WARNING: SPOILERS! (Review index)
It’s the second issue of Dial H! I think this one is a big improvement over the first. We see more heroes and meet more characters, Nelson is a lot more likeable, and the villains’ villainous doings are far less obtuse than in the first issue.
As we pick up the story, Nelson is trying the dial a lot and doing some heroic acts, while at the same time trying to figure out what happened with his friend Darren. We really start to feel some sympathy for Nelson, because it’s clear he’s using the hero dial not just to help people, but also as an escape from his awful life.
Darren’s been working for Vernon (and thus for XN), by breaking into the homes of recent coma victims. It seems like there are lots of these mysterious comas occurring lately, almost an epidemic (which reminds me of the dream-sickness in Perdido Street Station). To figure things out more, Nelson uses a hero form to get into one of the coma victims’ apartment, where he hopes to see what Vernon’s thugs are after. But instead he has his first run-in with Manteau, who nearly kills him.
We then see a little more of the mysterious XN — the initials, we learn, stand for Ex Nihilo — who is keeping the non-human figure from the end of issue #1 as a captive. This creature reveals it isn’t completely under Ex Nihilo’s control, by taking Nihilo by the throat and synthesising an emetic (making Nihilo vomit uncontrollably). But then it agrees to work with Nihilo to go after Nelson, for, well, as-yet-unclear reasons.
This non-human, we soon learn, is an alien called The Squid, who has mysterious motives but is generally bad news for Nelson. The Squid can do all sorts of nasty things with its finger/tentacles. It can grow them to huge lengths, use them to suction-cup up walls, and produce all sorts of chemicals to poison people, melt glass, and so on. The Squid, in short, is awesome. One of Miéville’s best villains, for sure.
The Squid takes care of Darren rather messily, and Nelson (who has dialled himself into the Iron Snail now) is too late to save him. Bullets are exchanged (and some slime too) with Vernon and his thugs, then The Squid shows up for a one-on-one mollusc showdown. Nelson gets away, returns to the dial in the alley, and comes face to face with Manteau once more. This time, she doesn’t try to kill him, she offers to help instead.
Near the comic’s end we also discover a bit more about Ex Nihilo and The Squid. Ex Nihilo turns out to be a red-headed female doctor (who was in fact Darren’s doctor in the previous issue!), and she’s working on the coma patients, who seem to have been altered by some weird force (note: the terrifying woman-thing Nelson encounters in the first issue seems like she might have once been one of these coma victims). And The Squid’s plan is to do everything to ensure this force “comes back”. Scary stuff.
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The artwork is pretty decent again, and I’m getting more used to it compared to the first issue. Nelson still looks a bit misshapen throughout, but The Squid’s visual design is great, as is Iron Snail. I also like the look of the complicated masks that Ex Nihilo and The Squid wear in their first scene this issue.
You know, I’m not much of a comic reader, and not really an aficionado of comic-book art, so I don’t know if I can really critique the issue’s artwork in a meaningful way. These are just my impressions; and once more I think overall I prefer the cleaner lineart of the front cover to the interior art.
I enjoyed this issue a lot on the re-read, and it’s made me all the more excited to continue with this series of reviews. My one complaint is that we don’t learn much more about the barrage of heroes Nelson is dialling at the start of the comic, beyond the name and appearance. I’d love to know what Shamanticore can do, for instance, or what’s with Pelican Army’s pelicans.
Anyway, I’m really looking forward to issue #3, especially as Manteau is now in the picture. She’s definitely one of my favourite characters throughout the whole series. Look out for the next review, next week!
- Human Virus – A goblin-esque hero in a green costume, with a biohazard symbol on the chest, and covered in flagella. Viruses don’t have flagella though, so it might be some other kind of thing. I’m trying to remember back to my cellular biology courses. He also wears a skull-like mask. Presumably this hero infects people with viruses?
- Shamanticore – Part shaman, part manticore (part lion, part scorpion), all awesome.
- Pelican Army – A dude with a massive beard and a British army uniform, circa 18th century. Most importantly, he has his own army of pelicans. I really don’t get this combination. Is it a pun or some other kind of reference?
- Double Bluff – Divided down the middle like Two-Face, with a playing-card motif and… card-related powers?
- Hole Punch – A big grey troll thing with hammers for its (three) hands. Wears a belt that says “Holy”.
- Rancid Ninja – Never seen on-page (although that might be him on the third-page panel where some heroes are depicted in the background of Nelson). Sounds kinda nasty.
- Skeet – A short red humanoid wearing a helmet and a big red disc like that used in skeet (clay pigeon) shooting. He can fly, and explodes when shot, but then re-forms again instantly.
- Control-Alt-Delete – A greenish-glowing hero with a human body and an old black-and-green monitor for a head. The monitor shows C-A-D’s facial expressions as emoticons, on their side. Can perform a “reboot”, which in this case takes away Manteau’s powers.
- Iron Snail – A huge bulky military guy, in fatigues, with a subtly mollusc-like face. His main feature is his heavily fortified, metal snail-shell. It can zoom around, fire an improbable amount of guns, and shoot snail slime out of its back side. Iron Snail also has possibly prescient “ferrocochlean” (literally “iron snail-shell”) senses, a bit like Spidey senses. The Squid’s poisonous ink doesn’t affect Iron Snail.
- (unknown) – The first form we see Manteau taking. Her power is shooting purple, jagged energy(?) through the air, which smashes Control-Alt-Delete’s monitor screen.