“Dial H” #1 was one of my favorite comics of last month; an inventive, fun debut from China Mieville and Mateus Santolouco that took an old mainstay of DC Comics (“Dial H for Hero”) and played with its oddness in a dark but compelling way. As a result, hopes were high for just as strong of a second issue. While it didn’t live up to the sheer greatness of that opening chapter, there’s more than enough here to want to read more.
Mieville picks up right where he left off with “Dial H” #1; Nelse has discovered the dial that allows him to transform into different heroes, his friend Darren is still in the hospital, and Nelse’s ex-girlfriend Julie still won’t talk to him. The best parts of “Dial H” #2 are the early pages, where we learn that the dial does more than give you a different body. “My head’s full of smoke and mixed-up memories,” Nelse tells us. “When I dial I lose track of who I am.” It’s a familiar enough idea in comics, but the way that Mieville explains that mixing of identity and the desire to do so is compelling in a way that few authors have brought across to the readership.
Mieville and Santolouco also have a fun time in those early pages by showing us some of Nelse’s test dials. Hopefully none of these dialed-heroes are one-time-only appearances, because the idea of not getting to see more of Shamanticore, Pelican Army or Double Bluff is a sad one. It’s wonderfully bonkers and when you add in the characters we saw in “Dial H” #1, it’s inventive and compelling. Santolouco brings each of these ideas to life in just a single panel, making you want to see them again.
When Santolouco gets to cut loose for pages at a time with a new character, it’s that much more exciting, too. The view of the world through Control-Alt-Delete’s cracked view screen is wonderfully alien, and it is a reminder that the dial transforms Nelse all the way through; a lot of the success of “Dial H” so far is thanks to Santolouco’s grimy, grungy art style that sells every single scene that Mieville comes up with. It’s not quite enough for the second half of the issue, though, which feels more like story-building than anything else. With Nelse’s revelations and the hints that his enemies know more about the dial than he does, I understand why Mieville slows the comic down and goes through these scenes, but they’re still not as fun as what we’ve had up until now.
“Dial H” #2 ends up being not quite as fun as the first issue, but at the same time the base that’s being built in this issue feels important enough that it seems like more of a necessary evil than something to worry about. Honestly, so long as Mieville and Santolouco keep coming up with crazy new heroes for Nelse to transform into, I’ll be fairly happy. That there’s an interesting story connected to it all? Well, that’s just the icing on the cake. So far, so good.