‘Dial H for Hero’: Fantasy author China Miéville dials up dream job

May 01, 2012 | 8:18 a.m.

The American comic book doesn’t sell like it did in the 1940s, and the delirious collector speculation and buying-by-the-box sprees of the 1990s are long gone. Game-changing characters aren’t arriving on a monthly basis like they did during the early 1940s and then again in the early 1960s.  The 1980s will be remembered for bringing new ambition with masterpiece graphic novels; the 1930s were even more special because they brought the somewhat essential innovation of a man in tights leaping a tall building in a single bound.

So what’s special about this moment in time for comics? Well, here’s one thing: For the first time in history,  it’s actually considered cool if you’re a comic book writer.  That’s a big deal. For decades it was the purgatory of publishing,  a sad refuge for a typewriter jockey who didn’t have a winning ribbon. Now famous people want to be comic-book writers, and they pile into the business: rock stars like Tom Morello, Rob Zombie and Gerard Way; authors like Stephen King, Jonathan Lethem and Michael Chabon; Hollywood writers and directors like Joss Whedon, Guy Ritchie, Richard Donner and Damon Lindelof; and actors like Shia LaBeouf, Joshua Jackson and Sam Worthington.

I mention all this because of “Dial H for Hero” — we have an exclusive preview in the gallery above, with larger images below — which hits stores this week and is written by acclaimed British fantasy and sci-fi novelist China Miéville, who has been aspiring to write for DC Comics for awhile but had some setbacks while waiting for his chance  (imagine presenting that scenario to some muttering, middle-aged member of the Charlton Comics writing team in the 1960s).   “Dial H for Hero” was a quirky DC concept of the 1960s: a Colorado kid named Robby Reed (who looked like Ralphie from “A Christmas Story”) finds a weird device in a cavern, and, when he turns the dial on the object, transforms into a superhero — but always a different one.

I was one of the DC readers who dutifully mailed in my character concepts in hopes of seeing my name in print. Sounds like Miéville was dialed in even more. “I’ve always wanted to do ‘Dial H,'” the author told Kotaku. “Because I was obsessed since I was a little kid. The idea to basically come up with new crazy superheroes every month is intoxicatingly delightful for me.” The old ink-stained Charlton curmudgeon just moaned again….

Cover | Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3 | Page 4 | Page 5

— Geoff Boucher

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