“The past won’t hold me back anymore.”
Dial H for Hero has been full of style, heart, and good, old-fashioned adventure for three issues now and has no plans of letting up anytime soon. Sam Humphries, Joe Quinones, Jordan Gibson, and Dave Sharpe, along with a guest appearance form Arist Deyn, have made sure to make this story feel important and formative without sacrificing the key element that makes it all work: fun. The H-Dial is one of the most powerful objects in the DC universe, but being a rotary telephone, it is also the most ridiculous. Instead of ignoring or trying to hide the silliness, this creative team capitalizes on it by balancing the high stakes with the unwieldiness of lugging around and chasing after a bulky rotary phone.
With all of the styles and themes to balance, the creative team doesn’t waste any time or space. The cover pulls you in right away with a sleek, modern, 3-D Mr. Thunderbolt ripping away at an old-school comic filled with classically dense thought bubbles and cheesy lines, and even arrows that direct you from panel to panel. It’s a perfect mix of old and new that displays the danger of Mr. Thunderbolt while also showcasing the ridiculousness of the rotary dial in 2019. Gibson’s coloring shines through as he uses much lighter, more weathered colors that give off a colored pencil-like texture. The first page looks like it’s straight out of the original 1980s series thanks to hokey dialogue and dated word choice and more static positioning. No one says words like “unabashedly” or “Sockamagee” anymore, but calling someone a “big-ass nerd” is something you might hear in the halls of a nearby high school. It’s a combination that makes you laugh as you turn the pages.
As we shift focus to the present day, it’s made very clear by the beige captions and dialogue layout that this is Summer’s story. She’s been accompanying Miguel on his mission, but we haven’t learned much about her or her motivations thus far. It would be completely valid to question her purpose, and focusing this issue on Summer dispels those uncertainties almost immediately. She adds a carefree sensation to a mission with very high stakes. You can see how at ease Miguel feels around her, even with the fate of the world at risk. Summer has made Miguel much more willing to take risks, break rules and have fun in ways that are beneficial to his character. Are the begin morons as they make a poor attempt to rob a convenience store in order to get help in retrieving the H-Dial? Absolutely, but you can’t help but laugh along with them. It feels like two friends goofing off and making foolish decisions rather than a high-stakes mission with the world at risk. It’s adorable, youthful, nostalgic, and led completely by Summer’s character.
At first Summer’s beige captions might seem like a strange choice. It’s quite a strange and bland color to choose for such a bright and vibrant book, but then you look closer at Summer’s letters to herself, and you see that it’s a precise reflection of how she views herself. Summer’s writing a letter to nobody because she doesn’t have anybody to write to. She sees herself as a nobody and fights to push her past, rebellious, vulnerable self out of existence. As a former pageant girl who hated every second of her childhood, beige is the perfect color to represent Summer’s stripped down self free of all the extravagance and ostentation that normally accompanies a pageant. Summer may be scared, but she wants to be normal and free instead of trapped like she was in Devil’s Canyon, and no other color represents that more.
Arist Deyn does a great job making her mark on Summer’s character through her flashbacks. The line work is extremely crisp and defined so that Summer’s memories seem almost likes etchings. The emotions and messages come through loud and clear as they are carved in to Summer’s memory. This may be something she’s always trying to escape from, but it will always be apart of who she is. We may be on the outside looking in, but Deyn makes it clear through her thicker line work and polished definition that we aren’t viewing a story or a perception, we’re witnessing memories and facts. These events happened. Summer was locked in a closet and felt trapped in her life, but these memories do not defined her; they fuel her.
This stunning character development combined with the goofy, humorous banter in a myriad of styles makes Dial H for Hero something special. As Miguel and Summer chase after “Clifford the big red phone,” they run smack into a psychedelic wave of 1980s comics. How crazy is that? The Bluebird of Happiness looks straight out of Shade the Changing Man, and is presented with a logo inspired by Doom Patrol. She isn’t you typical modern villain with defined motivations and an evil plot to take over the world. The 1980s were much more abstract than that. Spinning almost directly from the 1980s Vertigo imprint, The Bluebird of Happiness isn’t fighting you with weapons, superpowers, or violence at all. She’s fighting you with feelings, insecurities, and nostalgia. She’s fighting normalcy and the establishment and is getting people wrapped up in their own heads. The bright colors, strange imagery, and psychedelic lowercase lettering slow you down and give you a sense of wonder a little bit of confusion. It may be beautiful, but it’s also kinda freaking you out.
It’s easy to see why Summer is immune to all that. Summer’s been in her own head her whole life and has moved on. She has no nostalgia because she looks back on her childhood with disdain. Summer wants to run away from her previous self and towards adventure. It may not be the healthiest mindset to have day in and day out, but it’s what allows Summer to fight through the disorientation and absurd messages. Summer is who she is, and she owns that very well. So what would be the best style to fight the indie underground of the 1980s? The punk rock aesthetic of the 1990s of course! Reminiscent of comics like Tank Girl and Transmetropolitan, Lo Lo Kick You rips her way onto the page ready to fight. With a aesthetic that reminds you of a mix between Jem and the Holograms and 1990s Harley Quinn, Lo Lo Kick You is ready to kick your ass with punk rock, and it’s a ton of fun. As a battle between the Bluebird of Happiness and Lo Lo Kick you takes place in a clash of two styles you won’t be able to see together in any other comics, you can almost hear a battle of the bands between 1980s new wave and 1990s punk rock. It’s like the B-52s and Depeche Mode are fighting Green Day and Blink-182 before your very eyes in a spectacular display of color and texture. It’s a sequence that should make you appreciate comics because no other medium could pull this off, and the creative team behind Dial H for Hero knows that.
Dial H for Hero #3’s humor, defining character moments, and unique clash of styles are more than enough for one issue, but the creative team also adds in an underlying mystery to keep the reader guessing and the pages turning. Issue #1 set up the question of who the Operator and Mr. Thunderbolt could possibly be. Issue #2 led us to believe that Robby Reed was the new Mr. Thunderbolt with the phrase “Sockamagee.” Now issue three reveals that the Operator is, in fact, Robby Reed which begs the question, who is Mr. Thunderbolt? Is there a split persona situation, is he Eric Bolton, the original Mr. Thunder himself, or is he something totally unexpected? Only time will tell!