DIAL H #13

Review by: harpier

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Story by China Mieville
Art by Alberto Ponticelli & Dan Green
Colors by Tanya Horie & Richard Horie
Letters by Taylor Esposito
Cover by Brian Bolland

Size: 32 pages
Price: 2.99

THIS! This is precisely what I’m going to miss so much about China Miéville’s refreshingly erudite superhero world. Other comic book writers tell smart stories with strong characters, and some are real masters of the form, but none match the depth of ideas and sophistication that Miéville has shown in his short run of this unusual comic.

The last few issues have been a little rushed, and the news of Dial H’s cancellation (“announced” obliquely in the solicitation for #15) explains the accelerated pace, which has deprived recent issues of some of the quirky cleverness I’ve come to expect. It’s difficult to be deliberate and subtle when you have to cover so much story in so little page space. But “Tekel u-Pharsin”—-very literally, the writing on the wall from Chapter 5 of Daniel, and a trope for a predetermined future of imminent doom—-recovers the pace and tone of earlier, smarter, and less action-packed issues. And nevertheless, it manages to tell at least four (somewhat related) stories all at once. Most of Dial H #13’s textual content is exposition, but the context of this exposition elevates it well above a cheap device. Having landed in a graffiti world, Open-Window Man relates the history of the Dials, the Fixer and his own transformation into a hero and subsequent involvement with the Dialers to a chalk-drawn, stick-figure alter-Batman-kid, while the rest of the “Dial Bunch” works with the graffiti-world Justice League to recover a J-Dial-—a J-U-M-P Dial (again, presumably 5-8-6-7), used to travel directly between worlds—-stolen by Captain Random from the Fixer and trapped as a chalk image on the graffiti wall. Let me repeat that: a superhero with a floral drapes-cape mentors a newly orphaned, would-be graffiti-Batman in how to become a superhero and draws him up his own graffiti-Batcave. And while, as expected, the Dialers do recover the J-Dial, it’s the unexpected ending of this conversation that resonates so strongly, one that breaks convention and out-right rejects inevitability in favor of optimism, faith and choice.

Where some comics feel frail at the edges, a backdrop meant only to accommodate the center of the story, Miéville’s world is so effortlessly nuanced, so rich in suggestive detail, that it invites further speculation and whets the appetite for the whole untold story. Open-Window Man’s concise descriptions of his comrades’ first encounters with their Dials, for instance, could each easily sustain an issue or mini-series of their own, particularly Unbled, the minor devil whose discovery of his particularly damaged Dial and the heroes it calls out make him “forget to be wicked”.

Although I’ve generally been less than impressed with Ponticelli’s artistic contribution to the series, his work here is solid. His characters portraits are consistent, and his rendering of the graffiti world is very expressive, a perfect complement to Miéville’s whimsical idea with unexpected gravitas.

Story: 5 - Excellent
Art: 3 - Good

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