Dial H 0

Alternating Currents: Dial H 0, Shelby and Drew

Today, Shelby and Drew are discussing Dial H 0, originally released September 5, 2012. Dial H 0 is part of the line-wide Zero Month.

Shelby: Our biggest complaint about Dial H has been, not that it’s too weird, but that it’s too inscrutable in its weirdness. I love the madcap collection of heroes in this world and sad-sack Nelson, but this universe is damn confusing. The zero issue takes great steps forward in not only explaining a little bit more how the dials work, but also gives us an idea of just how broad this universe is. Turns out, this universe extends further through time and space than I ever realized.

This issue starts a long time ago. We’re talking Persians vs Spartans, long time ago. Laodice’s village is being hassled by Mušhuššu, a sort of snake tiger-y creature. Laodice takes on the creature, armed only with a “true dream,” the midday sun, and a strange sundial marked with only 10 hours. Once the dial is positioned just right, she touches 4 symbols that form a shield, transforming her into Bumper Carla, a 1950s era Coney Island diva. She vanquishes the beast with lightning from her bumper car, but unfortunately destroys the dial in the process. A few years later, Laodice is queen, and has an unusual visitor insisting he needs to talk to the dialer. At that point, none other than Bumper Carla herself bursts through the wall and kills Laodice. Apparently, as the stranger explains, Bumper Carla is a real superhero in a different world, one of many different worlds. Everything was fine, until one day Carla’s powers were just gone, leeched away by someone else. This led to a lot of deaths on Carla’s world, and she did not take it well. She hunted Laodice down and took her revenge, and for that Slim (the traveler trying to warn Laodice) had to banish her to the still zone. As he leaves, he apologizes for Carla’s actions, saying he knew he was wrong because “there’s nothing on this world that could do what Carla thought had been done.”

Aha, a glimpse of what the hell is going on in this title! We’ve known for a while the heroes being channeled through the dials were actual people, and that the dial process somehow merges the memories of the dialer and the hero. I always assumed that these heroes were…dead, I guess. I never thought the heroes would be existing at the same time the dialer “borrows” their powers. The implications behind this are huge, as we see here. Imagine Superman, flying through the sky to rescue Lois who has fallen out of yet another window, when suddenly all his powers are gone. That would be a problem. Even more interesting than the multi-world implications of using the dial is the fact that the dials existed before phones!

Of all the things I wondered about the dials, how they worked, where they came from, etc., never did I wonder if they predated the telephone. This issue doesn’t answer these questions, but it does tell me this story is a LOT bigger than I thought, and I think that’s exciting.

I said earlier I love the heroes in this title, and that is largely due to their design. Riccardo Burchielli is taking his first turn on pencils for this title, and he doesn’t disappoint. I love the design of Bumper Carla; her appearance alone is super indicative of her character. She’s strong, sassy, tough, and definitely someone I wouldn’t want to mess with even without the crazy electric powers.

This title has in turns been confusing, dense, intriguing, funny, and exciting. I feel we are finally getting a brief glimpse of the universes China Mieville has in mind for this title, and those universes are vast and filled with characters like nothing we’ve seen before. Drew, what did you think of this latest installment? 

Drew: I’ve always been a fan of mysteries. I love living in the ambiguous possibilities of a narrative before the mystery is solved (I’ve often stated on this site that I prefer questions to answers), and the best mysteries draw that period out as long as possible. Still, I need some assurance that the mysteries will eventually be solved in order to fully lose myself in a story. I suspect this is why I’ve never fully gotten on board the David Lynch train — I made the mistake of seeing Mullholand Drive before any of his earlier films — he seems to regularly drop inexplicable details without any interest making them explicable. My initial reticence with this title hinged less upon its inscrutability and more on my fear that that inscrutability was an indication that Mieville was building a Lynchian world of mysteries he never planned on satisfactorily solving. Last month’s issue effectively put that fear to rest for me, which actually makes me kind of resent this issue for giving us so much information outside of the adventures of Nelson and Manteau.

Getting too much information too quickly is a weird thing to complain about, but with my newfound faith in Mieville’s commitment to explaining just what the fuck is going on, I’m kind of disappointed that he doesn’t get to draw some of these mysteries out. I think the fact that the powers are actually stolen from heroes on other worlds is a huge piece of information, even if it doesn’t exactly impact our characters right now, so I’m not sure I like that it was outed in DCs mandatory “let’s all reveal some backstory” month. Then again, this also introduces the idea that those heroes might resent being dialed up, and that some might eventually come looking for Nelson or Manteau. I might be waiting for that shoe to drop for a long time, but I’m still going to go ahead and assume that this issue serves as Checkov’s concept-of-vengeful-heroes-from-another-dimension (and we all know you don’t introduce one of those in the first act unless blah blah blah).

