DC’s Zero Month offers the opportunity to clarify backstory or to expand on specific narrative points outside of a serial storyline. For many titles, it’s an interruption of their plot. Case in point is Dial H. With only four issues released of a very complicated, near-surrealist fantasy, the zero issue presents quite the challenge. While revelations about the H-Dial are assured, the consequence of revealing too much out of the context of the established storyarc could damper the resonance of the title.
When Dial H debuted as part of the second wave of the New 52, the title held the promise of reinventing and revitalizing a cult concept for a new era. Far grittier than previous incarnations, writer China Mieville used his background in science fiction and fantasy prose to create a weird and imaginative world.
But there is a big difference between novel writing and comicbook writing.
That difference caught Mieville flatfooted as he struggled with the limitations of the medium, in that his normal construction of paragraphs, which is an asset to prose, handcuffed him in how he could tell his story. While the visual element held strong, each panel seemed to be at odds with each other as the storytelling became unbalanced issue to issue.
It is one thing to be complex, it is quite another to be enigmatically vague.
With the Dial H #0, Mieville presents a story that sheds light on the very nature of the H-Dial, pulling back the curtain ever so slightly as to put hero changes in context with the larger world and universe(s). It’s a creative story that unlocks much of the magic of the title, mixing surrealist, existential and starkly strange concepts.
“Sundial H for Hero” illustrates that the Dial can come in various forms, something that was touched upon in a previous issue. Here the degree to the various forms is explored, as well as the consequences of gaining power through this mysterious device. Yet, thematically, the underlined point is that what was true once is true now. Technology may change, but the desires of humankind, the struggles we face since the beginning of civilization have not changed at all.
What’s challenging to this effort is the lack of using elements from the main story to connect with this Zero Issue. While in a certain form, the H-Dial is present as well as its gimmick, the visual presentation (and in the scripting) of the early scenes leaves a bit of guessing and some complexity as to the relation of this story to the main storyarc that will continue beyond this point.
There are ample reasons for this sort of “cold opening”, but none of them are used to any varying degree. Literature, and by extension comicbooks, are certainly welcome to challenge readers, but in the style of serial storytelling that type of effort loses much of its appeal without a concrete connection to the ongoing narrative.
Artist Riccardo Burchielli does much of the heavy lifting in terms of storytelling. His character designs are certainly workable, but his strength in this effort comes from the layouts and angles. They move the story along, driving home the juxtaposition that the issue is crafted to showcase.
The revelations at the end of the tale, taking on a vague moral debate, place a complicated context on the story to come. That the results of using the Dial have a cause and effect parallel, that nothing can be created without having something else taken away—a technological marvel in one world can cause a catastrophic disaster in another. The symbiotic relationship of the various elements, from the H-Dial itself to the players surrounding its use, are interconnected to a degree that nothing can happen without causing some sort of harm. The only defense of such action is ignorance.
And ignorance of what can happen is something readers now understand more than the protagonists.
There is seemingly no formula for DC’s Zero Month, as each zero issue takes on its own place in the grand scheme of its title. The introduction of new characters, the explanation of certain concepts, the revelations of backstory; all of which can aid a given title as it moves forward. The theme we really must look it is that each Zero issue is in a way a celebration of that title. Dial H #0 celebrates the titular gimmick, while also revealing an intriguing aspect that will undoubtedly have a great impact on the main storyarc to come. In that, it accomplished its task.