Man, this was a weird comic. That’s not an insult. It’s just not your average super hero comic and it is nearly impossible to see any connection between it and the old kid-skewing series that inspired it!
Meet Nelson Jent, a lazy, obese, unemployed, chain smoker who had a mild heart attack before the age of thirty. His sole buddy is Darren Hirsch. The two have an argument and Darren leaves and is jumped by a pack of thugs, that he appears to know. In fact, as it turns out, he is one of them, but he missed an appointment to help Nelson and they are beating him relentlessly. Nelson goes after Darren to apologize and stumbles upon the scene. He gets easily knocked down and climbs into a nearby phone booth. He randomly mashes some buttons and seems to explode! Out of the booth ambles the bizarre, Jack Skelington-esque Boy Chimney, a gaunt creature made of solid smoke with a smoke stack protruding from his head like a top hat. Boy Chimney speaks in macabre poetry, while Nelson’s scattered thoughts appear in text boxes. Boy Chimney engulfs the criminals and breaths in all the smoke in the city, seeing everywhere. Then he scoops up Darren’s injured body and begins to leave, but Nelson thinks, “Those guys are dying.” Reluctantly, Boy Chimney frees them and takes Darren to the hospital where he causes quite a stir.
He then lands on a nearby rooftop and exits Nelson’s body. Nelson collapses on the roof and passes out.
Elsewhere a criminal is talking on the phone, explaining the situation from the previous night. He asks for additional help and gets what he’s after.
Nelson visits Darren in the hospital, where they vaguely refer to Darren’s criminal ties. A psychiatrist asks Nelson about Darren’s mental state. Later, Nelson goes back to the phone booth. “No tone… no connection…” he mutters. He mashes in various random number patterns, spelling different words, but none of them works, until he spells out “I-f s-o.” He erupts with power again, but this time he emerges as a different hero… a miserable one.
The crime boss from before is on the phone again, with what appears to be a dead woman’s body slumped in a chair behind him. Suddenly his men start screaming. “My mom died,” one bellows, to which he replies, “She died five years ago.” Other shout other things, “Baby I can change…” “No, doc…” Meet Captain Lachrymose (that means the shedding of tears). “Every tear makes me stronger” he explains. He confronts the crime boss with a memory of his seventh birthday which causes him so much anguish he collapses to the floor. Suddenly, the “dead woman” ambles over and spews black tar-like energy at him. He is powerless against her, because she has no sadness – or anything else for that matter – inside. He warns the boss to leave his friend Darren alone and leaves. The boss calls his bosses who order him to an address. The upper boss vows to kill Darren.
Nelson returns to the phone booth and realizes that not only do the buttons he punched spell out “if so” but also another word… “hero.”
Yeah, like I said, weird, huh? But good. It’s a nice fit alongside books like ‘Animal Man’ and ‘Resurrection Man.’ It’s very Vertigo-esque, really trippy, extremely dark, and above all, literate. (Plus, it has a Brian Bolland cover! How much more Vertigo can you get?) Unlike a lot of books I read which employ seemingly constant time jumps and flash backs, this story was told linearly from start to finish, yet was more challenging to read than those others. There is just so much there to take in. I thought the “dead woman” was just that. I was like, “Wait, is that a dead woman? That guy is more dangerous than I thought!” There are also lots of fun little details in the drawings, like funny graffiti and such to appreciate. (Don’t know if that’s from the writer or artist, though.) And the dialogue is extremely realistic and has its own unique feel. It doesn’t read like the dialogue in any other comic I can recall.
The art, like that on other of DC’s “Dark” books is ugly and rough… on purpose, of course! It’s great. It fits the writing and story tone perfectly.
The characters are just bonkers! Boy Chimney? Captain Lachrymose? I have no idea how writer China Mieville came up with such bizarre creations. He must drink the same water as Grant Morrison. I’m really looking forward to seeing what other crazy creations he comes up with in future issues.
The one thing that may prevent me from continuing on with this series is the darkness. I’m not a fan of mob violence, for some reason. I guess it’s just so brutal. Super hero fisticuffs are one thing, but I’ll be honest, I’m kind of a wimp. But hopefully the excellent writing and art will help me work past that. But I definitely recommend the first issue if you like books that are different from the norm.
DIAL H #1
Written by China Mieville
Art by Mateus Santolouco
Cover by Brian Bolland