Dial H 3

Today, Peter and Patrick are discussing Dial H 3, originally released July 4th, 2012.

Peter: Dial H is probably the weirdest book that I am currently reading. If you had told me a year ago that I would be reading a book about an overweight, chain smoking 30-year old man that uses a magic rotary dial to turn into obscure heroes, I probably would not have believed you. China Mieville has weaved an interesting world, full of lush characters and voices. The entire premise of this book is very interesting, but at this point, I am still unsure about the longevity of this series.

Issue 3 picks up back in the alley, and the chase of Nelson by the thugs of Ex Nihilo. A mysterious woman shows up and rescues Nelson, as the thugs shot up the telephone booth. Nelson grabs the dial, and he and mysterious woman take of into the air. They land at the mysterious woman’s secret lair, err… her suburban home. Inside, they have a chat about the Dial, the history of invention, a mysterious figure known as ‘O’ and Nelson’s apparent memory decay. The mysterious woman’s name is Manteau, and she is/was a telephone engineer, with a dial of her own. They discover that a man named Mr. King is now in Littleville, and that he may know something. Nelson “dials up” a new hero: Baroness Resin. After freaking out about his own gender bending, Nelson jumps into action, Manteau at his side. They arrive just in time to find X.N. and the Squid strapping King to a bed and doing experiments on him. King’s face explodes and a dark figure known as Abyss bursts forth.

Okay, so this book’s as confusing as ever. While last issue was mostly a huge fight scene, this issue is more of a giant conversation and story build up. I really liked that this issue tried to explain a little more about the Dials, where they came from and what they are for, but I don’t think it did enough. It did provide a certain amount of mystery and suspense. Between the introduction of the mysterious ‘O’, and the Shadow on the Line, my favourite is O.

I find it incredibly cool that there was this mysterious man who gave famous inventors their best ideas, and that telephony is a byproduct of what he was trying to accomplish. I like it when comic books connect to history and historic figures in new, usually supernatural ways. (If you happen to like those books too, check out Hickman’s S.H.I.E.L.D. printed by Marvel – it’s superb.)

From the first page of issue 1, it was clear that Nelson has issues. I thought that dialing couldn’t be good for Nelson, as I expressed when Shelby and I reviewed issue 2. Now we have found out that it isn’t good for him. It has begun to give him false memories of things that haven’t happened to him: memories of others.

First of all, I think it’s awesome that there is/was an entire team of superheroes that make up a house. Second of all, this whole scene gives us an interesting premise. Were all of the heroes that can be dialed real heroes and people before? Or were they other people who used Dials and then lost their minds? Why do they have their own memories? Where did they come from? It’s a whole mess of confusion.

The art in this book continues to be stellar. The huge amount of weird stuff going on is daunting, but Santolouco continues to deliver. One of my favourite shots is of Nelson in his weird amalgamation of all this heroes.

The amount of detail that is achieved is marvelous, and the incorporation of so many of Nelson’s earlier transformations is awesome. Also, this really shows Santolouco’s wide colour and texture palate. There are both rough and scratchy surfaces, as well as smooth and soft surfaces as well. It’s really quite well done.

I’m still very much on the fence about this book. Even after so much was explained, there’s a lot to still find confusing. I like that this book is so different from traditional super hero books. It definitely spices up my pull list. However, as China Mieville continues this story, I hope he begins to explain more things, rather than make things more confusing. I do really like his writing, and style. He gives each character, especially Nelson, a very unique and fitting voice. His love of ‘weird fiction’ is something that I share. Right now however, this is almost too weird.

Patrick: The best part about that bat-shit insane image you posted above (all of Nelson’s heroes jammed together into one incoherent whole), is that it’s just first panel in the issue. This is hands down, unapologetically, the strangest series I’m reading right now – and that’s including Brian K. Vaughan’s Saga. And while that strangeness is much of its appeal, I too find myself scratching my head from time to time. There’s an awful lot to unpack here, and the sheer volume of impossible-to-comprehend mythology is part of the joke. And when that joke is running full-tilt, it’s fucking hilarious. Check out that battle against the Rake Dragon again – IT HAS RAKES FOR HANDS!

