We begin with two losers. Nelson Jent, not yet 30 and smoking himself to death after a run of bad luck. And Darren Hirsch, healthier in body but mixed up with a very bad crowd. When Darren is beaten up by thugs working for his boss, XN, Nelse runs into an old phone box to call for help.
But it’s not Nelse who leaps out, it’s Boy Chimney, scourge of, well, anyone who likes to draw breath rather than draw on a ciggie. Like a warped, heroic version of Nick O’Teen, Boy Chimney sees off the bad guys and, on returning to normal, Nelse gets Darren to hospital. Guessing that his transformation was linked to the phone box, he returns to it and manages to hit the four holes that turn him into … actually, I’ll leave that one for you to find out for yourself – the very name made me laugh hard. Coupled with the character’s dialogue and appearance, I’d say we have a winner.
Of course, the guy’s likely a one-off, this being an update of DC’s classic Dial H for Hero concept (and that’s the title on the indicia, if not the cover). Thinking on, given that it’s set in Littleville, home to original Dialler Robby Reed, it could well be a continuation. Whatever it is, this comic is a hoot. Writer China Miéville gives his two heroes delightfully distinctive speech patterns and schticks, their natures apparently linked to Nelse’s stare of mind at time of dialling. And they’re not the only weirdos around, as the mysterious XN sends a black bile-spewing old lady to take on the transmogrified Nelse, and looks set to follow up with a sucker-fingered fellow. And on another intriguing note, Nelse seems to retain his own mind even as his other self is chatting away.
I loved this. The urban atmosphere reminds me of the old Monolith comic from DC (recently decamped to Image), with a dash of Hitman, while Nelse and Darren convince as friends, bound by suppressed affection and manifest disappointment. The scenes with the two heroes are wonderfully bizarre, in equal part due to the ornate artwork of Mateus Santolouco. His people aren’t super-handsome, but neither are they grotesques – they’re recognisable, helping root this slice of dark whimsy in reality. And when the scenes of high fantasy come, Santalouco goes wild with the character and page designs, ensuring that the tiredest of eyes will likely open with admiration.
Tanya and Richard Horie’s colours are perfect for the piece, full of browns and greys, punctuated by flashes of brightness. Steve Wands’ letters, meanwhile, subtly underline the mundanity and magic of the moments. And Vertigo editor Karen Berger pops back into the DC Universe to edit Miéville’s script, his first for DC since, I believe, Hellblazer #250.
As for the cover, it’s by Brian Bolland, so is a masterly summation of the comic’s contents. By my estimation, this is Dial H For Hero’s fourth shot at fame – five, if you include Superboy and the Ravers’ Hero, but let’s not. I think this time we can finally Dial H for Hit.