Dial H #1
China Mieville is a self-described writer of ‘Weird Fiction’, usually in the form of fantastical novels, and so it is somewhat surprising to see his name on the front of a new DC title, that is until you read that he is also a self-described ‘DC superfan’. These two terms essentially drive his title, Dial H (The title of which was shortened from Dial H For Hero!) which is both a remarkably strange new story and also an ode to the idea of superheroes.
Mieville is a strong creative force, his novels noted for their originality and otherworldlyness, and he brings his A-game to Hcreating an entirely unique world and narrative within the space of this pilot issue, rather than relying on the existing depths of the DC universe as so many of the companies other number one’s have. H is exactly the kind of fresh new IP that DCnU’s New 52 should have featured, rather than the rote renumbering that we were actually given. Though that said it is also not entirely appropriate for their brand, it would perhaps belong better amongst the art-driven titles of the Vertigo imprint for of the two terms given it is the strangeness that stood out as strongest.
Stranger still is that perhaps it shouldn’t, for on the surface this isn’t all that experimental a title. The concept of the comic itself is even very similar to that which drives other, basic superhero books: an everyday man – this one more everyday than most: obese, a heavy smoker, alone and without a purpose – in an extraordinary situation is transformed by a mysterious artifact – in this case a telephone box, in a bit of cheeky irony that the book can get away with given that it shares a world with Supes himself – into a godlike being with bountiful powers. Only the next time that he finds himself in a spot precarious enough to warrant it the transformation that he undergoes is a different one and with it comes a different set of powers. He’s not a superhero, but every superhero imaginable and this is why Mievilles presence is so essential; he has the imagination required to maintain it.
So much is still up in the air with this book, but the central hook seems to be that when dialed correctly the phone perverts its user into a hero themed around their current thought or mindset. The first time that our protagonist – though he may not be for long, the story so easily allowing a vignette-esque structure based around different people discovering the device – uses the phone he has just finished arguing with a friend about his smoking habit, complete with a multiple cigarette’s in mouth gag and so he is made into Boy Chimney, a smoke-based superhero. The second he is down in the dumps and so the form he is fitted with is that of Captain Lachrymose, essentially an embodiment of the emo trend that is powered by sorrow and knows just the right secret to extract it with. Both very broad and unappealing characters yes, but they are just throwaways; next month will bring with it two more modes to add to the repertoire and more still will come after that.
Having a constantly refreshing set of powers and weaknesses ensures that situations, specifically action scenes, will remain interesting over a long run and it allows a plethora of possible plot options. In short(ish) it is a great idea, one inventive enough on its own to warrant a book, but on top of that you have the fact that it also opens up a whole host of areas for subtle meta-skewering of the superhero mythos. If he explores them and how well he does so is another thing that we’ll just have to wait to see. Were it anyone else behind the pen the idea would find me equally pleased and fearful, but thanks to the strangeness of his thought process mine are more of the former; Mieville will run out of issues before he runs out of workable characters.
Unfortunately though as a writer China succeeds much more inside his head then he does on the page; his ideas are amazing but his execution does them little justice. Dial H for example lacks clarity on a page to page basis (Who is this organization that his friend gets caught up with? What in the hell is the old lady? How was his friend helping him out before the first page?), there are a number of clunky moments within them (Like the comment to the nurse, which is included only to illicit the foreshadowing that follows) and the dialogue leaves a lot to be desired ( especially when he attempts to stylish it, as he does for each hero. Boy Chimney was unintelligible and not in an intelligent way). I’m not sure if Mieville simply struggled in adapting to the comic medium – which would be entirely understandable – or if these are mistakes that he commonly makes, maybe though they are my errors or intentionally mysterious (which would only partially absolve them). Who knows? Again, it is too early for me to.
Whether or not these flaws are forgivable I’m yet to see, but the imagination on display around them is enough to get me back for at least another few weeks and well..l doubt that this is a book that will last much longer than that based on its eccentricity. Honestly though I’m not sure that this is such an unfortunate thing, because to my mind the book is best suited for a short form series. There are some great mysteries that open here in H (What is the phone? Does the protagonist control these Heroes? or are they beings of their own volition? And the obvious, What’s going to happen next?) but I don’t know that i want to spend such a long time solving them; my patience for this premise is limited, as is my enthusiasm.
Nevertheless if you’re interested in reading something different, something a little out of left field then give this first issue a shot and see what you think. I think that it’ll either be a modern masterpiece or a train wreck and I am intrigued to see which.