It's a reboot of an earlier comic called Dial H for Hero, which is about a mysterious dial that, when the letters H, E, R and O are dialed, turns the user into a random superhero. These are strictly ones designed only to appear in the Dial H comic (except later on in Book 2 when a major plot point turns on summoning up a well known DCU hero). There have been a couple of exceptions, but only minor ones like Plasticman have been used in the past. The first Dial H for Hero ran from 1966-1968. Then it returned in the 80's as a back-up strip in various comics. It returned again in 2003, entitled H.E.R.O, looking at the effect the dial had on it's users, at the end of it's 22 issue run the H-dial was sent back in time to 50,000 BC and there were no more stories based on the concept until the New 52 reboot in 2011. Here all the characters associated with the series have been pruned from the narrative and a brand new storyline and history of the Hero-Dial instituted.
|Darren and our soon-to-be hero Nelson|
The action cuts to a bald gangster who says they'll need more protection to deal with Darren if super-beings are involved. After visiting to check in on Darren, Nelson returns to the alley and dials the number again in the booth. This time he turns into Captain Lachrymose, and turns up at the bald guys hideout, causing him intense, crippling sadness. He warns him to leave Darren alone. He goes back to the alley again and ponders to new found power he has access too:
Nelson: "It's impossible. It's just a busted up phone. 4376. Ain't even an interesting number. Ain't a prime. Ain't nothing. But it's the number...'cause look, 4376 spells another word to. HERO."
|Boy Chimney in action|
Darren: "Time to change into the worst identity of them all".
Referring to himself. Serious self-esteem issues there. Nelson talks with Darren in the hospital and they discuss the epidemic of people falling into comas in the city. Darren says it was his job to go to a newly comatose persons flat and steal their stuff, but they kept being interrupted in their work by a Hero. Nelson later ponders this and his desire to "bust Darren's ass out of this mess".
He goe's and changes into a hero with a TV for a head called Ctrl-Alt-Del. He goes to the apartment Darren was going to next and bumps into a hovering, cloaked purple figure, who attacks him.
Nelson: "Stop thinking like a schlub. Start thinking like a hero."
And he uses his power to "reboot" the mysterious figure, who leaves. As does Nelson, before Darren's crew are due to turn up.
|Ctrl-Alt-Del versus Manteau|
He attacks the mobsters at the hospital and then gets into a fight with the reptile like creature who was attacking Darren and who seems to know who he is. Before he can prevail, he starts to change back and goes rushing back to the phone booth, closely followed by the mobsters. There he finds Manteau hovering over the phone booth. She says she made a mistake attacking him.
Manteau: "You want to know how I knew to wait for you. How that thing knew who you were. What the dial is. What's going on. I can help you".
|Squid takes on The Iron Snail|
Manteau flies Nelson to her house and tells him she might be able to fix his dial. She also has one of her own. She gives him a potted history of the telephone:
Manteau: "I'm saying Bell and Edison, all of them are lucky 0 wanted them to secretly swap thoughts. I'm saying the entire history of telephony is a by product of someone elses research. Reserach into something else altogether".
She then asks him what his biggest fight was and he channels a Boy Chimney memory. She explains that she uses the same name, and costume so she can keep her own personality grounded when she changes.
|Nelson and Manteau|
Nelson returns to Manteau who shows him she has been tracking Dial reports over the years. She then dials into listen to Mr. King as he is being attacked, becuase he was close to the last big cluster of Dial incidents. Nelson tries his dial and changes briefly, seeing a "shadow on the line" while he is changed. Manteau tells him to try again and he changes into Baroness Resin. He freaks out at this:
Manteau: "You been a giant metal spring yet? A super-disco dancer? A boomerang? Now it's bust because you got ovaries?"
She tells him to "woman up" and they go to rescue Mr. King who has been strapped to a bed. As Manteau and Nelson arrive, a huge black being bursts out of him.
Squid: "It fell through fast places, through anti-qworlds, through questionable realities that weren't sure whether they were there...like a punishment it's fall took it back to where it had first been trapped, fallen into something.. and it never stopped falling. Until it did stop".
And he remembers the doctor rescuing him and telling him she wanted his companion back. Back with the black being, the doctor tries to bind it, while it lashes out at Squid. Manteau and nelson attack it and make it disappear. The doctor blasts Manteau in the back with her binding gun, while Nelson transforms back into himself.
