China Mieville's turn-it-to-11 high weirdness reboot of "Dial H"

DC's "New 52" is a reboot of all its major superhero comics and several of its less-regarded ones. In the latter category is a silly Silver Age title called Dial H for Hero about a lad from Littleville, CO who can turn into a variety of randomly selected superheroes by dialling "H-E-R-O" on a weird telephone dial he found in a mystic cave.

The reboot of "Dial H for Hero" is called simply "Dial H," and is written by none other than New Weird chieftain China Mieville, whose prodigious imagination and wicked sense of humor are on fine display in the first collection of Dial H: Dial H Vol. 1: Into You. Mieville doesn't apologize for the fundamental absurdity of the premise. Instead, he turns it up to 11. And then he turns it up to 12.

In Mieville's "Dial H," the hero is a morbidly obese ex-boxer in a ruined crime-town who discovers his dial attached to the town's last working payphone. By dialling it, he becomes a series of ever-weirder heroes, from Boy Chimney (a Dickensian goblin with a top hat that stretches to infinity who can strangle his opponents on thick, choking smoke) to Control-Alt-Delete (a CRT-headed underwear pervert who can reset reality to default) to Iron Snail (a roided out action hero who drags along an enormous, slime-squirting shell). These various guises are needed to fight the strange and eldritch horror that has put the rot into Littleville, and here Mieville turns the metaphysics up to 13, with worlds within worlds, each haunted by different species of nothingness and such. It's glorious stuff, bathos at its best as the humor of the various super-guises is juxtaposed on all the ponderous, unapologetic Lovecrafting bibble-babble.

After the initial rush, the story begins exploring a series of scenarios for the dials and its many diallers through history, seeking answers to the deep, metaphysical questions raised by the existence of a telephone dial that can transform its dialler into a super-hero with a whole back-story. There are great, inspired moments here, and hints that Mieville has actually worked this all out with some seriousness, which may be the scariest thing about the whole book.

Mieville is a very funny and absurd guy, and while spots of that have shone through in his novels, they tend to be more serious. "Dial H" feels like the Mieville freak flag has been unfurled to its full glory, and is flying proudly.

Dial H Vol. 1: Into You


  1. You know, just this week I was thinking about “Dial H for Hero” and Robby Reed’s exclamation “Sockamagee!” and just how much I’m over the new, more realistic (that is, more cynical and violent) default comic universes and how the comics of a more innocent time had their virtues, and then I see this?

    Really? China Mieville and “Dial H for Hero”? This is just wrong, deeply wrong, a terrible idea. Mieville is far too down and heavy a writer for…

    Cock-a-Hoop? Well. Okay, then. Carry on.

  2. OMG!   When I was a kid I LOVED “Dial H for Hero”.  I had a full set!  The premise was that readers sent in ideas for new and strange heroes, and they were used in the comic.  Every time these two kids dialled their amulets, they turned into a new hero, and the author of the idea got a little credit in the panel.  Then they had to go figure out how to solve the problem using just their new powers.

    I’m looking forward to the re-imagining.

  3. You know, the Cock-a-Hoop image really belongs on that blog of comic book panels taken out of context that was mentioned the other day.

    1. It’s been out for months!  I’ve been reading the whole series: Other heroes you may have missed:
      -The Bristol Bloodhound: Nuclear Rocket Dog!
      -The Glimpse: Master of stealth, we never actually see more than a foot, shoulder, or hand.
      -Captain Plankton: A swarm of superpowered micro-fauna of the deep!
      -Flame War: His insults burn… literally!

      1. By far the internet/pop-culture related heroes are there just for the laughs.  And they pay off.  Flame War was hilarious. 

  4. I guess there’s no chance of a preview of this appearing on Free Comic Book Day (Coming Soon!), is there?

    Then again, the stores always run out of the best stuff long before I ever get there.

  5. The series is one of the few I look forward to in the world of the double reboot (Marvel doing the MARVEL NOW! to join in on the New52 thing DC has, both of which I’m “meh” about).  It’s bizarre all the time.    The “heroes” themselves even have an origin, which I’m sure is part of some greater story, but it’s just a fun read. 

    The only downpoint I have had in the series was recently when the main character managed to steal a prominent A-string DC character’s power, which forced me to go to that book for the fallout.  I was enjoying this book existing largely outside of whatever is going on in the latest “world changing event” of the greater DC universe. 

    I actually laughed out loud at the cliffhanger and ultimate reveal/post-cliffhanger of what happens when you get a sidekick dial and a hero dial together.  It’s 100% obvious, 100% squicky (once you know the characters), and 110% awesome. 

  6. So, it’s basically Captain Trips without the drugs.

    Or at least not on the part of the character.

    1. I believe that Wild Cards characters – including Captain Trips – were created with Chaosium’s Superworld! system, which probably had an included system to represent body-swapping superheroes, like Captain Marvel or Miracleman.

  7. This is my favorite comic now, even more so than the Morrison Action Comics. I love the prominence of Canada (O, Canada! Terre de mes aieux…), and the sheer inventiveness and nuttiness. And, a little like the late, lamented, “Young Heroes in Love,” in which characters would spend a page deciding if they were “cape-worthy”, it makes the universe so much more real and delightful than mere fights-in-tights.
    I took a look at a preview of China’s novels, and the prose struck me (in the snippet I checked out) as clotted and overworked. On the other hand, his comic is light and refreshing!

  8. Mieville writing superheroes. Well, that’s fucking fantastic. Sure am looking forward to the hero’s girlfriend getting raped into mental retardation.

    1. OK, China Mieville is not overly nice to his characters, possibly even more so than George R.R. Martin. But the genre of Perdido Street Station can be fairly accurately described as horror, so: deal with it.

      BTW Lin’s brain damage / loss of mind was caused by an attack from a Slake Moth, not the rape.

  9. Is the somewhat overweight fellow in the lead image the same guy that the article described as “morbidly obese”? ‘Cause if so, we’ve got a disconnect somewhere.

    1. A less obvious, male version of:

      There’s a bimbo on the cover of my book!
      There’s a bimbo on the cover of my book!
      She is blonde and she is sexy;
      She is nowhere in the text. She
      Is a bimbo on the cover of the book!

      All verses here.

  10. PhasmaFelis, The cover art shows the hero as slimmer than the internal art. Inside the comic, he’s much heavier.
    Another weird thing about the brilliant cover artist (Brian Bolland, I think?) – he apparently has never looked at a dial telephone close-up. In the latest issue, he draws a dial as one of those faux dials featuring round push-buttons arranged in a circle instead of, well, a “dial.” He also has buttons for # and *! We know those were introduced with Touch-Tone phones… right? We do know that? I hope so….

  11. Awesome concept.  And I love that each hero has a backstory.  I wonder, though, if he ever turns into a female superhero?

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