DIAL H #11

By: China Miéville (story), Alberto Ponticelli (pencils), Dan Green (inks), Richard & Tanya Horie (colors)

The Story: Not even the fastest man alive can escape a woman’s “We need to talk.”

The Review: Although quite a few other momentous events occurred last issue, the one that probably lingered on our minds after reading was Roxie and Nelson, in their dialed personas, engaging in some tonsil wrestling.  When this kind of thing happens in fiction, it usually goes one of two ways: the couple breaks out of their lip-lock and then part ways, stammering awkward excuses as they do, or they wind up doing the nasty and fight over it afterwards.

And it looks like for Roxie and Nelson, they will have to go through the post-coital conflict, because contrary to Nelson’s insistent denials, Roxie assures us, “We did.”  It’s a pretty funny scene with no hard jokes, the humor coming from Nelson’s increasing agitation in perfect contrast to Roxie’s businesslike demeanor.  It’s easy to see where their differing reactions come from.  Roxie, a child of the free-loving sixties, finds their liaison unusual, but otherwise natural; Nelson can’t get over the fact that he did it with a “wrinkled old…”

“Go on,” Roxie says with ominous calm.

He does not—fortunately—but his disgust and horror leads him to make some out-of-proportion remarks anyway, accusing her of seducing him while he was under the S-Dial’s sway (which we know isn’t true).  This would be trouble enough in itself, but it actually sets up an even bigger conflict later in the issue, where Nelson in a panic dials up the Flash, and he and Roxie realize what we’ve known since #0: the dials prey upon the powers of other heroes.  Nelson accuses her of knowing but keeping it from him; she insists that she believed it was only a story.  Whatever the case, that doesn’t stop either of them from engaging in some hopeful rationalization that maybe they’re not just power thieves.

It is at this moment, when Nelson and Roxie are at their most vulnerable, individually and as a team, psychologically and physically, that they’re forced to finally confront the “shadow on the line!”  In contrast to the ambiguous hints of previous issues, Miéville makes some major revelations as to the nature and identity of this dialing stalker, in the process revealing equally major revelations as to the origin of the dials themselves.  I need not spoil it for you, but in this one issue, everything Miéville’s written thus far takes on a tight and necessary logic that actually opens this series up for even greater developments to come.

Much of what we learn comes from the Centipede’s (real name: Floyd Bergson) deductions, but to what end?  Though an agent of the Canadian government, an institution of faultless integrity and good intentions, he’s always seemed a bit obscure and vaguely threatening in his motives.  So when he says, “I haven’t changed, General, I’ve just suspected something for a while.  And I had it proved.  I’m not a hero at all,”—is he making a critique of the work he’s done or is he making a statement about his own true nature?  If it’s the latter, it might explain why the H-dial never worked for him, as Roxie speculates.  Whereas Ex Nihilo was a villain in her own right, she might have seen herself as a hero, or “Maybe however bad [Ex Nihilo] was…he’s worse.”

The more the series goes on and the more fantastic it becomes, the more it exposes Ponticelli’s limitations as an artist.  It’s not easy to do justice to Miéville’s whimsical and concept-driven script, I’ll grant you, but neither is it easy for, say, Chris Burnham to work with Grant Morrison, or Frazier Irving to work with John Rozum.  Ponticelli might accurately capture the intent in Miéville’s words, but he doesn’t quite capture their impact, not even with Green’s sympathetic inks or the Hories’ colors.

Conclusion: Miéville continues his hot streak on this ambitious series, but is somewhat dragged down by Ponticelli’s loving but insufficient art.

Grade: B+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: If anyone’s reading The Flash right now, is there any reflection of Nelson’s momentary power-grab in that series?