Ethan: The week leading up to graduation from college can be a manic blur. You try to squeeze in all those conversations you never made time for before, you cram for those final exams, you put the finishing touches on that thesis paper hours before it needs to be bound and turned in, you book that flight home. Maybe your four-or-so years on campus jaded you a bit – the ceremony’s just going to be a fancier version of its high school equivalent; I’m going to have to smile at everyone’s parents; this place has grabbed me and changed me and turned me into someone new, but… I’m ready to leave. And then the day comes. You hear your name, you walk the walk, you manage to remember to shake with the right and take with the left, and then you wade into the sea of chaos as everyone tries to make that last connection before you never see each other ever again. The prospect of leaving China Mieville’s run of Dial H elicits a lot of the same emotions for me. There were highs and lows, and to be honest, I thought I was ready to set it down and move on, but the final issue goes out with a “shhhkaBOOM” and I’m wishing we didn’t have to say good-bye.
Nelson, Roxie, Open-Window Man, Dwan, and Bansa have arrived at the Exchange – the hub of all realities where the dials were made. The Fixer and Centipede give them a warm welcome, nabbing Nelson and zipping away to the telephony tower. Nelse wakes up to see O dialing 3-6-6-6 for Doom – the lost operator is still dialing apocalypses down onto the outside worlds, hitting the Metacastle realm with a doomsday of ice. Nelse confronts The Fixer about his role helping O, prompting The Fixer to explain his role in all this mess. See, the Exchange used to be a pretty ok place. Nestled in the heart of the multiverse, its inhabitants learned to channel all those other worlds into their own, copying vehicles, objects and superhuman forces for civil use in the same way we tap into a municipal power grid. But then things went wrong. Some of the dials started siphoning bits of reality instead of copying them, leading to sad tales like that of Bumper Carla. Some of the other realities even objected to the idea of copying their own, unique existences. A war began, the mass of external universes marching against the quirkily little world at their core.
One among them – O – dared to propose that the only defense was an absolute offense: in order for their own little world to survive, all others must die. He was out-voted, assaulted, and driven out. In an epic discharge of energy intended to destroy him, his colleagues ended up pushing him out into a different time and place: Earth. Trapped, he guided our race’s technological development until we were able to “invent” the phone, and in doing so, provide O a means of 5-8-6-7’ing his way back home. O made his returned to a ruined world and continued his campaign of multiversal genocide. But he’s not alone – The Fixer, last of O’s fellow countrymen, is back now too, and Nelse is able to convince him to help end O’s mad plans for good. The fight escalates. The Fixer joins our heroes; Centipede unveils a new dial-type that allows each of his persona-instances to dial a separate power; Roxie creates a new dial-type for Nelse that allows him to combine two heroes into one; O breaks out a dial amplifier that turns him into something like a god. In the end, Roxie manages to selectively sabotage the Exchange’s infrastructure such that the infinite power of infinite worlds all bleeds into O, destroying him and removing Centipede from the picture.
Personally, I could not have asked for a better finale. Given the breakneck acceleration we saw in the last few issues, I was expecting a sort of sloppy, rushed wrap-up in which Mieville dumped all of his ideas onto our heads in one last, harried hurrah. That’s said with utmost respect for Mr. China – I love his work in general and this title in particular, but I just didn’t see how it could be done. This issue delivered plenty of story-dumping, but Mieville managed to pull it off in a satisfying way that comprehensively destroyed my expectations.
First: backstory. We finally get a peek behind the curtain of this ten-digit tall-tale. With the additions of S-dials, G-dials and J-dials, the theoretical scope of Dial H has been exploding. The paranoid trebuchets and zombie apocalypse of the previous issue made next to zero sense on its own, but this revelation of the Exchange as a beseiged, pinprick point of light fighting for survival at the middle of a limitless expanse of realities puts #14 into perspective.
Way too much to digest, even if we had a novella’s-worth of pages to do so. So I’ll start with my favorite panel of this conclusion: the debut of Chimney Lachrymose.
Hands-down, Boy Chimney is my favorite dialed-hero of this run. Whether it was his weirdly stilted manner of speech (so delightfully Mievellian), or his smoky parallels with Nelson’s dead-end habit, or the recently learned fact that he is among the number of fallen heroes – lives taken while the Exchange stole their powers – or the fact that he was the ego revealed by Nelson’s first dial; that particulately particular person has a special place in my heart. Whatever the source of that affinity, to see him haply reincarnated by Nelse’s combi-dial made my day. Looking back at Mateo Santolouco’s rendition of that character, I’m all the more impressed by Alberto Ponticelli’s work in this final issue even if it’s just a glimpse. If you’ve read his Perdido Street Station, you likely recognized some facet of The Weaver in his free-verse expression.
