By: China Miéville (story), Alberto Ponticelli (pencils), Dan Green (inks), Richard & Tanya Horie (colors)
I’m feeling the pinch of every penny these days, so when the cashier at my comic book shop scanned this issue, I immediately noticed the extra two bucks that rang up. Fortunately, I did not make a scene in the middle of the shop (much to the cashier’s relief, I’m sure) as I quickly saw that I was paying the extra money for the extra pages of a supersized finale issue. Miéville’s Dial H is certainly as worthy of the honor as Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern.
An honor, but also a necessity. Even though this is Miéville’s last hurrah, he can’t just have fun with it; there’s a lot of information he has to get through first. Had the series lasted longer, he no doubt would have unloaded all the necessary exposition little by little, so that by the time we arrived at the big climax, the only work left would be to tie everything up with one final revelation and a heartfelt resolution. We do get all those things here as well, but they feel truncated and abridged, obviously edited to fit altogether in the span of one issue.
Given Miéville’s track record, it doesn’t surprise you that he manages to deliver one fairly epic backstory as a reward for all the mysteries we’ve had to sit through on this title. The tragic fate of the Exchange, a place “[w]here frayed and faulty universes tangle,” and its war with the allied armies of other dimensions and worlds which viewed the denizens of the Exchange as thieves, is the stuff sci-fi comics are made of. The motifs of war and exile and doomed quests are familiar, but Miéville proves that specifics make all the difference between what feels old and new.
For all that, there are still things which remain obscure to us. Although we learn much about the Lost Operator’s background, he never does become very dimensional as an antagonist. His drastic acts may have been for the sake of the Exchange at one time, but now, with his home long fallen, the launching of various doomsday scenarios against seemingly random worlds just seems pointlessly malicious—destruction for its own sake.
More complicated than the Lost Operator, but still a little flat, is Centipede. There’s a note of tragedy in his character, in how incapable he is of becoming the hero he wants to be, even by dialed means. His inability to use the H-dial indicates an absence of moral values, of being able to tell, even incorrectly as Ex Nihilo did, whether he’s doing the right thing. Why he’s missing this crucial quality, Miéville gives no clue, and that is where Centipede falls short as a villain.
With only a limited space before him, albeit more than he usually gets on a monthly basis, Miéville can barely spare a moment in the spotlight for every member of the cast. He does his best, though. Dwan, Bansa, even Fixer get deserving swan songs, and of course, Miéville can’t resist keeping Open-Window Man around in the end. But as many heroes as we’ve seen on this series, Roxie and Nelson remain at its center, as raring for adventure as ever. It gives us a slight bit of hope we might revisit them in the future, in which case Miéville might have done too good a job wrapping up so many major plotlines here.
As a prose writer first, Miéville must have some kind of underlying message in mind for Dial H. We get perhaps an indirect hint of it in the Lost Operator’s comment about the human obsession with apocalypse. As he lists various kinds of world-ending disasters, he remarks, “Earth has fretted up more of these end-times than anywhere else.” Maybe this explains why we have a proportionate obsession with superheroes, for those upon whom we place ultimate trust to be our saviors. Heroes represent hope against the despair that Doomsday brings.
You’d think DC would recognize that such a complicated and profound story deserves far stronger art than what Ponticelli can provide. Still, he rises to the script’s challenges admirably, even if his work does feel a bit sloppy and confusing at times. In a way, there’s something kind of endearing about the primitive look of Ponticelli’s art, like it’s the enthusiastic masterwork of a highly talented and imaginative middle-schooler.
Although Miéville is hampered by the rushed, limited confines of his finale, he still gives us the kind of material we’ve come to expect from him: bold, imaginative, and novel.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: - I do love that Centipede’s Canadian politeness remains true to the end: “Where the heck…is my dial?”
– Frankly, I don’t understand why someone doesn’t just knock that gadget out of O’s hand. It seems all his powers, so to speak, come from it.