“How do your pistol and your bible, and your sleeping pills go?” Tom Waits croons out heartrendingly on “Who Are You”, the fifth track on 1992’s Bone Machine, “Are you still jumping out of windows in expensive clothes?” There’s a strange link between the Waits song and China Miéville’s unique reboot of Dial H. But it’s a link you can’t really see until you read Dial H #12.
Are we subject to unseen forces influencing our growth and development in this world? Or are we individuated and capable of determining our own path? This has really been the question at the heart of Miéville’s Dial H. An old property from the Silver Age of comics, Dial H for Hero featured an H-Dial who could grant superpowers to anyone who dialed H-E-R-O. The property’s already been through a number of reboots and relaunches, probably the most substantial of which being the ‘80s series which gave fans a chance to write in and “create” the superheroes protagonists Chris King and Vicki Grant would morph into.
Rather than be dismissive of the core idea behind the H-Dial, Miéville has treated it as the best kind of science fiction—an opportunity for meditation on aspects of our own world. Protagonist Nelson’s various transformations and emerging kooky superhero selves have really gathered around the question of individuation and our personal capacities to effect change (and shape our world) and of course, the forces that counteract the same (forces we sometimes willingly court). Take the first issue of Miéville’s Dial H for example. Nelson’s smoking and general poor health really prevent him from interdicting an attack on his friend. But the H-Dial highlights these inadequacies and transforms him in Smokestack, a pollution-belching superhero. How very different is from the Tom Waits bawler about a man crawling from the bottle and attempting recover those once-vital elements of his life now denuded by alcoholism?
In issue #12 of Dial H, Nelson faces what might be the actual driving force behind the Dials. And questions of self-determination and unseen conspiratorial forces come to the fore. But how much blame can be apportioned to Nelson himself having courted these forces? And how much of his life is he willing to allow them to destroy?
Please enjoy our exclusive preview of Dial H #12.
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