Today, Patrick and Taylor are discussing Dial H 6, originally released November 7th, 2012.
Patrick: Fall of 2010, I went to a movie at Chicago’s Music Box theatre with Taylor and Shelby. The movie was Gaspar Noe’s Enter the Void. If you haven’t seen Enter the Void, the reason we were attracted to it was because the log-line is aggressively surreal: a single-shot, first-person perspective trip through life and death of an American expatriot in the sleazy underbelly of Tokyo. Sounds promising — and super weird — right? All three of us tolerated the visual and audio assault for the film’s 3-hour run time, but it wasn’t until we stepped out of the theatre and Taylor said “So, that sucked, right?” that I was able to process what the hell just happened. The movie is so relentlessly strange, that I couldn’t even respond to it as I was experiencing it. That’s frequently how I feel about Dial H: especially given the conclusion of the previous story arc – I just couldn’t get a handle on it. But now, China Mieville is kind enough to show us the cold light of day, and seeing them plainly, these characters and this world is boundless and exciting, with a healthy sense of humor about its own absurdities.
There’s nothing to relay here, plotwise. Nelson’s hanging out at Manteau’s house, watching the news in the hopes that he can spring into action. Currently, the Dial has turned him into Chief Mighty Arrow, but Manteau deems this persona too culturally insensitive to parade out in public. She’s… not wrong. Waiting for something to happen that requires his attention (and would also be severe enough as to excuse the casual racism), Nelson almost falls asleep – which it turns out is a big no-no. Finally, a costumed criminal appears on the scene, but Nelson’s powers fade away. Manteau snatches up the Dial — it is her turn after all — and springs into action.
It’s just another boring weekday night at Manteau’s. I love it. These character have settled into a routine, and while they learn a little bit more about the characters they’re dialing into every day, neither of them has a firm grasp on what they’re dealing with. But little by little, the details are coming together. For the first time, the series addresses the serious problem of letting another identity share your consciousness. As Chief Mighty Arrow, Nelson says “I’m big heap trouble for criminals” before catching himself and realizing how offensive that is. Later in the issue, he even thinks it, albeit only for a second before correcting himself. Manteau knows this problem all too well: once, she dialed a hero so powerful and cool that she didn’t wear her standard Manteau costume. But the desire to be Prime Mover messed with her sense of identity. Check out the way David Lapham draws this super powerful character – it’s almost as though Dial H loses its sense of identity for a second.
This character may be powerful, but she is conventionally so. Gun, electricity, that Rob Liefeld haircut… it’s all very standard comic book hero stuff. But it’s perfectly deployed here – not only to we instantly recognize the power of this form, but we also recognize that how out-of-character and wrong this would be for the series.
The heroes that we do see on display are rich in the kind of ridiculous fun that only this series delivers. Nelson mentions a previous form she took, but would not go outside as: ElectroCutie. It’s refreshing that a character in a comic book actively campaigns to carry herself with respect, and refusing to prance about as some fishnet sex-pot. But it’s also a good joke (puns, Taylor, PUNS!). Chief Mighty Arrow also comes with a flying horse (creatively named ‘Wingy’) who foils crime by pooping on criminals. It’s not rocket science, but damn it all, it works.
There are also some interesting clues about the on-going dial mystery. She asks about “the shadow on the line.” And then we get this flash:
I assume this is just a reminder of what lurks out there for our heroes to face in the future, but the sequence could also suggest that this is something Nelson sees, but isn’t ready to share with Manteau. Either way, it’s interesting to keep a nebulous Big Bad on the back burner – especially when it seems like our Dialers seem content to just fight some everyday crime for the time being.
And while a long form mystery will no doubt be fun, I’m glad to get a break from the mythology-density of previous issues. Nelson is still quick to remind readers of his various faults, but he’s come a long way from the fat worthless asshole in issue 1. How about you Taylor? Did you enjoy the lighter issue or do you wish we’d just get back to exploring the world of the Dials?
Taylor: First, Patrick, I want to tell you how angry Enter the Void stills makes me. I mean, I’ve some really shitty movies in my day but never one that so relentlessly tried to make me hate it. But whatever, I guess that’s “art” and no mater what I do, Gaspar Noe will continue to make movies that “challenge” audiences both with their concept of film and their patience. Similarly, I could see why some people might be losing patience with Dial H at this point in the series since it’s not behaving in the way a typical comic title should. We’ve been shown glimpses of an incredibly rich universe, yet very little has actually been said about it. We know the dials are part of something much bigger than Manteau or Squid or Doc Wald, but two of those characters are now dead so it’s unclear who the next enemy will be in this title – or even where the plot will go from here. With these questions looming, I can understand why some would be particularly put off by this issue since it really addresses none of these concerns. But again, Dial H is a comic that doesn’t play by the same rules as others and I think if the reader is willing to accept it, they’ll realize just how smart and entertaining this title is.
With all that being said, I enjoyed this lighter issue quite a bit. If a story has good characters, it’s easy to simply just spend time with them – even if they aren’t doing anything that is intrinsically cool or important. Donning my nerd cap, I remember this being executed expertly in the “Tricia Tanaka Is Dead” episode of LOST. LOST, as most probably know, garnered a lot of interest from viewers because it created a deep mystery that was slowly revealed over the course of several episodes. In each installment of the show you hoped to learn something more about the island, the Others, or Charles Widmore and were always disappointed when an episode failed to deliver on this expectation. But “Tricia Tanaka Is Dead” departed from this format and allowed the audience to just hang out and drink beer with some of its best characters while they fixed up an old car. Not exactly the most scintillating plot line but one that reminded you why you really watch the show. Issue 6 of Dial H is fun for just these same reasons: the characters are great and if they were real people you would probably enjoy hanging out with them. For me, what ultimately makes a title worth reading every month is how interested in the characters I am, regardless of the plot (unless it’s really bad). When you get to the bottom of any story what we really interests the reader is the people because that’s who they relate to and their guide in a foreign world.
Yet while all this character building is enjoyable, this issue is much more than a simple “hang out” issue. As I said before, Dial H isn’t your typical comic title, partially because it is constantly commenting on superheroes and comic books as a medium. Manteau’s restriction on culturally insensitive superheroes reminds you that comic books — being a medium that is updated weekly — are required to update their heroes and messages to the times they are being published in. Chief Mighty Arrow might have flown by in the 1950s (hell maybe even in the 1980s), but in today’s world there is no room for a character that perpetuates hurtful stereotypes. Similarly, Mieville advocates for a more progressive look at female characters in comic books. Manteau’s refusal to go out crime-fighting as the ElectroCutie reminds us that in comics female characters shouldn’t be reduced to the the fantasy of “13 year old boys.”
This ultimately speaks to why I enjoy this title so much. While the plot is interesting and certainly promises to yield entertainment in the future, it’s merely one aspect of Dial H as opposed to being the aspect of it, as is sometimes the case in lesser titles. When reading any issue of Dial H, I feel as if I’m being more than entertained – I feel like I’m being educated. Like you said Patrick, Dial H 6 is a nice break from the dense issues explored in 0-5, but what I appreciate is it’s exploration of different issues unrelated to those contained in its universe.
Also the puns, so good. Cockahoop still takes the gold though.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?