By: China Miéville (story), Alberto Ponticelli (pencils), Dan Green (inks), Richard & Tanya Horie (colors)
The Story: If you’re in trouble and you’ve already dialed a hero, who’s next on contact list?
The Review: In the last few months, I’ve given DC a hard time about the way it carries on some of its titles, and it’s only fair that I give praise where it’s due as well. So kudos for allowing a totally oddball, quirky series like Dial H to go on for nearly a year (and still no cancellation announcement!) when so many others have gotten axed. Although it may not seem so, this title may be one of the most important works DC is producing right now.
Now, that’s a pretty grand sort of statement which needs some clarification. Dial H represents a fairly major evolutionary step in what a mainstream comic can be. It’s a title about superheroes, and yet at the same time, it’s not. It challenges your typical superhero conventions and in doing so, it makes you re-examine the nature of superheroes as both fictional archetypes and a genre. To have all this going on in a comic that sits side-by-side with Batman is quite a big deal.
If you need proof of this series’ genre-defying work, consider the fact that in this title, the costumed antics are a side-dish to the story’s main course. You might say the two focal points of Dial H are the mysteries of the dial itself and the relationship between Roxie and Nelson; neither plot thread particularly needs the superhero stuff to move forward. More often than not, the superhero stuff serves as a fun diversion from what’s really going on.
That said, Miéville has been frustratingly obtuse in how much he actually reveals about the dial—or dials. The Centipede reveals there are two dialers who showed up in the past, one named “O” and the other (who remains nameless) looking for “O.” But we have no clue what they want, why they’re relevant now, and why they would need “Eddison” [sic]—as in Thomas A.—to fix their own dials when they taught him about how they work in the first place.
Miéville definitely makes up for these shortcomings by giving us a fantastic addition to the H-Dial mythos. Taken aback that the Canadian dialer, Mason Jones, uses a different number to get in costume, Nelson realizes: “7433 don’t spell hero. S, I, D, E. Side. Dial S for sidekick.” It seems an obvious thing now, but the revelation itself inspires all your childhood enthusiasm for what this development means.
And in exploring the unique qualities of the S-Dial, Miéville makes a commentary about what it means to be a sidekick. It’s no coincidence that those who use this latest dial form a compulsion to obey the instructions of others, especially those who use the superior H-Dial. This desire to follow orders can apparently infect the user in his true persona as well, if poor Jones shows us anything. Essentially, becoming a sidekick means relegating your purposes and motivations to those of your mentor-hero, even when your mentor gives you free rein to do as you please.
That probably explains Nelson’s rather shocking choice of action with Roxie in the final scene. As much as I dubiously regard the need for every male and female duo to experience some kind of romantic tension, the—spoiler alert—kiss between Nelson and Roxie is so complicated and loaded and creepy that it genuinely feels like a huge twist. The moment is significant for another reason as well; it marks the first time a dialer has unmasked himself while in costume and the first time a dialer has interacted with another dialer in their heroic personas—yet these personas do not belong to the same world. The possibilities are intriguing, no?
Ponticelli faithfully delivers every crazy hero Miéville comes up with, and in some ways, that’s a triumph in itself. At the end of the day, though, I think I’d simply prefer cleaner visuals to what Ponticelli offers. You sometimes feel like you have to kind of squint through his scratchy linework, much like a Magic Eye picture, to see what you should be seeing. All that extraneous hatching, no matter how finely inked by Green, only obscures and muddies the colors the Hories whip up.
Conclusion: More than just thought-provoking, this issue is downright thrilling in a way that has nothing to do with typical superhero action. Long may the series live.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: – It is a little awkward when the sidekick outpowers the hero, though, huh?