By: China Miéville (story), Mateus Santolouco (art), Tanya & Richard Horie (colors)

The Story: More proof that the telephone is a conspiracy to bring down civilization.

The Review: No matter where you go or what you do, you’ll always run into elitists.  These folks can’t help separating the high-brow from the low-brow, and making you feel like a Philistine if you don’t make those same distinctions.  In the world of comics, these people tend to refer to anything involving superheroes as “mainstream” (said in a condescending tone).  They’ll see the entertainment value, but it won’t live up to their lofty ideals of what comics should be.

And you know, they’re not entirely wrong.  No one can deny that the primary appeal of the superhero genre is all about escapism.  We gravitate towards particular titles sometimes because of the depth of their stories, but mostly because we resonate with those characters and want to embody them in some way. Dial H taps into that escapist quality, allowing its protagonist to fulfill our secret dreams to be better than ourselves.

Clearly, it’s an intoxicating power to indulge in. Last issue, we saw Nelson growing more and more enthralled with the Dial’s power, despite the intense side-effects on his psyche.  Here, he tries to be cool about the possibility of losing access to that power forever (“I guess it was good while it lasted.”), but his desperation to get the Dial fixed shows he’s anything but.  When Manteau suggests she might be able to fix it, he almost jumps out of his skin in eagerness: “Fix it?!  Here!  You gotta…!”

You see, Nelson still sees the Dial as a wonderful toy—not a means to an end, but the end itself.  Notice he doesn’t seem all that concerned about how to deal with the Squid or getting revenge on behalf of the late Darren.  These things were mainly excuses for Nelson to use the Dial and forget about his pathetic excuse for a life.  Manteau acts as a mental splash of cold water, reminding him what’s at stake in this story and forcing him to realize the Dial can’t change who he is beneath whatever superheroic skin he calls in.

Miéville clearly enjoys the superhero-of-the-issue stuff as much as the rest of us, but he also wants the series to be more than that.  Hence we have a couple fairly involved mysteries on our hands, one having to do with the origins of the Dial itself, and the other with whatever Ex Nihilo and the Squid are up to.  The mystery of the Dial will be an ongoing thread, that’s for sure.  Manteau claims the very invention of telephony was a mere “byproduct” of researching a more ancient thing (judging by the etchings of a rotary-type figure on a cavern wall).

As for Ex Nihilo and her scaly colleague, we seem to be on the verge of finding out their true motives, but right now, Miéville keeps things stubbornly vague.  We know the Squid is not from around here, so to speak, but apparently he didn’t come alone, and it’s this “companion” Ex Nihilo really wants to meet again.  Why, now?  Beats me.  The Squid only says she wants “something from nothing.  The power that comes…from harnessed emptiness.”  Ambitious, I suppose, but what that actually means, we’ll have to wait and see.

Santoluoco has to tread both the sci-fi and supernatural genres, all while mixing in a bunch of superheroes, to boot.  That’s not an easy feat, and he manages to draw all three convincingly.  His highly cartoony style doesn’t exactly convey the serious tone of the script, but at least it doesn’t make anything look overly silly or exaggerated.

Conclusion: Miéville has built one heck of a conspiracy set-up here.  If he doesn’t deliver a revelation of some proportion and originality, it won’t bode well for such an atypical series.

Grade: B

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – I do not appreciate the disdainful looks those muscle-bound jocks throw at Nelson as he sweats at the gym.  Give the guy a break, fellas—you got to start somewhere, right?