By: China Miéville (story), Mateus Santolouco (art), Tanya & Richard Horie (colors)
The Story: Apparently, it doesn’t take a hero or a dial to dial a hero.
The Review: Last month, I expressed some concern that for all the ambitious, high-concept, clearly ubiquitous material Miéville has been writing, it might come to lead to a whole lot of big ideas with little payoff. Miéville fans quickly assured me that things will eventually fall into place, that this author knows what he’s doing, even when the story seems haphazard and somewhat obscure.
And indeed, things have fallen into place, so I’m mightily chagrined at having doubted that they never would. All the loose, disparate elements of the arc finally reveal some clear connections to each other in a way I didn’t think possible. Of course, it takes quite a bit of creative, out-of-this-world explanation to link a ghetto-talking reptile alien, a doctor/occultist, and a fat dude with a magic telephone dial together, but Miéville manages to do it, which is worth praise in itself.
Admittedly, some explanations require a bit of imaginative legwork on your part. How do you conceive something as impossibly abstract as “nothing” anyway? Yet “nothing” forms a large basis of the concepts at work here. Ex Nihilo’s abilities as a “nullo-mancer” derive power from nothing—a concept I still have problems wrapping my head around—and sensibly, I suppose, is the only thing that can control an entity of nothing.
Other ideas require more tolerance than imagination from you. How about a race of lizard humanoids who make a living by going around wrangling errant, potentially sentient voids from the “Unplace” and training them as transport? Much of your enjoyment of this series will depend on what kind of appreciation you have for these kinds of plot elements, but at least Miéville does a credible job with material even Morrison would have a hard time selling.
Most importantly, we get some understanding as to why the Dial (and telephone technology as a whole) has anything to do with all this well beyond outer space craziness. The most important implication you get out of the issue is that at some point, people knew how to use the Dial to produce specific effects, which could mean an interesting change in direction for the series down the road. The random superheroes are fun, but anything beyond the gimmick can only be useful.
With all this concept work going on, sometimes the characters get a little lost in the mix. Four issues in, you still have a hard time pinning down your feelings for anybody, even Nelson himself. While it’s nice to see him committed to seeing these events through to the end, even when it involves making up a superhero get-up of his own sans Dial, it’s obviously going to take longer for Nelson to make a name for himself.
Santolouco seems completely unfazed by all the random things Miéville asks him to draw. If the script calls for lizard folk in desert or peasant gear and using tech-enhanced lassos to capture roaming nulls across the dusty plains—sure. If nothing else, Santolouco has terrific adaptability, though I sometimes get the feeling what this series needs is a somewhat more realistic look to shore up the tension Miéville tries to generate.
Conclusion: Well, I must say I’ve never read anything like that before. While I personally enjoy the experience, I have to imagine you’d need a pretty indulgent attitude like mine to feel the same.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: – The product of a dirty mind perhaps, but I shuddered at the term, “hole whisperers.”
– I suppose by the cottagey décor in her house and her background as a telephone operator, we should have seen the truth of Manteau’s identity coming.