Dial H–a fun concept rebooted by DC Comics’ New 52 line

Review by C.J. Bunce

Every twenty years or so, some intrepid editor or assistant editor rummages through the files at DCHQ only to stumble upon an old comic book featuring the H-Dial.  And with a loud poof it becomes another attempt to revive a strange and cartoonish concept, a dial with symbols or letters and numbers.  When the finder dials the right order of symbols or letters, the dial transforms the dialler into a superhero–usually a strange superhero we’re never encountered anywhere before.

First seen the House of Mystery and later featured as secondary stories throughout Adventure Comics and other titles and featured as its own title starting in 2003 that lasted 22 issues, titled H.E.R.O., the H-Dial is a short story writer’s dream.  What Quantum Leap did with Sam Beckett, only the holder of the H-Dial gets powers to help solve an immediate problem (usually).  The result should be an unlimited source of stories for short-lived superheroes and their powers.

Like the headpiece to the Staff of Ra, the H-Dial carries its own brand of mystery.  We have never learned the story behind its origin, or how many H-Dials are circulating the past and present of this or any parallel Earths.

Clever gimmicks have often accompanied the H-Dial.  In Adventure Comics in the 1980s, Marv Wolfman and Carmine Infantino created a way for readers to create new heroes to appear in issues of the comic book–an early interactive way of engaging readers.

The longest user of the dialler was Robby Reed.  He has appeared from the 1960s to the past decade in full stories and cameos with the dial.  In the New 52 series titled simply Dial H, we find in Issue #1 the new finder of the H-Dial is a young guy named Nelson, who, visually, seems a bit like Hurley from the TV series Lost.  Nelson finds the dial and uses it to try to help his friend, creating two superheroes with the device: Boy Chimney, who can travel on smoke and do who knows what that a… um… chimney and smoke would do to stop bad guys, and Captain Lachyrmose, who makes people sad and gets more powerful through other people’s sadness.

These two first uses of the H-Dial sort of fall with a thud.  The ideas are bizarre, which can be a good thing when done the right way.  But first-time comic book writer China Mieville’s dialogue is clunky.  We cannot tell what accent his friend has–is he suppoed to have some accent or does he intentionally speak a little strangely?  If he is supposed to be of some ethnic group, then artist Mateus Santolouco isn’t clear enough of what we’re supposed to think.  It doesn’t matter to the story, but it’s just a bit difficult to understand what these friends are saying to each other.  Example: “Please excuse me while screw you… just damn luck there was no damage this time.”

That said, for the most part, Santolouco does a very good job of creating bizarre images to fit Mieville’s story.  His characters are creepy and this book does fall into the “Dark” line of DC’s New 52 series.  It’s just unortunate the story is difficult to follow.

As a fan of the concept and a reader of the Adventure Comics issues featuring the H-Dial and the 2003 H.E.R.O. series, I will give Dial H a few more issues to hook me.

I’ll take a tangent for a minute and mention what DC Comics didn’t do on this round that I think would be more fun.  In this world of reality TV, as DC featured as a device in the first issues of the New 52 Green Arrow series, Dial H is the perfect venue to try some new things.  Why not have readers submit stories on some type of Dial H blog?  Why not have DC Comics’ whole pantheon of writers and artists each get a crack at developing a story within the pages of Dial H, much like Top Cow did with the Eisner nominated mini-series Common Grounds?  I’ll stop there because I’m not a fan of people reviewing what they want to see instead of what is offered by a creator.  But I do think there are unlimited stories to be told with a device like the H-Dial, and I hope Mieville, once he gets his sea legs in his new medium, takes full advantage of the opportunity.

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