Dial H 5

Alternating Currents: Dial H 5, Taylor and Drew

Today, Taylor and Drew are discussing Dial H 5, originally released October 3rd, 2012.

Taylor: Here’s the thing: metaphysical thought is messy, very messy. Thinking about where man came from, what he is made of, and where he is going yields no solid answers and often times leaves the thinker more confused than when he or she first began to ponder those ideas in the first place. When you add the outside world (and universe) to this equation things are obviously going to get even muddier. What is this something we see? What is this nothing we don’t see? If there’s nothing, doesn’t that mean there has to be a something to validate the nothing’s nothingness? It’s not easy to discuss these confounding and complex ideas in an artistic way given that you can’t ever really speak about them in a straight forward manner. To do that would feel somewhat dishonest and wouldn’t accurately reflect the feelings that come with this philosophical territory. In Dial-H 5 the reader is presented with some of these questions, but rather than falling back on stale mythologies or old tropes, the issue embraces the chaos of messy questions and does so with stylish story telling and complimentary artwork.

With Abyss freed and prepared to eat all of the light in Littleville, Doctor Wald sets off to kill Nelson, Manteau, and Squid to ensure her evil plans come to fruition. Little does Ward know that Abyss has no intention of bending to her will and quickly proves to be under no one’s control. While it is going after tasty gems, Wald succeeds in mortally wounding Squid but Nelson and Manteau manage to escape and attempt to fix Nelson’s broken dial. Meanwhile, with Dial in hand, Ward sets off to combat Abyss, but even as the Hairbinger (puns!) — a most powerfully locked superhero — she proves no match for it. Realizing the danger that Littleville is in, Nelson nabs his semi-broken Dial from Manteau and transforms into the Cock-A-Hoop, a superhero whose primary power appears is to confuse his enemies by hula-hooping around them at extreme speeds. The dying Squid informs Nelson (Cock-A-Hoop) that if he confuses the “young nothings” surrounding Abyss with his hooping, Wald (Hairbinger) can then use her nullmancer powers to have them eat their fathermother, Abyss itself. This has confusing consequences. Abyss turns to stone and explodes shooting out superhero Dials, one of which hits Wald’s Dial while she is flying causing her to plummet to her death. Saved by his faulty Dial transforming him back into a normal human, Nelson and Manteau make a convenient get away from the whole scene.

If all of that sounds confusing, don’t worry, that’s just the way the comic plays out. When a story’s primary antagonist is technically nothing (unless he’s dark matter which raises a lot of weird questions), how else would you expect it to turn out? If anything, Dial H is quickly proving itself to be a title that won’t let itself be pinned down by conventional storytelling for long. Naturally, that will cause some confusion at points and can cause the reader some trouble in trying to sort out all of the messy (in a good way) aspects of the story. But really, it’s kind of fun to live in this confusion and just enjoy the ride, much the same way the Nelson has suddenly been swept up into some grand universe he didn’t even know existed a few days ago. While it would be nice to know more about Abyss, Doctor Wald’s research, and Squid’s cowboy-like home planet, at the moment I’m happy to be abiding in a state of weirdness and confusion where I don’t really know any of the answers.

With other writers I might be skeptical of where all of these disparate plot elements are going, but in the hands of China Mieville I feel fairly safe, if for no other reason than his previous literary pursuits have acted in much the same way. Mieville’s plots tend to deal in hard-to-grasp metaphysical notions that at first are quite foreign to the reader. However, given time they all inexorably bend to some sort of order that the reader comes to understand at some point , just not before being asked to think a little bit about it by themselves first. We get a little taste of this metaphysical order establishing itself when Squid, with his dying breath, relates to Nelson (and the reader) what exactly is going on when nothingness eats abyss:

Turns out, it's pretty easy to get something from nothingIt’s not a lot but it’s enough to pique your interest and let you see just a little bit of what’s under the hood in the Dial H Galaxy.

Meanwhile, Mateus Santolouco’s artwork complements the surreal and confounding plot of Dial H quite well, offering both complimentary and humorous commentary on the story. It’s hard to say exactly why Abyss exploded with Dials when it died but the full page spread is alive with this confusion.

Oh, I know what's going on here: EVERYTHINGAlso of note are the faces of Nelson and Manteau in the inset panel. They are stunned and confused and have no idea what is going on, just like the readers of Dial H; perhaps this is Santolouco’s affirmation that it’s okay to not know what is going on with the story at this point.

Ultimately it’s affirmations and glimpses of humor (Cock-A-Hoop anyone?) like this in Dial H that help to reassure you that, yes, Dial H is nuts, you’re not missing something. When asking question of the universe, whether it be the one we live in or that of Dial H it’s always good to remember that it helps to face them with humor and the understanding that some things will be answered, and others, perhaps not.

I’m curious Drew, are you as perplexed by Dial H so far as I am? Do you think we’ll find the answers to some of the questions posed by this issue? Or do you think this is all just a bunch of gobbledygook that we should just sit back and enjoy for the weird humor?