Grumblings about pacing and editorial interference aside, this issue was a blast. I’m especially fond of the idea that these heroes have aesthetics that roughly correspond to periods of human history, but that they can be dialed up in any time — including those before the onset of that aesthetic. Hence a bumper-car-themed heroine in ancient Persia. The non sequitur juxtaposition is brilliant (Laodice can’t even appreciate the pun of the name “Bumper Carla,” being unfamiliar with both bumper cars and people named Carla), allowing for a very different kind of joke than the heroes we’ve seen Nelson dial up. This kind of conceptual anachronism makes this issue an odd companion piece to StormWatch 0, which has an explanation for why this kind of thing doesn’t happen in that title.

It’s a little weird that Slim doesn’t believe that there’s a device that could have summoned Carla, since the whole reason he’s there is to warn a person he thinks used such a device. Hell, he even calls Laodice “dialer,” which makes it sound like he has some pretty specific knowledge about just what kind of device was used to summon Carla in the first place.

What’s interesting about this particular dial is that it features none of the telephoning technology that seems so central to the functionality of Nelson and Manteau’s dials — it’s just a slab of rock, as far as I can tell. Laodice has it destroyed so nobody can ever misuse its power, and there doesn’t seem to be a wire in sight. In fact, the only thing this dial seems to have in common with the dials we already know is that its roundish, features 10 characters, and is called a “dial.” If that’s really all that’s needed, I wonder what that business with 0’s influence on the history of telephony has to do with anything. Maybe I don’t need to lament the loss of a few mysteries, after all.

Perhaps my favorite thing about this issue is seeing Mieville craft a self-contained story. Sure, it has all kinds of implications on the series at large, but getting a simple, compelling story with a beginning, middle, and end further bolsters my faith in Mieville to deliver in the long run. The fact that it could be picked up as a first issue is just a bonus. Now is definitely a good time to get into Dial H.

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?

13 comments on “Dial H 0

  1. I like how well this pays off that single panel from issue 3 where the House Gang is fighting the Rake Dragon. Whatever assumptions I had drawn from that are happily usurped by the knowledge that there are hilariously themed parallel words (trapped in time? freed from the constraints of time?) populated with heroes that would only be appropriate in that world. Really fun.

    Also, we are assuming that the dials pull from multiple world, right? Is there anything to suggest that Nelson and Manteau aren’t in our regular DC Universe? Shelby pointed out how bad it would be if Nelson accidentally tapped into Superman’s powers mid-Lois-save, but that could still happen, right? If the world of the New 52 is just another world from which Nelse can borrow his powers…. shit could get real.

  2. I really like the idea that the Dials don’t make up super heroes, but borrow them from actual heroes someplace else. This give new thoughts about why Nelson was experiencing memories that weren’t his. Also, we learn that when a Dial-er has the powers, the hero doesn’t, which could cause lots of tension and problems.

  3. “What’s interesting about this particular dial is that it features none of the telephoning technology that seems so central to the functionality of Nelson and Manteau’s dials — it’s just a slab of rock, as far as I can tell.”

    Wasn’t it a sun dial?

  4. I’m way late to the party on this one but I just finished reading this issue and it’s got me wondering about what this could say about DC’s multiverse in the New 52. Is it still confined to just 52 universes? If so, would DC really want to use up countless dimensions for this one book? Before the New 52 we got only a handful of Earths, but with Dial H, we seem to be getting quite a few. Unless these Dial heroes are all from one really wacky dimension this book makes me think that DC’s multiverse is starting to expand again.

    • I never thought of that. I always forget Dial H is technically in the DCNU. Honestly, I wouldn’t have a problem with it existing wholly outside the DC universe proper.

      • Agreed.

        Mikyzptlk, your point about the multiverse is well-taken, given that the Bumper Carly apparently needs to travel between dimensions to get to Earth, but I think it would be presumptuous to assume these characters are being drawn from other Earths. If they were from other planets, there’d be no limit to how many new heroes Mieville can come up with.

        • Good point Drew. Even though they don’t really feel like aliens to me, that could easily be the solution. Plus, since we are dealing with aliens in the non-zero issues, they certainly wouldn’t be out of place. That being said, it seems to me that Mieville was establishing the dial heroes as extra-dimensional rather that extra-terrestrial (although, it could easily be both). Also, If you could build a machine that borrows powers from heroes why would you build one that has to break dimensional barriers when all you’d have to do is build one that reaches out to different planets in the one dimension? That just seems more complicated than it has to be.

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