This May, DC Comics will resurrect Dial H For Hero, an old-school comic about a strange dial that can transforms its user into an entire phone book's worth of superheroes. And who's helming this new series? Why, it's none other than Embassytown, Kraken, and The City & the City author China Miéville.
io9 recently chatted with the Hugo Award-winning writer about his plans for Dial H, his new take on one of the DC Universe's most endearingly bizarre titles. The author was charmingly cryptic about his plans, but we did get an exclusive first look at series artist Mateus Santolouco's rad character designs.
First off, Dial H for Hero has historically had this sort of retro quirkiness to it, but the illustrations by Mateus and cover artist Brian Bolland look incredibly sinister. What was the impetus to give Dial H for Hero a horror twist?
I never really thought of it as giving it much of a twist, I always thought of it as bringing out the sinister weirdness that was there just under the skin of the kooky in the original runs. Not to say those early runs weren't fun and so on — they absolutely were. But I remember even as a kid, reading the 80s run, then the first 60s House of Mystery run I discovered after that, even as I was delighting in the sheer bizarreness of the heroes they were dialing, I was aware of a kind of edge to it, because of the constant sense of how weird it would be to have this immense power, but with almost no control over its specificities.
I should stress also that I'm hardly the first person to have felt this potential freakiness of the dial — Will Pfeifer and Kano's 2003 run, which I thought extremely good, was pretty bleak and scary. Right back to 1988, in the New Teen Titans, ffs, and certain 'dark' implications of the dial were touched on. So it's not new in that sense. And, you know, the whole Gritty Revisionist Revisiting Of A Previously (Putatively) Innocent Comic Title is by now a very familiar methodology, so I guess I'm just walking in the many footsteps that have gone that way before. All of which said, I did think I could bring some specific stuff to the table, or I wouldn't have been agitating DC (for, literally, years!) to get my hands on the title.
I wanted to have it both ways — to continue to pay homage to the unalloyed childlike (if you're generous) or childish (if you're sterner) delights of making up crazy superheroes, while playing up the absolutely crazy and, amazingly, so-far unexplained mythos that must underpin that ability, and at the same time, playing up the sinisterness that was always right there. I liked being scared, as a kid, and still do — who would not be scared, even if also excited, to prod an alien artefact and turn, for example, into an animate giant steel spring (King Coil, House of Mystery #163, 1966)?
I was wondering if you could give us some hints about the Dial H alter egos (Abyss, Manteau, Squid, and that chimney fellow) pictured in Mateus' artwork.
Forgive me, that was annoying. Let me flesh that out.
i) I am superstitious as hell about talking about work before it comes out — it makes me very anxious, just seems like a hostage to fortune to me.
ii) As a reader I'd prefer to know little to nothing before I read something, so I always indulge my projected reading-self by being a bit coy about such. I will say, though that
iii) you called them 'Dial H alter egos' - I didn't, nor did I confirm nor deny their status as such.
iv) There are various Easter eggs for hardcore/long-time fans of Dial H for Hero in the run. (As one of them, can we come up with a better noun for such people? Dialers? Dialups?)
You were previously slated to pen a Swamp Thing series that didn't pan out — did any of your ideas from that series make their way into Dial H in some iteration or the other?
Not directly — I have that run, those written issues, on ice, in my drawer, and one day, who knows, they might get used for something one day. But some of the sensibility, the emotional tenor, a few little images here and there, come from the same shared headsoup — as, I guess, most of what I write does — so I'm sure someone who did read the unexisting Swamp Thing would recognise some stuff.
And there is, in truth, one character in particular I am sorely tempted to use. So one of these days, maybe, sure.
The first issue of Dial H hit stores May 2. FYI, that's the cover of the first issue at top (and the second issue at bottom) by Brian Bolland.