[ This post covers Dial H Issues #1-4 and #0]
Up until it joined the New 52 Lineup, I had never heard of Dial H for H-E-R-O or any stories about the Dialers. I picked it up out of pure curiosity and interest in a character-driven series that isn't about someone with super powers and all the right answers. And I'm glad I did.
Nelson has taken a wrong turn in life. He used to be nice and healthy, but now he's fat, a smoker, has heart problems - the works. His friend runs into some trouble, and when Nelson scoots into a back-alley phone booth to call for help, he's transformed into a hero. He later figures out how to replicate the transformation: every time he dials "H-E-R-O" in that specific phone booth, he turns into a different supe.
Sounds pretty neat to me.
At first, I didn't know what was going on. Reading Issue #1, you aren't given any history for the H-Dial, or background information for anything except Nelson's character. From then until Issue #4, it was hard to even know what it was the "villain" wanted and how Nelson played into the entire plot. To begin with, all he wanted was to protect his friend, who ended up getting caught in the crossfire of something much bigger.
But then, as it happens, Nelson digs a little too deep. He finds out there's a coma epidemic, he meets the mysterious Manteau who happens to be another Dialer; he loses the ability to change with the H-Dial when it breaks and has to prove his worth without its help, and now... who knows? I can't say I'm too sure about what the Abyss is all about, though Issue #4 provided a good enough twist to get me interested in finding out more.
More than anything, I'm invested in the characters. Nelson isn't a hero -- he could have been anyone. It's easy to relate to him and it's interesting to follow his character around as he experiences all these new things. There are a few references here and there to Gotham, Superman, etc., but the story doesn't take place among the big guys. All the heroes Nelson has turned into have been wacky, over-the-top themed characters that take over his body for as little as mere minutes or for up to several hours.
I then read Issue #0, in which a person from the distant past accidentally dials a hero to ward off a monster from her village. But then the supe whose powers were borrowed became upset. She was upset enough to hunt down and kill the Dialer, and thus ended that brief tale. If anything, it's a nice (though dark) aside to the story, but it didn't particularly stand out. I like Nelson so much more.
I mentioned earlier that I had a hard time following the story and figuring out what the villains were up to. I think part of it is the writing -- I am unfamiliar with China Mieville's previous writing, but I do know that his range of work is much more broad than simply writing comics. Some of the dialogue is vague, or just plain strange, but the further I get into the story, the less that bothers me.
It also helps that there's much more substance to the story now than there was with Issue #1. Manteau has introduced the invaluable concept of losing oneself to the memories of the supes Nelson embodies whenever he dials. Her remedy for that is to simply change from supe to supe without regarding their names or memories, while Nelson has allowed himself to be almost completely taken over by them up until now. I'm interested in seeing how he'll deal with the head jumble now that he knows better.
Finally, there's the art (by Mateus Santolouco). I can't talk about a comic without mentioning it, right? Well, to put it simply, I enjoy the artwork. Is gritty a good word to describe it? I get this great "dark" and "dirty" feel from it, and to be honest, some of my favorite panels are the ones with Manteau in them. I absolutely love her design with the cape and mask, and she looks fabulous in contrast with the grime surrounding her.
Of course, all that being said, I'm going to keep reading the Dial H books. I like where the story is going, and definitely think it's worth the scratch. If you like to check out darker stuff, this might also be the book for you.