52 Catch Up is a series devoted to looking at issues from DC’s New 52 and seeing how they’re faring now that they’re underway, why they’re worth reading (or not), and places we hope they will go in time.
Dialing 4376 (HERO) at a mysterious phone booth transforms Nelson Jent into a new superhero every single time. He begins to use his new gifts to help his friend Darren who has gotten in deep with the local criminals, but Nelson is about to get in way over his head.
MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW
Previously on Dial H: Covering Issues #1-4
Nelson Jent’s obesity and smoking cause him to have a heart attack before the age of 30. His friend, Darren Hirsch, helps him back from the hospital and pleads for Nelson to start taking care of himself. Nelson throws Darren’s concern back in his face and Darren leaves. On his way home, Darren is attacked by a group of thugs who start to beat him to death. Nelson goes after Darren to apologize and comes across the attack. Nelson runs to a nearby payphone, which happens to be an old rotary, and tries to call 911. Instead, he transforms into a superpowered being known as Boy Chimney and chokes out the thugs and takes Darren to a hospital.
Nelson visits Darren in the hospital later and learns that Darren was working for Vernon Boyne but missed the latest breaking and entering job he was supposed to do in order to help Nelson. Nelson returns to the phone booth and starts to play with it, eventually dialing 4376 or HERO. He turns into Captain Lachrymose, a superhero with the ability to depress people. Captain Lachrymose goes after Vernon, forcing him to relive his most painful memories before ordering him to leave Darren alone. Nelson next checks out the address Darren was supposed to break into, which belongs to the latest in a string of coma victims. Inside, as the hero CTRL+ALT+DEL, he runs into a cloaked woman who attacks him. CTRL+ALT+DEL reboots her, stripping her of her superpowers and they both escape. Meanwhile, the woman pulling Vernon’s strings, X.N., has her agent, the Squid, go after and kill Darren.
Nelson realizes something’s wrong and comes to the hospital as Iron Snail. Iron Snail and Squid fight, coming out to a draw due to Squid’s speed vs. Snail’s toughness. Iron Snail flees when the dial starts to fade and Nelson sheds the form right as he reaches a cab. He heads back for the phone booth but runs into the cloaked woman there. Hot on his heels are some of Vernon’s thugs who open fire, destroying the telephone booth and damaging the dial. Nelse grabs the dial, and the cloaked woman helps them both escape using her hose powers. She takes him to her house where she reveals herself to be a dial-wielder known as Manteau. She reveals that dialing comes with memories and that she wears a mask and a cloak to help her remember who she is. Nelson’s dial is broken, but she might be able to fix it. Over the next several days, Nelse starts to get in shape. When he returns to Manteau she gives him his now partially fixed dial. Manteau has been tracking X.N. and Squid’s attacks on people, which are putting them into comas. All of the victims bore witness to a single jewelry heist by a void decades earlier. Nelson dials the hero Baroness Resin, and the two go in search of the next target, Mr. King. They arrive after X.N. and Squid who have already summoned the being known as Abyss from King’s body.
As the Abyss gathers its strength, X.N. tries to contain it with a special gun she made. She ends up shooting Squid when he tries to get her to stand down. When she acknowledges she won’t be able to capture Abyss, she takes out Manteau and captures her and her dial. Nelson’s dial breaks again and he returns back to his own body. Squid shoots him in the face with “poison” on their way out, assuring X.N. that their hero problems are over. X.N. interrogates Manteau, learning how the dial works and heads out to use it and her powers over nullomancy, the magic of nothingness, to try and harness Abyss’s power. X.N. refused to help Squid’s wounds, so he goes to Nelson looking for help. The Abyss was originally Squid’s companion from his home world. They would travel from world to world stealing items until one day they came across the dial-wielders and were trapped outside of the worlds for decades. Now, all Squid wants is to get home. X.N. isn’t willing to help him out anymore, so he volunteers to help Nelson. Nelson disguises himself as the hero Rescue Jack with a borrowed cape of Manteau’s and a sledgehammer, and the two come for Manteau in the warehouse. Squid and Nelson make their way past X.N.’s goons and get to Manteau. Vernon comes behind them and shoots Squid in the back. He aims at Manteau but Nelson takes a sledgehammer to his face. Meanwhile, the Abyss absorbs X.N. and shows her the treachery going on within her own organization. Transformed into a new hero by the dial, she rushes in to confront Squid, Manteau, and Nelson.
Dial it Up: The gimmick of the dialing is great. Every time Nelson heads into action, we get a brand new hero and powerset and these are not your Supermen, Batmen, or Green Lanterns; some of the heroes Nelson turns into are really out there, hitting various points on the creepy and wacky scales (sometimes both!), but like Resurrection Man, every time Nelson dials you can’t wait to see what he’s going to become.
The World: Dial H may be a part of the DC universe but it feels like it’s own distinctive slice. Besides a few references to Justice League members, the rest of the universe is off doing its own thing. The ideas behind the dial-wielders, the abyss, and all the different forms of spellcasting, make Dial H a unique and fun world to explore.
Rereading: While the world building in Dial H is well worth it, this is a title I recommend rereading sections of or waiting to pick up in trade. Even reading the issues relatively close together, I had a hard time piecing together everything from issue to issue (and a lot happens!) and got a lot more out of it when I sat down to the first issue already knowing what was really going on.
Fix that Dial: Nelson’s broken dial has been a source of endless problems and may be a source for great opportunities. In Issue #3 he panics when he’s transformed into a woman. Imagine what truly crazy heroes a broken dial could call forth?
Losing Yourself: Manteau alluded to getting lost in the dial and using her mask and cape as a means to remind her of who she is. Will Nelson’s nightmares get worse, and will he start to slip deeper into his heroic personas? How do all of the heroes connect and what’s the story behind O’s creation of the dials?
Other Dimensions: If Squid and Abyss come from another world and were capable of hopping dimensions, what else is capable of doing the same? I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the heroes dial-wielders turn into come from another dimension. It would certainly explain both their interest in trapping Squid and Abyss and their ability to keep them in between dimensions for so long.