China Mieville (story) Mateus Santolouco (art)
Nelse Jent is overweight, out of shape, a heavy smoker, lives alone in a shack of an apartment, and has a bad attitude. Also, he’s the hero of this story.
There was a time when Nelse had a better life, he had a girl he loved, was in shape, and a pretty good fighter. These days he’s sucking down terrible food just as fast as he sucks down a pack of cigarettes. His friend Darren is trying to get him back on the right course, but they have a fight that ends with Darren storming out. Nelse’s wits get the better of him and he goes off to try and find Darren to apologize, only to run into a gang of thugs beating the everloving life out of his friend.
Nelse bolts into a phone booth and dials a random assortment of numbers in haste, what happens next plays out like a bit of an acid trip. Smoke envelops the booth and Nelse is transformed into Boy Chimney. As Boy Chimney, Nelse speaks in a very quizzical manner, dresses in a nice suit, has dried out, almost burnt looking skin. Also his top hat is a chimney and can summon strange creations to beat people around.
When he’s in his transformed state, it doesn’t seem like Nelse has complete control over what’s going on. It’s almost as if he’s watching his body (or whatever) do these strange things from afar. Either way, the transformation wears off a few hours later, Nelse having to fight whatever Boy Chimney is to not kill the thugs. Whoever these thugs work for also saw what went down and he’s not very happy about it, so he calls for some protection. Nelse takes Darren to the hospital and learns that Darren is a thug himself and the guys beating him into a pulp are members of his crew. Enraged, Nelse goes to settle things.
He finds the phone booth again and tries to transform, but none of the number combinations he dials seem to do anything. Nearly giving up, Nelse tries one more number combination that he things spells out I-F-S-O…and it works! Though this time Nelse doesn’t become Boy Chimney but rather Captain Lachrymose. The good captain is…well, you have to see it to believe it. He’s able to bring about the saddest memories in a person’s life and drown them in depression, which gets him through the guards and to Darren’s gang leader easy enough.
What Nelse wasn’t expecting is that the gang leader managed to get hold of some protection in the form of…well I don’t know what she is. She looks liked a haggard old lady and Captain Lachrymose’s powers didn’t do anything to her. Despite this set back, Nelse is able to take control of the fight and put an end to the…old lady. Elsewhere, we see that Darren’s gang leader has a leader and he’s sending someone a little tougher to deal with this new threat.
After the fight, Nelse returns to the phone booth and tries to figure out what 4376 mean. Those are the numbers he dialed and it doesn’t seem like I-F-S-O is anything special. It clicks to him shortly after that those numbers spell out another word. H-E-R-O.
So that’s the first issue of the second wave of the new 52 that I’ve read! It’s actually pretty good! It’s one of those darker comics and it definitely shows with the sort of action going on here. People are beat mercilessly by wisps of smoke and break down in tears at the thought of their worst memories. Fun fact: the gang leader’s worst memory is not getting a present he wanted when he was seven. Nelse is the sort of guy you want to root for, but at the same time you realize the state he’s in is his own fault and no one else’s. He’s definitely not a traditional hero, but he’s got the capability to become one.
The phone booth is a mysterious entity here and I don’t think we’re going to find out what the story behind the thing is for quite a while. It picks some very strange alter-egos for Nelse, that much is certain. I sort of like that he doesn’t always turn into the same hero, it leads to some very creative hero concepts. If this series gets a guest write or artist along the way, then that just increases the chances for an even wider variation of heroes.
I do have one nitpick with this series so far and it’s a major one for me: the art. There’s a very demented take on the art here and it seems to be common place in these darker titles and it’s not something I’m fond of seeing. Everyone looks sort of deranged and the colors are all very muted, expressions are a little bizarre, so it’s definitely going to take some getting used to. I know this is the issue I’ve had with the Frankenstein comic, which I love and that series has much more unappealing art. I know this is the sort of art style that blends well with these stories and settings, but it’s not for everyone and it causes people turn away from what could otherwise be a very interesting read. The story is dark and demented, but it’s a decent ride if you can get beyond the art (or if you love it) in the pages.
All in all, this isn’t a bad start for the new wave of comics and I look forward to seeing what lays ahead for Nelse.