The doctor tells Nelson she made herself a "nullo-mancer" Studying all these years to bring the Abyss back. She and Squid then leave with the unconcious Manteau and her dial. Nelson tries to dial another hero, but his dial seems permanently broken now.
Back in her lair, the doctor has Manteau strapped to a table, while the Abyss cause havoc in the city. She says that Dial-wielders banished Squid and the Abyss, and she wants to know how. Squid weakly asks if she could heal him, but she refuses. Intent on finding out about the relationship between Dials and the Abyss she tortures Manteau, but she knows nothing. The doctor then says she could boost her nullo-mancer power with the dial and bind the Abyss that way.
Squid: "It is dark between the stars. It is hungry for the light."
The dialers banished him for stealing jewellery while on Earth. The Abyss has lost itself and is getting stronger. The doctor might make it mad enough that it remembers it can eat suns.
Nelson tells him that his dial is bust and all he can do is change into himself. Squid says that will have to do. So Nelson dresses as a super-hero and calls himself Rescue Jack and he and squid go to the hide-out and beat down the mobsters. Nelson finds Manteau stripped of her mask and costume and she turns out to be an old woman. He unties her and she dresses back up again and they go to leave. Back with the doctor and the Abyss, it shows her whats happening at the hideout and she warps back to where Nelson, Squid and Manteau are, screaming "traitor!" at Squid.
|Rescue Jack and Squid take on the mobsters|
Nelson: "Come on. No more crazy powers. This one matters. This time we need a superman"
Roxie: "We're screwed"
|Cock-a-Hoop to the rescue!|
|The dying Abyss and Hairbringer|
Nelson: "That's what it's been hunting. You felt it on the line. Since way before the Abyss turned up. That's what it came for... What's the shadow gonna do when it figures out we got another one."
And as they contemplate the half-broken dial, this arc comes to an end. But it's not the end of the book.
We next get an amusing one shot that explores Nelson and Roxies growing, warm relationship as they share the dial. Roxies is telling Nelson he can't go out looking like he does now, which is as a stereotypical "Red Indian" called Chief Mighty Arrow.
Nelson: "Ah come off it! Enough with the political correctness BS. I got super arrows! Jet propelled explosive feathers! I'm heap big trouble for criminals... uh"
Roxie: "'Heap big?' Oh my God can't you hear yourself?"
|Roxie scolds Chief Mighty Arrow|
Nelson: "What the hell is that?!"
Roxie: "That's Golliwog. Dialled it in 2007. They used to make dolls like that. What kind of insensitve pig - or racist - would put that out in the world.!"
Ouch. That is actually a meta reference and qwhat the hip hop community would call "a massive diss" aimed at Alan Moore putting the Golliwog (who has a large penis) in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier, published in 2007. I'd like to mount some spirited defence of Moore as simply appropriating the iconography of the fifties to make some kind of satirical point. But I can't, some things are too toxic, too laden with negative meaning to be used that easily. I don't think Moore is racist, but I think he made an error. Still, getting a shot at him in a mainstream comic is funny, but better watch out China, lest a puppet snake God comes to eat your soul in the night! Of course, Miéville is using dodgy imagery himself, but makes it clear that it's wrong and shameful so I think he about gets away with it.
Nelson agrees to stay inside, although he sulks. Sweetly, Roxie kisses his forehead and agrees he can go out if someone is really in trouble. They chat and Roxie tells Nelson about the last time she went out patrolling not as Manteau, she was sick and overwhelmed by half-memories when she changed back. Nelson must protect his mind.
|To be continued....|
There is actually more in this collection with the inclusion of an issue #0 set in the ancient past, involving a primitive stone dial and travellers from the future. However the real meat of this book is the relationship between Roxie and Nelson. And also Nelson's journey from self-confessed "schlub" to an eager hero, who helped save the world. The writing is excellent, melding goofy super-heroic stuff to a real core of hard fantasy concepts, with plenty of warmth and humour on the way. The artwork is great as well, capturing both the epic and the intimate with ease, given some of the cosmic concepts written here, a lesser artist could have been completely stymied, but Mateus Santolouco pulls it off. Enough on-going plotlines have been laid to make checking out the second (and sadly final) volume a real must. Dial H proves that a full on reboot of somewhat corny concepts can be handled in an accomplished and literary style, while still staying try to the core ideas. Definitely the cream of The New 52 relaunch.