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