Review: Dial H for HERO Vol. 2: New Heroes of Metropolis trade paperback (DC Comics)

Sam Humphries' Dial H for HERO remains an excellent project, truly one of the better and more viable miniseries I've seen from DC Comics in a while. Dial H for HERO Vol. 2: New Heroes of Metropolis starts off not quite as well as the first volume, if just because some of the surprise has worn off and one better knows what to expect from this title now — but the optimistic, otherwise-sappy ending hits just right, tonally perfect for the title, Wonder Comics, and this day and age.

Humphries gets this title where, in my opinion, it needed to go, while at the same time wholly subverting my expectations as to how it would get there, which is great. It feels as though artist Joe Quinones doesn't get quite as much to do here overall — the point in which, rather than having Quinones imitate other artists' styles, they just bring in actual other artists, doesn't quite land as well as one might expect — though there are strong points especially right at the end that evoke the rush of the first volume.

To an extent I take back my request from my review of Dial H for HERO Vol. 1: Enter the Heroverse, that Humphries and Quinones keep penning the adventures of Miguel and Summer without letting any other writers take the reins. There are assuredly writers out there who could do these characters ill, but also it seems like Wonder Comics is setting up a very specific, new subset of the DC Universe that's a lot of fun, and I'd be just as happy to see Brian Michael Bendis or another friend of Wonder Comics explore that more.

[Review contains spoilers]

It is assuredly the right choice for Dial H to do what it does in this book's first two chapters — there's precedent, definitely, and I'm sure it sounded right on paper. In the first chapter, the book spins four short stories of Metropolis' new H-Dial-generated heroes, the kind of quick hits of superhero zaniness that the "Dial H" concept was made for (and that essentially formed the basis for Will Pfeifer's whole H-E-R-O series). These are fine, for what they are, and I credit Humphries for some unexpected turns, including one of the heroes dying (and also a Bibbo cameo!). But again, I found a raft of guest artists being themselves less visually interesting than Quinones bending himself into a dozen different shapes. Also, even as Humphries and Quinones ultimately got 12 issues for Dial H instead of the initial trial six, starting off this volume well away from Miguel and Summer felt like using up valuable space and ultimately made the narrative drag.

That extends to the second issue as well. Admittedly it's hard to find much fault in a comic that's narratively split into two — so that the pages alternate with telling the story forward from the beginning and backward from the ending until they meet in the middle — and that works both reading it linearly and by the in-story page numbers. Nothing really to fault Humphries for there, nor for devoting an issue to the Operator Robby Reed and the villainous Mister Thunderbolt, whose conflict has lead the story from the beginning.

But it's been obvious Reed and Thunderbolt were in some way the same person for a while, so despite the clever narrative tricks, there's not much surprise here. Further, the issue's guest artist is, of course, not Quinones and makes no attempt to imitate any styles, and now we're two issues into the volume and Miguel and Summer have barely shown up. As two issues between arcs of a longer series, all of this might have been fine, but for the cost of cutting this book down to just four "regular" issues, these one-offs don't seem worth it.

Once those hurdles are cleared, however, New Heroes picks up in innumerable ways. There's just the general concept of Miguel and Summer as Daily Planet interns in general that's a delight for a couple pages even before any action starts. There's Quinones' almost immediate wild mash-up of Hanna-Barbera, Kevin Eastman's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Jem and the Holograms, not to mention a trip through the DC Multiverse, Miguel the Street(!), Reign of the Supermiguels and Supermiguel Red/Supermiguel Blue, a MAD Magazine homage, Popeye, and on and on — Dial H gets its mojo back in a hurry.

Also, the sheer extent to which Humphries uses and builds on Grant Morrison's Multiversity is really impressive. Humphries explores the outer reaches, literally, of Morrison's Multiverse map in a way I feel other writers haven't dared to do. I've a sense there's some of Bendis' impetus there for Wonder Comics to play with the toys that maybe others aren't.

Given how much Miguel's aspirational relationship with Superman has played a part in this miniseries, I was surprised — and thrilled to be surprised — that Humphries doesn't actually have Superman appear. Indeed, Miguel acknowledges that this has all been about superpowers; that, given his parents' death and such, he's felt the only path to worth is to have extraordinary abilities. He comes, instead, to understand that the real power is in "hope," and this is reflected not only in the themes of hope intrinsic in (some retellings of) Superman's origin, but also, as Humphries shows, in events throughout DC Comics history. To the extent that the ending is perhaps too sincere, one has come to like Miguel and Summer's friendship enough that the sincerity between the two doesn't come off too saccharine. That's exactly the balance Wonder Comics needs to achieve.

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We finish Dial H for HERO Vol. 2: New Heroes of Metropolis with Miguel and Summer continuing to work as interns at the Daily Planet, while the Wonder Twins work as interns at the Hall of Justice (I haven't read that miniseries yet, but I've been loving that the Wonder Twins have cameoed in almost every title where the Hall of Justice has appeared). All of them, plus Naomi, are set to come together in Young Justice, and who knows what the outcome of that will be, but there seems the perfect set-up here for a modular "lower decks"-type series — the superheroic interns and coffee-fetchers of the DC Universe, whose adventures take place in the background of the Justice League's big events. If a book like Dial H proper can't go on with Sam Humphries and Joe Quinones, I'd accept that as a substitute.

[Includes original covers, sketches and character designs]


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