Today, Ethan and Taylor are discussing Dial H 11, originally released April 3rd, 2013.
Ethan: China Mieville has a gift with world-building. Whether you’re following quirks and characters of the world of Perdido Street Station or reading Dial H, he takes you somewhere original. Like with his novels, it’s so fun to immerse yourself in Dial H because of the terrific pacing as he gradually develops both the people and the universe. Every time he drops some new, fantastical aspect of the world onto his reader, there’s an equal portion of insight into the characters moving around in it. Dial H 11 is no exception: just as the growing partnership between Nelson and Roxie is coming to a head, it’s all taking place, not only in a world of dials and Operators, but also a more familiar world of DC heroes. This time around, Mieville matches a dramatic incorporation of known parts of the DC universe with new hints about the dial to keep this already engaging series pulling you to the edge of your seat.
The Centipede tries to open a portal to the in-between places accessed by the dial, but this apparently requires someone with “love and faith.” Lacking these things, he kidnaps the leader of a dial cult and hooks him up to a device that looks like a mixture of technology from modern, industrial revolution, and esoteric origins. Holding a gun to the dial-worshipper’s head, The Centiped instructs him to “pray.” Meanwhile, Nelson wakes up in bed next to next Roxie. He realizes that they hooked up while both of them were dialed — she a hero and he a sidekick — and he panics. Accusing Roxie of taking advantage of him, he grabs the H-dial and spins the number. This time, though, he has trouble controlling the power and is stuck moving too fast to be seen. Roxie manages to talk him into calming down enough to stop moving, and we discover that he has dialed the powers and form of Barry Allen, The Flash. While Roxie and Nelson begin to realize the implications of the fact that Nelson has just dialed a “real” superhero — one they actually recognize as being a real person — The Centipede’s plan comes to fruition as a rift opens and a monstrous being he refers to as “the Fixer” looms through. The Centipede convinces the Fixer that they should work together to track down and stop the “dial thieves” – Nelse and Roxie. As the Flash, Nelse manages to keep himself and Roxie a few steps ahead of the Fixer until the Flash powers wear off, and the two are at the mercy of The Centipede and his new, terrifying ally.
I am not going to pretend that I understand everything that happened in this issue – it’s a dizzying ride with a lot to digest. The most obvious questions are the ones surrounding Nelson hijacking the powers of The Flash. Since the zero issue, we’ve slowly begun to understand that the dials don’t just spontaneously fabricate new power sets; they transfer the abilities, forms and memories of real superheroes onto the dialer. Because The Flash is actually someone Nelse and Roxie know about, this fact is brought home for them with startling clarity:
In The Flash 18, we saw The Flash lose his powers right in the middle of a crisis – to paraphrase Nelson’s words, “tough break for the Gem Cities.” What makes things a little less certain for me is that as soon as Nelson realized what he’d done, he went looking for The Flash but wasn’t able to find him. Was this just because Nelse was in a hurry, or because he doesn’t know The Flash’s alter ego, or because he isn’t familiar enough with the new power to search thoroughly? Or is the Flash who lost his power in a parallel universe to the storyline of Dial H? We know for certain that there is a de-powered Barry Allen wondering what’s going on, so at least we know that the dial doesn’t actually remove the hero from reality, but we still don’t have a hard answer for how the power-stealing effect really works. I’m eager to see where this goes, both in The Flash 19 and in Dial H 12.
The second big question mark is the Fixer and the Exchange. We got a few more scenes of the Exchange in this issue, but again no hard details.
This page only offers a slightly better view of the Exchange, similar to ones we’ve seen before in the series, but it confirms that the place isn’t a land of rainbows and roses. The Centipede seems to be saying that he believes it to have the same potential for conflict as any other world. Nelson intuited something similar in the previous issue when Roxie was wondering why such a thing as a sidekick dial would exist – Nelson replied “Can’t run an army just on generals, Roxie. You need soldiers to obey them.” Martial terms seem to fit, given the few pieces of information we’ve previously received about the Exchange. The dial is at their core a device for acquiring the ability to project force, to impose your will on the world around you.
Are the dials superpowered equivalents of guns in whatever fight is taking place on the Exchange-world? Is the Exchange itself nothing more than some kind of superweapon — or rather, extreme munitions factory — built by one of the sides in some extra-dimensional conflict? What do you think, Taylor?
Taylor: Ethan, I’m glad that first and foremost you admitted that you didn’t completely know what was going on in this issue. The reason for this is not that I’m happy seeing you confused and befuddled. While that certainly is something I like to see, here the reason is that I’m in exactly the same boat as you. The Exchange world doesn’t make any sense to me and I’m strictly in the “wait and see” mode and hoping Mieville is so good as to clue us in to what’s going on along the way. However, this isn’t going to stop me from conjecture since we are given a few savory tidbits of information here and there.
Ethan, you ask what I think the Exchange is and my answer is that it could actually be anything. The Centipede says that the Exchange is “a land of infinite possibilities” where “anything can happen” so all bets off. However, these little descriptors raise questions about what exactly we are dealing with. It seems like there must be some sort of rule and order in this Exchange dimension since the very existence of the Dials seems to indicate that people can’t just transform into superheroes at the drop of a hat. So when the Centipede says it is a land where anything can happen I’m a bit perplexed. Is it a place where anything can happen if you have access to certain technologies, such as the dials? And like you asked, Ethan, are the dials common weapons like guns or are they something more powerful and insidious? We still haven’t even considered who made the dials and what their original purpose is or even how they work. How do they steal powers from superheroes? Are all of the heroes that have thus far been dialed in the title real heroes or are some completely fictional?
So many questions! This gets to another point you made, Ethan. Mieville is a master at world building and it’s a testament to his craft that the more we find out about the world of Dial H the more questions we have on our hands. Frequently in pop culture writers only have a couple cards which they can play while writing. Mieville, on the other hand is like a magician who always has an extra card up his sleeve – the minute you think his world’s can’t get any deeper they do. A perfect example of this is the panel we get where we see some “fixers” demanding information, presumably about a dial.
It’s amazing just what one panel can convey. Who are these “angels” and why are they after the dials? They obviously know how to control the dials, as we see with the Fixer at the end of this issue, but how exactly did they learn to do that? Or is there something specifically about whatever it is they are that allows them to do that. Also, what do these guys look like when they aren’t dialed? Would they even exist. Lastly, who is the exiled “O”?
Again, so many questions, but that is the fun of reading Dial H. What’s more staggering than all of these questions and possibilities, is the fact that Dial H is also heavily character driven, as is exampled in this issue. Nelson has what would modestly be called a breakdown after realizing he and Roxie consummated their hero-sidekick relationship. It’s a curious reaction from Nelson and one that I didn’t see coming. He’s always been such a laid back guy who is more lover than fighter so to see him reject one of the few people who care about him is somewhat odd. It will be interesting to see if this causes problems in his and Roxie’s working relationship. Can they still be hero and sidekick if they don’t trust each other?
Lastly, I would be remiss to not mention this picture:
Just great. I love seeing faces melt. It’s similar to the ending of Raiders of the Lost Ark and there’s nothing wrong with that.
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?