Monday, August 6, 2012

Review: 'Dial H' by China Miéville and Mateus Santolouco

Note: This review covers Dial H issues 1-4.

We usually don't cover big name projects here.  That's not a set-in-stone rule, of course; as discussed here, we don't want to exclude works that are good simply because they're big names.  It's simply a matter of what we're trying to accomplish.  Sure, The Dark Knight Rises is a great movie, but you already know that, and that's the point.  You know that, I know that, everyone knows that.  Saying it again just adds to the noise.  Instead, we try to find our niche by focusing on projects that don't have the benefit of marketing departments and multimillion dollar budgets.  Every now and then, though, something comes from a big name that deserves attention.  DC Comics' Dial H, from writer China Miéville and artist  Mateus Santolouco, is one of those projects, and one of the most creative works in any medium in years.

Dial H has been around for decades in one form or another.  It revolves around people with the ability to transform into variously powered heroes; like its premise, the tone of the book is constantly shifting from straight up superhero stories to grounded day-in-the-life anthologies to Miéville's bizarre current incarnation.  It's incredibly inventive, with such heroes as Boy Chimney (and the other members of Team House, like Open-Window Man, of course), the Iron Snail, the Rancid Ninja, and Captain Lachrymose.  It channels the best of Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol as well as anyone has since Gerard Way's Umbrella Academy, and it's a welcome addition to an often bland comic book scene.

This series doesn't simply rely on its strangeness and limp along with no substance.  There's a story underneath it all, and a deep one at that.  Only four issues in and the series is already building its own mythology, its own rules, and fleshes out its characters and concepts wonderfully.  We're thrown into the world of everyman Nelson Jent, and we're along for the ride as he learns as much as we do - sometimes less - with all the twists and turns that that involves.

As good as the writing is, the art easily keeps pace.  Mateus Santolouco is charged with bringing these bizarre ideas to life, and he's clearly up to the challenge.  From strange heroes to cityscapes to normal people, including overweight protagonist Jent, Santolouco walks the fine line between realistic and fantastic that's required to make this series work and have the reader connect with the events taking place.

Dial H, in all its forms, has never been Batman or Spider-man or the X-men, and it most likely never will be.  Not only is that okay, but it's what makes it fantastic.  There is no status quo, so it can be whatever it wants.  There are no restraints, so it can be as strange and clever and out-there as it wishes.  And with as talented as creative team as it currently has (did I mention the covers are done by Brian Bolland?  No?  And you thought it couldn't get better) this book has the legs to go very, very far.

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