By: China Miéville (story), David Lapham (art), Tanya & Richard Horie (colors)
The Story: Nothing like stepping off a plane, seeing the sights, and confronting a secret religion.
The Review: It’s still way too early to make a prediction about Dial H’s legacy, but I think one day, comics connoisseurs will flip through the holographic bins in their 3D shop and amidst all the virtual back-issues, through the slog of nearly all of DC’s relaunched titles (and by then, DC will be in the early throes of its fifth relaunch and known simply as Batman Comics), Dial H will pop out as one of the more courageous, distinctive, and ambitious titles of the time.
Simply put, Miéville does things in this series that even the other ostensibly avant-garde titles (Swamp Thing and Animal Man and its ilk) in the DC stable haven’t tried. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the choice of leads. In what other comic can an elderly lady and a middle-aged man, out of shape and unemployed, ever be the heroes again? How many writers can even make that dynamic work?
Miéville has not only made Nelson and Roxie’s friendship work, he’s also done a convincing job of showing how two ordinary people (relatively—Roxie’s telecoms mastery notwithstanding) would tackle superheroic problems. They don’t have the all-engrossing focus of their costumed peers; they give way to real-world distractions and their own boredom and vices. When he’s not dialed up, Nelson sight-sees and writes to his mother; even incognito and infiltrating a cult, he’d rather play on his smartphone than listen to a semi-crazed homily—wouldn’t you?
I do find it disappointing that Miéville chooses to skip showing Nelson and Roxie’s world tour. There could’ve been a fun side-plot in there, and as The Shade’s international spree showed us, there’s a whole lot of ground out there that the DCU hasn’t covered. Still, you can’t fault the title for wanting to get right to business; there’s no point in dragging out the investigation if it’s unproductive and fruitless, as Roxie concludes.
If anything, tossing out the subtle route in favor of approaching things more directly actually takes our heroes to an even more exotic place than Prague or Nairobi, all the way to an “old outpost of Atlantis,” which itself hasn’t escaped the myth of the Dial. What Aquaman would say to that, I wonder? Again, however, the main frustration of the series is how much it purposely conceals from you; every issue yields only the barest clue or hint to a mystery whose questions you don’t even completely understand yet.
At any rate, the issue does have at least one major and important development, the introduction of Dial H’s newest antagonist. Miéville draws upon his talent for devising novel superpowers in creating the Centipede, whose abilities are even eerier than Ex Nihilo’s nullomancy, and actually harder to grasp, even though their physical effects are quite obvious. Hopefully, Miéville will give this guy the compelling motivation that Ex Nihilo lacked.
Lapham doesn’t impress here as much as he did last issue, probably because the story has shifted away from the more amusing, retro side of things back to the modern world. Because the title always has its tongue slightly in cheek, however, it can get away with a less sophisticated sort of art, and Lapham does have this timeless quality to his work that would look very much at home all of DC/Vertigo’s other offbeat works throughout the years. The Hories keep things generally lively; their coloring offers no reason for complaint.
Conclusion: Another baby-step forward for one of the most respectably unusual titles on the stands.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: – “Daffodil Host! Mine is the power to entrance mine enemies in a poetic reverie.” “Yeah, no.” Couldn’t have chosen a better response, Roxie.
– Of course the Plantonian’s “[o]ld nemesis” is the great humpback whale. Of course.