Drew: OH MAN. To answer your question, I have every bit of confidence that Mieville will get around to explaining what’s going on when he’s good and ready. This is a fairly newfound confidence — I have no experience with Mieville outside of this series — but the weirdness of this issue has only assured me that he’s playing at a much bigger game than was laid out in the first few issues.

If you had told me before I picked up this issue that Squid, Ward and Abyss would be dead by the end, I would have been profoundly disappointed. I absolutely adored the focus on Squid and Abyss in issue 4, and the explanation of just what was going on with Ward salvaged my opinion of this title (which was veering dangerously towards “gobbledygook,” as Taylor so eloquently put it). Just as I finally get comfortable with their motivations, Mieville yanks the rug out from under me, with a not-so-subtle reminder that this story was never about them in the first place.

Mieville turns the focus back to the dial, effectively demonstrating that, though we understand how Nelson uses the dial, we have absolutely no idea how it works, where it came from, or even what it is. When the other dialers show up, apparently hunting dials, we have no idea who they are or what they want. That leaves a lot of questions, and with only Nelson and Manteau standing at the end of the issue, it’s clear that those are the questions Mieville will be pursuing in this series.

All this business with Abyss, then, is entirely auxiliary to the story, amounting to little more than window dressing. But it’s damn interesting window dressing. The fact that Mieville is willing to so carefully craft characters and plot lines he knows won’t last a few issues gives me a great deal of confidence in the care that is going into this title at large. Those narrative detours also add a great deal of depth to the universe Mieville is creating. Take Manteau’s explanation of her transcendentalist-telephone-engineer past. It’s absurd, but wonderfully so.

A PhD in Telephone History is worth it's weight in phone books (that is, a fraction of one phone book)Santolouco’s art manages to make these flights of fancy totally believable, matching Mieville’s rapid shifts from drama to comedy. Santolouco has the curious habit of trailing his panels off of a page, making otherwise discrete panels run off into the ether, which resonates with the notion that there’s a great deal going on in the story we can’t quite see yet (and supports Taylor’s reading that it’s okay to not know what’s going on here). We’re only getting glimpses, but they’re fascinating ones.

I suspect one’s enjoyment of this title will largely hinge on their comfort with the “state of weirdness and confusion” Taylor described. I can appreciate that it won’t be for everyone, but with so much to assure us that Mieville is going somewhere with this, I’m more than happy to be along for the ride. I may not know what’s going on yet, but I think I’ll be satisfied once I do.
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?

10 comments on “Dial H 5

  1. I think that’s just one Dialer at the end there; Nelson mentions that this mystery person is just dialing one hero after another, using the dial like it’s meant to be used. It makes me wonder if it’s not a Dialer at all, if it’s someone else who can access these heroes’ powers intentionally instead of randomly, which would make them a very powerful player indeed.

    • I think you’re right about there being only one Dialer — we only see one escape, but there are none left after Abyss calcifies. I do think he’s dialing, though — he’s got a dial on his chest in every iteration we see here.

    • I think you and Drew are right about the one Dialer coming through at the end of the comic. That sort of highlights something about the art in this issue I didn’t get a chance to talk about, just how challenging it is. You actually have to study the artwork to fully understand what’s going on in the story and I kind of think that’s how it should be.

      • Yeah, Santolouco buries some great details here. A great example of art that doesn’t just reward closer readings — it practically demands them.

  2. I’ve been hooked on this title since issue one. Scratch that, I’ve been hooked on this title since the PREVIEW for issue one. I’m so glad that Mieville is treating his readers like we have a brain. I read way too many dumbed down super hero comics and it’s great to see big concepts mixed in with insane superheroic action. Cock-a-hoop? Really? God, I love it! I hate to compare Mieville to Grant Morrison because I completely respect Mieville for doing his own thing but I can’t help but see similarites.

    To me, Morrison is the grandpappy of all things weird in the DCU and for years Morrison was the only guy I could turn to for that kind of thing. Morrison mastered mixing heavy and (ususally) weird concepts with superheroics and you normally have to see the story through to end before everything makes sense. It seems that Mieville is taking us down a similar path with this book and I couldn’t be happier. With Morrison leaving the DCU soon it’s good to know that we’ll have Mieville (hopefully) sticking around!

    I wonder how Mieville would do with a more classic DCU character? I’d love to see him on Superman simply because so many people find the character boring.

    • I totally agree with you that it’s nice to have a title that actually asks its readers to think. Not that other titles don’t, but Mieville’s plots have a way of worming their way into your brain which causes you to ponder them as you lay in bed at night. I also agree with you about Mieville and Superman. The very concept of Superman interests me because it does seem like a huge challenge to try and make that story interesting, given how old the character is and his skill set. Mieville could probably inject some life into the franchise because, if nothing else, he knows superheroes and enjoys toying with the ways we think about them.

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