Dial H review — #3: Come Here! I Need You!

dialh03WARNING: SPOILERS! (Review index)

Issue #3 of Dial H brings us to the midpoint of the series’ initial 5-issue story arc, by raising the stakes: Manteau and Nelson cotton on to what Ex Nihilo and The Squid are after, and catch up with them right as a bigger threat suddenly emerges. We also get some tantalising details of back-story, including some links to the 1980s iteration of the series, Dial H For Hero.

The issue begins with Manteau rescuing Nelson from Vernon and his men, and they get away with the alley phonebooth’s dial, although it ends up broken in the process. Manteau knows how to repair it though, and she also reveals she has a dial of her own, which explains why each time we see her she has a slightly different form. Manteau retains her identity however by never acknowledging her dialled heroes’ names, and by wearing the same mask and cape every time.

Nelson is having a harder time with the heroes he dials: he gets stuck with their memories afterwards, and in one gloriously illustrated panel we see a fight from the real Boy Chimney’s history, as he and the rest of “Team House” (a ridiculous concept for a superhero team, and something that feels like it’s straight out of Un Lun Dun) fight the “Rake Dragon”. Note the first appearance of Open-Window Man, who’ll come back as a major character much later. I completely forgot about this scene until this re-read, so it was a huge surprise to see the blue-suited hero so early on!

Manteau gives Nelson a little history about the dial too. It seems that the entire development of telecommunications on Earth was inspired by a mysterious figure called “O”, who helped Bell et al with their research, while pursuing goals of his own. Interesting… And as we’ll find out in issue #0, the dials have been around a lot longer than telephones, as well.

In the meantime, Ex Nihilo and The Squid continue their work, and we find out that the thing Ex Nihilo is trying to bring back into the world was once The Squid’s companion. This brings me to a correction from the last review. I said that I considered The Squid to be one of Miéville’s greatest villain creations, but what I’ve found out is that The Squid originated in an issue of Dial H For Hero in the 1980s. To be exact, it was Adventure Comics #490, in February 1982. In the issue, the series’ protagonists, Chris King and Vicky Grant, encountered the no-good villain and defeated him in just a handful of pages.

One of the gimmicks of this series was that fans could write in and suggest heroes and villains, and The Squid was a character suggested by a fan, Lester English. So basically Miéville, a fan of the earlier series, is honouring another fan by reviving his creation! It’s kind of inspired and brilliant. I wonder what Lester English thinks of it. Miéville must still be credited for developing the character so well, giving The Squid much more depth, as we’ll find out in issue #4.

The Squid’s companion, by the way, is also featured in the 1982 comic issue (and is also a fan invention), but I’ll talk more about him in later reviews. For now, all we know is that Ex Nihilo is tracking down eyewitnesses from The Squid’s (and his companion’s) last visit to Earth, and altering them in arcane procedures that leave them empty, mindless husks. She has been turning them into “doorways” for the mysterious entity to re-enter the world, but so far it hasn’t been successful at breaching through.

Instead she turns to another method: using the brother of Dial H For Hero’s Chris King, who by virtue of his relationship to the previous hero-dialler, is a better conduit to finally summon The Squid’s vanquished companion. Yeah, to me, it’s a little nebulous that this should work, but I don’t mind because it provides a neat little connection to the previous series, and it gets the plot moving.

Manteau, who reveals she’s a telephone engineer in her normal life, has scrapped together a database of dial references and, rather coincidentally, finds out King’s brother has been attacked by Ex Nihilo and The Squid. While preparing to dial a hero and go to the rescue, Nelson encounters a “shadow on the line” that has been bothering Manteau for a while. This is yet another mystery, piled up on top of others. At this point the first time around, I was so confused as to what was going on. There still are a few too many antagonists and mysteries crammed into the first story arc, in my opinion; but luckily in later issues the story opens out a little more and Miéville gives the characters room to breathe.

Nelson dials again, and turns into his first female hero, which injects a little bit of comic relief as he gets used to the idea. I absolutely love Manteau’s irate reaction to his complaints; this scene is a little bit genius. He (as Baroness Resin) and Manteau arrive just a minute too late, to find Ex Nihilo’s victim disintegrating as one of her “doorways” finally works. Into the room bursts a featureless, starry figure (and The Squid’s companion from his first appearance): Abyss.

* * * * *

I’m not exactly sure why, but I don’t think I enjoyed this issue as much as the preceding one, or the next few. Perhaps it’s because we don’t see Nelson dialling quite as many heroes as last time; and because Manteau is still being all cold and mysterious, not yet the wonderful character we soon come to know and love. All Ex Nihilo’s stuff about doorways and voids is a little overbearing too: her methods are rather nebulously explained, and we don’t really get to know her motives for what she’s trying to achieve. Ex Nihilo, I think, pales a bit as a villain next to The Squid, especially when we learn a lot of The Squid’s back story in the next issue.

I appreciate the artwork a little more since tracking down and reading Adventure Comics #490, where The Squid looks just goddamn ridiculous. He’s kind of just a lumpy, green man there, whereas Mateus Santolouco has created a more biologically-plausible alien who has a range of expression and emotion.

squids

I think, more than anything, The Squid’s design is my favourite aspect of Santolouco’s artwork for this comic. This also illustrates pretty well how far comic book art has come in the last 30 years.

Next issue, we see Manteau behind the mask, and learn a lot more about The Squid. There’s more action, more answers, more humour, and more heroes. It’s probably my favourite issue of this 5-issue story arc. See you next week!

Dialled heroes

  • (unknown) – The form Nelson unsuccessfully tries to dial before he’s stopped by the shadow on the line. I’m trying to figure out what the hell it’s supposed to be. It’s short and bulky, with a yellow cape thing over a blue body, and a hat that looks like the squeeze-top of a mustard bottle? And a handle coming out of its back? What on earth?!
  • Baroness Resin – Nelson’s first female hero! She’s got amber-coloured armour and a purple costume underneath, and can shoot hot resin from her arms, and make barriers of resin. Weird. This is kind of a random design, but oh well, the main point is that her gender provides some humour in Nelson’s indignation, and Manteau’s reaction.

Manteau’s forms

  • “Extinguishess” – This is what Nelson calls her, anyway. Manteau doesn’t like to acknowledge her dialled heroes’ names, so I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to list hero names for her forms. Anyway, this one is a stretchy, hosepipe hero with a fire-hydrant in place of legs. She can fire water, foam and CO2 from her arms, and fly with high pressure jets.
  • (unknown) – A hero made of wood and bark, with hands like branches. I wish we could see this hero in action, rather than just in a dialogue scene.
  • (unknown) – Some kind of giant, metallic humanoid with a red and green costume. Shoots yellow fire/plasma/lightning, it looks like.
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