DIAL H #14

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

The Story: If you can dial an apocalypse, can someone dial an eleventh-hour save?

The Review: As we get ever close to this title’s demise, I should say that for anyone hoping for a last-minute stay, a sudden surge of loyalty from the fans—well, this isn’t Chuck, so don’t expect it.  Turning to some relatively hard numbers, although Dial H gained a rank last month, it also simultaneously lost about 400 buyers, bringing the grand total of June readers to somewhere around 11,900—solid figures for Vertigo or Image, but hardly for a Big Two book.

All we can really do now is cherish however many issues we have left.  I admit I’m not quite as wholeheartedly attached to this series the way I was with, say, Xombi or even Saucer Country, but I am deeply disappointed to see it go just as it’s starting to reach its prime.  The introduction of the dimensional wanderers, the Dial Bunch, opened the floodgates of story possibilities, adding half a dozen different dialers and an infinite supply of settings for Miéville to play in.  All of it will have to go to waste now, unless Vertigo decides to pick up the series itself.*

Indeed, Miéville has already begun the process of winding down the series, skipping us quite far ahead on the plotline, just to the point where the Dial Bunch are on the verge of finally tracking down their ultimate foes, the climax of climaxes, in other words.  In the process, we blaze past so many great adventures and stories that will never be: all the different worlds to explore, all the dials to find and fix and break again, all the heroes and villains to mix and match and imagine.  You look at Nelson as the ectoplasmic “ElepHaunt!” and his constantly shifting teammate Dwan defeating the evil Barkfly in an underground cave-world populated by sentient frogs, and you feel like it’ll be a long time before you read a series this constantly crazed and imaginative again.

You feel especially bad for the other members of the Dial Bunch who, unlike Open-Window Man, will never get their turn in the spotlight.  Some are literally cut down before their time, like the robotic dandy Ejad, of whom we know so little that his death, tragic as it is, barely grazes us.  He doesn’t even get the benefit of showing one last display of heroism before he goes; last issue he was alive and this one he isn’t, apparently brought down by the aforementioned Barkfly.  Even more depressingly, three other members of the Bunch are thrown out of the picture before the issue’s end, leaving only four to carry on.

Despite the rushed, baseless execution of these circumstances, which Miéville can’t help, they do feel very appropriate for the final hours of a story with such scope.  Stranded and stripped of their dials on a world of humanoid medieval weapons, facing against O, “the lost operator” capable of “dialing random apocalypses” (including floods and zombie hordes), and you have a real epic finale on your hands.  Yet this is merely an echo of the finale that could have been, as we’re forced to take in all these new developments in the most chaotic fashion possible, bringing us almost right back to the inaccessible early issues of this series.

With his work here, Ponticelli demonstrates that perhaps his finest talent is his sheer unflappability.  No matter how bizarre or insane a situation the script calls for, Ponticelli always rises to the challenge, drawing it with as much personal style and quirkiness as Miéville’s writing.  While I do feel a little guilty about consistently haranguing him for his unconventional style, I still maintain that his loose, even frail linework sometimes barely holds up against the Hories’ colors, threatening to become visual mush in many instances.

Conclusion: Some forgiveness must be made for the abruptness of the issue’s events, because otherwise this is the only conclusion this boldly individualistic title deserves.

Grade: B

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * And this seems the best and most likely scenario if Dial H is to survive.  It’s not like the title made amazing use of its place in the larger DCU anyway, aside from a Flash cameo, and 12,000 monthly readers beats whatever The Unwritten is making these days.

– I find it interesting yet also logical that a world of walking weaponry wouldn’t know what zombies are, but a world of intelligent frogs can make reference to vampires.