With each new issue of “Dial H,” I find myself falling in love with the series a little more. That’s definitely the case with “Dial H” #9, where China Mieville, Alberto Ponticelli and Dan Green continue to explore the nature of the mysterious Hero Dial, even as they continue to build up an organization trying to use one of the Dials for their own purposes.
One of the big strengths of “Dial H” is Mieville’s sheer inventive nature. This is, after all, the person who came up with a superhero composed of a school of plankton. With each new hero form conjured by the Dial, it’s hard to not stop and gawk at the crazy new ideas that Mieville tosses out almost randomly. If “Dial H” had that solely in its favor, it’d already be a book you’d want to look at on a somewhat regular basis.
But that’s not the only reason to read “Dial H.” In “Dial H” #9, Mieville continues to explore the idea that all of this identity-swapping can eventually wear down the user’s own sense of being. Mieville does by having two different characters — Nelse and Roxie/Manteau — who each approach using the Dial differently. With Nelse just dialing and fully transforming every time, versus Roxie trying to always assume the role of Manteau on top of her new power structure, we get a good compare-and-contrast between them. It’s one of the many reasons why I’ve found myself welcoming Roxie’s presence in the book; she’s not just someone else to impart knowledge, she’s someone who uses the Dial in a distinctly different way than Nelse.
This issue also features one of the cleverest creations yet, the Glimpse. In a medium that so often teases the appearance of a new character, Mieville and Ponticelli’s take on that convention is entertaining even as it also conveys the strange power that goes along with it. When your first hero of the issue is a Minotaur that can trap opponents in labyrinths that rise up from the ground, you assume that it’s the most entertaining creation of the month, so it’s nice to be wrong.
Ponticelli and Green’s art in “Dial H” #9 is rough in places, with loose lines that (like when Nelse and Minotaura are trying to escape) seem almost ready to collapse at a moment’s notice. But in some ways, it’s a look that I’m finding increasingly appealing for “Dial H.” Nelse and Roxie don’t look like your average hero at all; that was true in the earlier issues, and it’s a tradition that Ponticelli has carried on here. I like that they both are a little out of shape, slightly haggard looking, and not 20-somethings. “Dial H” is showing us a slightly rougher and less gleaming world and I feel like Ponticelli and Green provide that but in a way that isn’t bleak or dark. They’re still able to have fun though, with Cloud-Herd looking silly and Centipede’s new headdress coming across as ridiculous and out of place.
Last but not least, Mieville uses “Dial H” to explore why the Dials only work for certain people, and at this point he’s given enough information for readers to try and piece it together on our own (the Centipede figures it out this issue, after all). Mieville constructs a comic about what really makes a hero. Maybe that’s why it’s not “Dial H for Hero” any more, but just “Dial H,” because they aren’t dialing up heroes; the users already are the heroes. It’s a grand yet fitting statement for this comic if so, and yet another reason to check it out if you aren’t already. “Dial H” is a new classic and a great reminder of how new life can be breathed into old properties.