Looking back, it’s clear that Mieville started an impossible project. The DC universe is incredibly rich, but the expanse within Mieville’s mind remains even impossibly richer than what 15 issue could contain. This issue makes us momentarily privvy to the experiment into what could have been. Taylor – what did you think about this farewell? In a world where a deadbeat can become a deity, did you think Mieville managed to tie the bow on this story or did it fall short of its promise?
Taylor: To be honest, I had some reservations heading into this issue. Closing up shop on such an expansive universe as Dial-H has created seemed like a pretty tall order, even for a talented writer such as Mieville. I feared that some things would be left unsaid, or that some things would remain kind of confusing, or even that the primary story wouldn’t come to a satisfying end. However, I was thankfully proved wrong by the time I set this final issue down and like you, Ethan, I’m finding I will miss reading this title every month.
We always worry about how a final issue, episode, book, or movie will turn out. We make sure to examine it extra carefully because its the last taste and word we will have from its creators. With this last issue of Dial-H I was particularly worried about the issue of the dials stealing powers. After all, the Flash made a cameo appearance in two issues and even though they seem like an eternity ago, it’s impossible to forget how significant that event is. The Flash is unequivocally a flagship hero in the DC universe (he even had a TV show for awhile, remember?) and his appearance in a less popular title such as Dial-H is a pretty big deal. However, after that event happened, we didn’t hear much about it or how the dials were stealing powers. I was afraid that this idea would fall to the wayside like so much flotsam but, luckily, I was proved wrong. When the Fixer is giving Nelson the run-down about the history of the dials, he is so good as to explain this event.
So it turns out that the dials are machines that occasionally malfunction and steal powers from other universes instead of creating a random hero. Not only that, but this is the very cause of the Dial War and thus the very reason any of the events in Dial-H took place at all. It’s impossible to say if this was Mievillle’s plan all along but it wraps the story up so nicely that indeed, it does place the proverbial bow on this final issue of Dial-H. It’s also interesting to note how most of the action in Dial-H is caused by malfunctioning machinery. Not only was this the indirect cause of the Dial War but also the very reason we were able to enjoy such a huge plethora of heroes in every issue. Perhaps if there is a message to be taken home from Dial-H it is that inevitably our own inventions will betray us. Maybe it won’t be as significant as a terminator army rising up against its creators, but sooner or later our technology might just be the cause of something significantly bad. And then again, we just might still need it to save our asses.
There’s also a statement there about superheroes too (sorry, I can’t resit the meta-analysis of Dial-H). If heroes are sometime stolen from other other worlds by the dials, does this mean there are only so many permutations of a hero? Mieville would seems to not think so. Looking back at all of these issues you’ll notice that not one hero is repeated, not even everyone’s favorite, Boy-Chimney. Mieville, is such a creative force that he’s able to come up with heroes ad nauseum. Because of this creativity we have such heroes as Bumper-Carla, Electro Cutie, and of course the unparalleled, Cock-A-Hoop. So while some might see the stealing of powers by the dials as an acknowledgment of the similarities that run among superheroes, Mieville sees it rather as a nod to their shared point of origin. That origin, of course, is not a world or radioactive spider. Rather, it is the human mind. Indeed, even the Operator admits that mankind has a penchant for creativity, even if it is used for nefarious purposes.
Yes, most of the apocalypses used by the Doom Dial are taken from the human imagination. As the Operator says, we humans are good at thinking up such things. However, we’re also good at coming up with heroes, even if they don’t meat the attributes we assign them. Nelson, by many accounts, isn’t a typical hero, yet he’s able to convince the Fixer that teaming with the Operator is wrong and this ingenuity of his, which we are not given privy to see, starts a chain of events that ends up saving the day. Like Nelson, comic book creators are a creative bunch and the number of heroes they are able to produce is simply impressive, just as the dials are.
Ultimately, that’s why it’s sad to see Dial-H come to a close. With its unbridled creativity, bizarre humor, and engaging plot, Dial-H is a gem of a series and reminds you how engaging creative story telling can be. It makes me sad that we’ll never get to know more about Boy-Chimney and his gang, or what will happen to Roxie and Nelson’s relationship, or what exactly the Rude Krew is. However, that doesn’t prevent me from appreciating what we have in these fifteen issues. Like my experience in college, I’ll look back at this series and enjoy the controlled chaos that pervaded my life every month and remember it with a fondness that is tinged with the sadness of knowing something great has come to an end.
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?