But Ex Nihlo and Squid? That joke is harder to get. Is she human? Squid makes all sorts of strange remarks about how he’s either trying or not trying to act more human. And X.N. always chimes in to make some snide comment about how it’s weird that he’s pretending to human. So, if they’re not the same creature, they at least have a shared history. And while we’re learning more about the magic dial, our villains are only beginning to interact with this thing. Which leads me to the question: what’s their deal? And my obviously follow-up question: is the joke on me for even asking that question?

I mean, let’s break it down for a second. A character named “0” (which… are we pronouncing that “zero” or “oh?”), visited every inventor who was working on telecommunications and somehow established a magical system by which a few telephone dials could transform normal people into the strangest heroes imaginable. That’s the sort of revisionist history that seems right at home next to Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. And the heroes themselves? Did you ever watch The Tick?

Chairface Chipendale, American Maid, that godzilla-lookin’ dude with the moustache – all characters that populated The Tick‘s delightfully surreal “The City.” Dial H‘s cast of characters include Open-Window Man, Boy-Chimney and Door Pilot – the heroes of “Cityvilletownopole.” This level of nonsense is impressive, but it leaves me in the critical position of saying “it’s funny because…”

I appreciate that there are also moments of more subtle humor – not everything has to be an absurdly-named superhero. Here’s one I like – Manteau’s house is full of phones.

Sure, she’s been studying dials for years, but come on – how long would you hang on to a rotary phone that isn’t magical?

I miss Nelson’s friend and the light-hearted banter between the two. That little bit of dialogue about Matthew McConaughey’s inability to keep his shirt one was nice, character-based comedy, which goes a long way to counter-balance the otherwise zany humor throughout. The closest we get here is Nelson’s little freak-out about turning into a woman. But that certainly doesn’t make me like the character any more – and let’s be honest: we need more shortcuts to liking that dude.

Some of the dialogue is stilted and awkward. On a second read, I’m able to parse it all out and find the humor in the jangy prose, but it’s still a real hang-up on my first read-through. Some exchanges never quite pay-off. Take this scene, for instance. Is Squid’s line of questioning intentionally obtuse? Are the vagaries of the mythology he’s presenting part of the joke or is this maybe just poorly written?

Hahaha. What could that possibly mean? What a weird experience reading this thing is.

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?

9 comments on “Dial H 3

  1. I’ve been reading it as ‘oh’, since I assume that most circles without diagonal slashes are ‘O’ not ‘0’. But I could be wrong. Also, goddamn I miss The Tick.

  2. Patrick, I think you have XN and Squid confused. XN is the red-head who isn’t Manteau, wears the steampunk battle suit, and speaks with normal word bubbles. Squid is the green-faced non-human who horks ups poisonous ink, is somehow related to Abyss, and speaks in black bubbles with yellow text. He’s the one who’s speech oscillates between “a gangster and a scientist,” she’s the one who’s been trying to summon Abyss the whole time.

    • No, no I got that. I question whether X.N. is human (or somehow comes from the same place as Squid) because they seem to have such an extensive history together. The combination of pronouns and strange names certainly does give the impression that I could be talking about the characters interchangeably.

  3. The O/0 question is tough; I’m assuming this entity represents some all powerful Operator, which could be represented by either the letter O or the number zero.

    This title is so weird, both in subject matter and in that I like it as much as I do. I just wish it wasn’t so damned confusing; I’m pretty sure I really like this universe, but I can’t quite wrap my head around it.

  4. Hahaha. I just realized I’d been assuming China Mieville was a woman, almost entirely because Chyna (the professional wrestler) is a woman. I don’t even watch professional wrestling. Weird

  5. The mythology that I understand, I like. The idea of Manteau wearing a mask to help her remember her own identity instead of hiding it from others? That’s really clever.

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