#CBR6 Review #20: Dial H, Vol. 2

Dial H 2Target: China Miéville’s Dial H, Vol. 2: Exchange. Art by Alberto Ponticelli, David Lapham and Dan Green.  Collecting issues #7-15 and Justice League issue #23.3

Profile: Comics, Mystery, Science Fiction, Fantasy

After Action Report:

When last we left Dial H, Miéville was busy adding weird fiction and horror tropes to a little known corner of the DC Universe.  The events of the last volume have raised the stakes and opened the door to a multiverse of possibilities.  Unfortunately, while Dial H was an incredible critical success, its sales numbers left something to be desired and DC ended the run at issue 16.  True to form, Miéville seems to treat the cancelation as a challenge and crashes through two storylines to bring readers a climax worthy of this creative adventure, and a thoughtful coda that hints that we might not have seen the last of the Dialers.

Issue #7 picks up a few weeks after Nelson’s fight with the villain Ex Nihlio and her pet Abyss.  In light of the new threat of the Shadow on the Line, Nelson and his new partner Roxie, set off to uncover more secrets of the dials.  But their leisurely globetrotting quickly turns scary as they catch the eye of a Canadian super-agent who knows more about what they are than they do.

Exchange is actually a double volume, collecting the Centipede arc that I summarized above, and the Exchange arc that follows.  Centipede introduces us to Dial Cults and the secret Canadian agency that has been experimenting with a dial of their own.  While this arc is satisfying, and the Centipede is a brilliantly written and realized villain, the really interesting stuff doesn’t kick in until DCs deadline forced Miéville to sprint for the finish in the Exchange arc.

From the end of issue #12, the tone of the series changes.  There’s a sense of impending catastrophe that permeates the frames as the newly assembled Dial Bunch race to find the origin of the dials.  Miéville starts tossing terminology and worldbuilding elements at the page almost too fast to process.  The hectic crescendo of plot comes at the expense of some of the more subtle themes of the first volume.  Nelson’s exploration of what it is to be a hero, and the complicated, evolving relationship between Nelson and Roxie take a back seat to the mythology of the Dial War, the Exchange and the mysterious Operator behind it all.

The pacing of these last issues is off-putting, but also exciting, dragging the reader on a manic ride through a universe that should have taken more time to discover and explore.  It’s not everything it should have been, but the race to the conclusion is surprisingly satisfying.  The added urgency pressurizes the literary components, glossing over flaws that might otherwise distract from the goal.  The result is a bit like blown glass; beautiful, but flawed and fragile.

Rereading the collected book for this review exposed a lot of unanswered questions and minor gaps in my understanding of Miéville’s concepts that I hadn’t noticed during my first pass of the comics as individual issues.  The goals of the Operator are unclear and the final confrontation, while exciting to read, leaves things on an odd, anticlimactic cliffhanger.  The Justice League coda helps defray the non-ending, reintroducing the dials to the primary DC universe and adding a new character who might make some future appearances in The New 52 (fingers crossed).

In spite of the rushed ending, Miéville really did bring something fascinating to DC’s otherwise lackluster reboot.  The thoughtful exploration of what it is to be a hero from the first volume and the expansion of dial lore from the third arc are both strong literary reasons to read the series.  The art is excellent, as are the character designs.  Both the ordinary people populating the Dial H universe, and the weird and sometimes hilarious superheroes called up to do battle, are well realized and evoke a real sense of humanity and madcap comic action respectively.  I was particularly impressed by the string of villains featured in the Justice League coda.  They strike a fun balance between scary and amusing very reminiscent of Saturday morning cartoon bad guys.

Like many more ‘artistic’ comic projects, this isn’t exactly what the everyday fan of superhero comics is probably looking for.  But if China Miéville is in your wheelhouse, or you enjoy a weirder take on heroes and villains, Dial H is an excellent short comic, perfect for the curious reader.

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Posted on June 26, 2014, in Cannonball Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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