If you were fighting a giant dragon, which weapon would you choose: a sundial or a bumper car? Ha! Trick question! You’d obviously use both! Confused? Well, take the jump and prepare to be elucidated…
Previously in DIAL H: Presently a little more than halfway through its introductory arc, an ordinary schmuck has discovered the H Dial and become entangled in a cosmic conspiracy as a result. For those new to the concept, the H Dial is a device that resembles the face of a rotary telephone (and if you don’t know what a rotary phone is, ask your parents). By dialing H-E-R-O, the user is granted random superpowers. The power sets we’ve seen thus far in the series have been unique and memorable, from an awesome fighting smokestack (Boy Chimney!) to a superheroine with water faucets for arms. Our protagonist is in way over his head and the last issue left us off teasing the start of what could be his final fight.
BABYLON THE GREAT
Abandoning the tale of our modern-day H Dial and our hapless hero, the zero issue focuses on a tale set in ancient Babylon. No rotary phone-styled dial is present; instead we get a rather clever idea: a sun dial must be correctly positioned at noon for four consecutive days to spell out H-E-R-O. Our main character this issue is Laodice, a young female member of the tribe who uses the dial to help her fellow people fight off the Beast of Babylon, a giant, angry dragon.
Now, I must confess that this conflict threw me for a loop and honestly I’m not sure why. Dial H is a superhero fantasy and we’ve seen aliens and invaders from other dimensions in the series already, but a giant flying dragon in Babylon? For some reason I found this jarring. Maybe because Mieville did a great job in making Babylon seem so historically accurate. I would have preferred Laodice to be protecting her village against a warring tribe, perhaps the Assyrians, but once I stretched my disbelief a bit more I got over myself and kept reading.
Using the sundial, Laodice goes through a series of transformations before being bequeathed the powers of an enchanted bumper car, christening herself with the super-heroic title “Bumper Carla.” As I was reading through the scene I was intrigued to see that the powers Laodice was cycling through all seemed to be of a decidedly non-Babylonian nature. Nuclear Punch? Power Squirrel? Interesting choices…but the power of a magic bumper car does the trick and the dragon is sent packing. Laodice is worshipped by her people and becomes a queen.
End story, right?
Well, Mieville could’ve ended the story there, but the author gives us a look into the later years of Laodice, and this is where the story picks up and becomes something great.
It turns out that Bumper Carla was not just a set of powers or a new identity that was plucked out of the air by the H Dial, but rather, a super hero from a parallel world that was shunted into ours when the dial was activated. Unfortunately, when Bumper Carla was fighting the Beast of Babylon, tragedy struck in her homeworld. Somehow, Bumper Carla makes the trip to ancient times to exact revenge on Laodice for leaving Carla’s home without a protector.
While I could have done without the first segment of the book, this second act was incredibly creative and left me wanting to see much more of this conflict. What a great swerve from Mieville to create consequences for the H Dial that go unseen to the user. This revelation is a clever twist, one that needs to make its way into the series proper.
Burchielli’s art on this series has been best in the designs of the characters, specifically the new superheroes. Bumper Carla, while a hokey superhero, is given a pretty cool costume. The other designs glimpsed in the single transformation panel are also rather memorable…I hope we see Power Squirrel again! However, most of this issue is not filled with sci-fi superheroes, but people in ancient garb. Togas are nice and all, but the talking head scenes don’t really give us a lot of diversity or excitement. Still, the action sequences are done nicely. The colors are straightforward and don’t distract from the pencils or the dialogue. Nothing terrible to say about this issue’s art, but no high praise to give either.
BOTTOM LINE: SLOW START, STRONG FINISH
While the first half of this tale is forgettable, I absolutely loved the last half of this book. There have been attempts in the past to explain the beginnings of the H Dial, but to my knowledge there have not been any stories that explored where the powers granted by the H Dial originate. Mieville really has a fresh idea here, one that could have some legs. The series as a whole has been uneven to me, despite my love for the H Dial concept. I really, really hope that China Mieville continues to explore the alternate worlds and their heroes introduced in this issue. I’d love to see more friction between these true heroes and the users of the H Dial. However, the current arc in the book seems to be heading a completely different direction than this story, and that’s a shame.