By: China Miéville (story), Alberto Ponticelli (pencils), Dan Green (inks), Tanya & Richard Horie (colors)
The Story: If you want to survive this, whatever you do, don’t call them “Hosers.”
The Review: Tom Bondurant of Grumpy Old Fan made an interesting observation about DC’s current line of comics, but on Dial H in particular. Lamenting the lack of any real deviation from the superhero genre in the new 52, he admits that Miéville’s pet title is different, but still involves superheroes. This is true, but also misses the point to some extent. Miéville has used superheroes as a device to tell his story, but they aren’t necessarily the focal point of the series.
After all, Nelson and Roxie don’t really spend their time fighting villains and saving lives—not anymore, anyway, or at least not that we can see. The heart of the title lies elsewhere, in the mysteries of the H-Dial and what it means for humankind. Because Dial H goes through a an ever-shifting menagerie of superhero personalities, our attention latches on to the only constants in the story: Nelson and Roxie, whom you’d hesitate before describing as superheroes—right?
At any rate, our duo don’t get very far in their investigation in this issue, but they do run into some additional mysteries. That there are other dialers flitting about shouldn’t surprise us, but something seems funky about this one from the Great White North. There’s something stiff and mechanical about the way he interacts with Nelson, and his unpredictable mannerisms indicate some kind of mental control. He’s not all right is what I’m saying.
If someone does control him, could it be the Canadian government? After all, that country stands at the cutting edge of special ops tech, as Centipede himself attests to. Their attempt to create a time machine may have failed, but it did produce a man who can do a neat variation of the time manipulation trick (“unstick[ing] a little bit of time,” he calls it). And since that man seems like a devoted Canadian agent, it sure calls his villain status into question.
I mean, geez, even the toughest Canadians come across as well-meaning and polite. Miéville isn’t what you’d call a humorist, but he does add these subtler, funny touches to the series from time to time, and the constantly mild-mannered lingo of the Canadian characters* is one of them. Take a squad of cops who arrive to confront Nelson, guns pointed with lethal intention. “Put your hands in the air!!” they scream, before quickly adding, “Please!!”
Having to confront genuine government agents at this stage seems like bad timing for Nelson and Roxie, as the dial’s multiple personalities once again rear their ugly head (heads?). Instead of simply losing control to a colorful personality, Nelson’s brief spell under Flame War—possibly the most brilliant superhero Miéville’s created to date—feels more like a personality asserting control. Note what he screams as he rips off the Manteau outfit: “I’m not Manteau! I’m not!” We know these heroes are actual people on other worlds/dimensions; could it be their whole consciousness gets displaced by the dial as well?
I’m not sure how I feel about Ponticelli’s work on this title. The rough edges of his figures look entirely suitable for drawing monsters and robots, but when applied to more ordinary characters, they look kind of beat and shoddy, especially without Wayne Faucher’s clean inks. I suppose there’s something to be said for playing up Nelson’s weathered appearance and Roxie’s aged one, however. The Hories do little more than simply color in the lines, adding little texture or tone to the issue, but with Ponticelli, I’m not sure they should.
Conclusion: It’s hard to tell if Ponticelli’s work adds or takes away from the series, but Miéville continues to deliver a solidly crafted—and different—tale within the superhero framework.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: * And I must say, Canadians are the easiest people to tease—always tease, never actually degrade—because they do have these totally innocent quirks, compared to us Americans’ far less lovable habits.
– As a character-driven writer myself, I love the little asides Roxie and Nelse go through:
“Yeah. You’re holding out for a hero. You and Bonnie Tyler. Where is the streetwise Hercules?”
“Seriously? You know the lyrics?”
“It’s a classic! Although maybe ‘We Don’t Need Another Hero.’”
“You’re infecting my head with 80s power ballads!”