so much so that he doesn’t really have a character to get invested in. I like that he’s the total opposite of the cut dudes who usually star in superhero comics but really the only interesting thing about him is that he uses the phone to transform into these bizarre creations. Which doesn’t even make him interesting really; the object is instead what’s interesting – it could be anyone dialling! His story is almost non-existent and doesn’t go beyond avenging his friend. Afterwards he just decides to continue dialling and transforming into random “superheroes”. Nothing about this guy is compelling! 

If, like me, you’re a new reader to the series and haven’t read the Silver Age Dial H for Hero series, you’re probably going to be wondering how the hell a dial can transform someone into a series of superheroes, where it comes from, and what it all means. But there’s no help here. That’s fine, I don’t need everything explained all at once, though holding back this information does keep the reader from understanding and engaging more fully with the comic – it’s like we’re being held back at arm’s length the entire time. 

I enjoyed the quirkiness of the premise and the imaginative characters in this book but the writing is really lacking, heavily bringing down the overall quality of the comic. Dial U for Unimpressed!

Dial H, Volume 1: Into You

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, this one seemed like it should have been better than it was. It just felt like not enough was happening, to me.