China Miéville is a British intellectual who writes “weird fiction”, in his own words. From a background in politics, China moved into the socialist movement of the United Kingdom. His use of language and prose is certainly complex and not welcoming to the casual reader. There is certainly a deep seated love of science fiction and fantasy in his writing but there often lurks an underlying political theme. Alberto Ponticelli is an Italian artist who has been drawing Frankenstein since the DC reboot. He has a large body of work with Italian publishers and I am generally unfamiliar with his work. They have taken on the well known story of Dial H for Heroes. It is a book initially launched in 1966 with a constant concept: A telephone dial that mysteriously transforms you into a being of superpowers, when you dial H-E-R-O. It has allowed fantastical heroes to be drawn with stories on a temporary basis, with a status quo of a regular man or woman in an everyday town. There are no constraints, which is why I think China took on the book.
Nelson Jent and Roxie Hodder are the diallers of the modern take on Dial H. Nelson is fat, nervous, and generally uncomfortable with his new found dial whereas Roxie is an assured, stoic, elderly lady, who has had her dial for a number of years. This issue continues our quest for insight into the mythos of the dials, as we come across the secret government department who have similar questions as our protagonists. The book starts with a great chase scene through a government building with Nelson, as the invisible hero Glimpse, and a nuclear warhead armed dog called Bristol Bloodhound. The latter character is also a dialler but his dial only operates with the word S-I-D-E. The sidekick dial is new to this book and adds ever-growing confusion to the mystery at hand. The writing can be quite heavy in terms of the dialogue sequences, but on the whole does allow plenty of room for artistic impression. The ideas in the book are incredible and sometimes incomprehensible but it allows for a wondrous contemplation. The range of heroes and their abilities can be a little daunting but Ponticelli draws them in immaculate detail and generally allows their powers to manifest themselves on the page. His pencilling can be difficult on the eye as it seems that every wrinkle and fat crease on Nelson and Roxie is drawn. You could easily mistake the couple for being the same age, and at times this hinders the appreciation of their emotional development. But for the ridiculous heroes the dial conjures, it is certainly an entertaining sight.
If you strip it all away the peculiarity, then you are left with the classic tome of a government trying to seize control a newfound weapon from the hands of a regular citizen. However Miéville does not stick to the hymn sheet and takes advantage of the creative freedom the dial allows. These are no mainstream heroes, they can be whatever he likes e.g. Boy Chimney, Control-Alt-Delete, Minotaura and my personal favourite Cock-a-Hoop. These are the forgotten heroes, the discarded and the useless. These are the last to be picked in the playground. Our characters often have to learn to utilise very odd powers or just hide until they wear off. This makes for interesting art but is an analogy for the outcast in society, and a chance for them to come to prominence. This also applies to Nelson and Roxie as they are far from conventional characters. They are the unseen in the typical Marvel or DC universe. They are brought to the forefront and are given the right to be heroic. Their personalities are new to the universe too because we don’t see the anxieties of the insecure and old. China develops this kinship and it is refreshing to see such a unique bond. You may say these are very socialist tenets, especially when they are up against the mighty secret police. Miéville steers the plot into a complex backstory to the dials, which frankly I don’t think anyone understands as of yet. However it sure is fun finding out, as we see our heroes have misadventure after misadventure, ending up in yet another corner.
“You’re Nelson, I am telling you to remember that”