For ongoing series at DC Comics, the #0 issues present potential problems. These issues are interrupting some books’ storylines, and causing readers to have to wait two months for everything to move forward again. China Mieville and Riccardo Burchielli could have fallen into that same trap, and as it is “Dial H” #0 doesn’t follow on from the previous month’s comic at all. But with a book full of devilish ideas like “Dial H” #0, this sudden swerve into the past has ended up being my favorite issue to date.
Set in the time of Babylon, “Dial H” #0 introduces us to Laodice, who uses an incarnation of the Dial that is in the form of a partially completed sundial rather than a telephone rotor. A massive piece of stone that needs to be manually rotated over the course of four days to slowly “dial” out the four symbols (one each day at noon) to transform, it’s that moment of inventiveness in the first few pages of “Dial H” #0 that lets readers know this isn’t going to be a throw-away issue. Once we get the rapid-fire transformation sequence (I know I’m not the only one a little regretful we didn’t get to see more than a glimpse of Power Squirrel) and the debut of Bumper Carla, all bets are off with Mieville.
What’s so great about “Dial H” #0 is that it’s more than just big crazy ideas (with the biggest one not being revealed until the final pages). We don’t get tons of time to learn about Laodice and her world, but she comes across as both brave and sympathetic, the perfect protagonist for this jump into the past. If we’d had an entire “Sundial H for Hero” storyline instead of just a single issue, I think I’d have been delighted. This is clever and fun, but it’s got heart too.
Burchielli’s character designs are great, too. Not only with the people in the past, or with Bumper Carla (the glasses, the hair style, the bow), but even those heroes we barely see like Nuclear Punch. Everyone comes across fully realized, and it’s part of the appeal of “Dial H.” Comics are, after all, a collaborative medium and Burchielli’s shown that he’s able to bring all of Mieville’s big ideas to life and then some. Even Mushussu, the Beast of Babylon, comes across well thanks to the serpentine way that the beast twists in the air as it attacks and ravages troops. Burchielli’s become an indispensible part of “Dial H” and hopefully he’ll stick around for some time to come.
“Dial H” #0 is a great diversion from the series’ main story, even as it made me feel more excited about the book as a whole. If you haven’t been picking up “Dial H” up until now, this is a great introduction on the big ideas of the series. Mieville and Burchielli have turned a strange concept into something even more wonderful in “Dial H.” Don’t pass it up a second time.