Today, Taylor and Mikyzptlk are discussing Dial H 8, originally released January 9th, 2013.
Taylor: Oh, Canada. For a slew of reasons our neighbors to the north are frequently at the butt end of a joke. Whether it’s their elongated “O’s”, that their national emblem is a leaf, or that it is Justin Bieber’s homeland, the country is seldom taken seriously. Making matters worse for the common maple leaf is the constant put downs the country is subjected to by such shows as South Park. This has caused an entire generation of TV viewers to see Canada less as a country and more as a subsidiary of the United States. That Canada is in fact a first world nation with its own aspirations and political motivations is a thought which seldom occurs to the average comic book reader. However, what would happen if Canada was treated with gravitas? Would that change our views on the country or would that itself serve as a sophisticated joke? Issue 8 of Dial H delves into the mythos of Canada and at the same time has us wondering what exactly the country’s relation to Dials is anyway.
Having discovered that the Canadian special forces took a dial from Atlantis (because why not) Manteau and Nelson head to Toronto to find out why the Canadian military is interested in dialing superheroes. Almost as soon as he steps off the plane Nelson uses his dial to transform into a hero. However, despite Manteau’s forcing him to wear a mask to maintain his identity, Nelson (as the “hero” Flame War) begins to lose his sense of self while he is transformed. As he’s hallucinating and talking to characters from Flame War’s past, another dialer shows up. Regaining control of his identity, Nelson tries to speak to the mysterious dialer but, before he can, Canadian special forces show up and abduct the dialing stranger. As he’s returning to his and Manteau’s hotel room, Nelson is confronted by the Centipede (also of Canadian special forces), who has been on the trail of our heroes. He takes Nelson’s dial and the issue ends with the Centipede about to use the dial for his own mysterious purposes.
This is a fun issue of Dial H and the main reason for that might just be how fucking clever the whole thing is. Writer China Mieville is one of the smarter authors doing work in comic books and science fiction these days and it’s a pleasure to see him given free reign over the Dial H story line. His use of Canada as what could be the primary antagonist of this story arc is both unique and a comic gold mine. He plays off of the popular conception of Canada as a benign and puerile country and turns it on its head by having the country’s special forces being both highly competent and insidious. These adjectives are rarely associated with Canada and by having us think of Canada in such a way Mieville is challenging the reader to reconsider their notions of Canada while at the same time still poking fun at the country. And this comedy is tongue-in-cheek to boot: Mieville practically tells us what he’s doing on the opening page of the issue which aside from being entertainingly brazen also sets the tone for the remainder of issue 8.
As good as the Canadian humor is, and will probably continue to be, Mieville isn’t simply a one trick pony. As Flame War, Nelson begins to lose his identity and subsequently sees two of Flame War’s old cronies, Wolf Ticket and Trash Talk. These two, along with Flame War and two others, used to make up the “Rude Krew”, which surely is one of the most infamous groupings of all time based on their foul mouths. In the few panels they are given, these two ooze personality and with any luck we will get to see more of them since they are entertaining as hell what with their vulgarity and attitude.
But beyond the fun that Mieville obviously is having with these characters there looms the cleverness which has become a staple of every Dial H issue in this current incantation. The name Wolf Ticket is a reference to a slang term for someone who is insulting to others; Trash Talk is a name that is obvious in itself; and Flame War refers to someone who insults others via the internet. That all these names refer to insulting people in some form or another is amazing and you have to hand it to Mieville for creating characters which most writers might not be able to pull of so successfully Also, Alberto Ponticelli’s rendering of these names into memorable and fun looking characters is commendable as well. They almost have an Alice in Wonderland quality to them that is immediately striking and entertaining. So Mikyzptlk, would you like to meet the other two members of the Rude Krew? I have a feeling they would be just as entertaining as those which we have met already, but do you think that will happen? Also, do you think the Canadian government plans on using the dials for good and is the Centipede still working for them?
Mikyzptlk: I’ve got to say that I certainly hope that we’ll get to see the full roster of the Rude Krew one day, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we never do. Mieville seems to be oozing (there’s that word again) with creativity with this series, and I can easily see these characters being throwaways in his mind. The amount of lively and personality-rich characters that we’ve been introduced to in this series is pretty staggering. The supporting characters like Ex Nihilo and Squid from the first arc, and now Centipede in this current one, all felt and feel like living, breathing people. The main characters, Nelson and Manteau, are also beautifully rounded and endearing, but even the random Heroes they dial into are fully formed as well. We may not get to spend too much time with them, but they all clearly have personalities all their own. I’d imagine that Mievelle knows quite a bit more about these Heroes than he is revealing, and I do hope to learn more about them in the future.
Mievelle continues to spoil his readers with a story that is just as deep and compelling as the characters he populates them with. The previous versions of the “Dial” franchise never truly focused on the mysteries of the H-Dial, instead focusing on the effect it had on its dialers. While Dial H is certainly exploring the effects of the H-Dial on its users, Mieville is also crafting a rich mystery surrounding the mechanics and origins of it as well. The zero issue made it clear to me that Mievelle intends his H-Dial to have consequences that are far reaching and potentially lethal, and I have the feeling that every issue before and since issue zero is all leading to some big revelations. I’m not sure if Centipede and the Canadian Government will play a big part in those revelations, but it’s clear that they hope to. Whether or not they will is up to our heroes, but I’m absolutely excited to find out.
Another thing I’m excited to find out about is the Hero personalities that seem to be surfacing more and more each issue. The whole reason that Roxie uses the “Manteau” persona when using the Dial is to keep herself from getting lost in whatever Hero she is currently possessing (Or is that the other way around?). The problem is, the effectiveness of that trick seems to be fading fast, and was seemingly completely ineffective on Nelson when he attempted to use the same trick in this issue. Even our mysterious Canadian dialer seems to be having some personality troubles and was almost in a fugue state as he fought against Nelson AKA “Flame War.”
I can’t help but wonder that the world (or worlds) shown in the zero issue are somehow trying to push itself into our own world through the Dials. I can only imagine if the heroes of the mainstream DCU like, say, the Justice League were losing their powers periodically, they’d stop at nothing to figure out what was going on. Not only that, but I’d imagine they’d put a stop to it as well. I’m not sure if this is where Mieville is going, but whatever it is, I’m sure he won’t disappoint.
Lastly, I’d like to leave you with my favorite joke of the issue.
Those Canuck’s really are polite!
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 Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?