“Dial H” #13 by writer China Mieville and artist Alberto Ponticelli re-asserts the book’s status as an oddity at DC. It’s a comic that feels as close to being a book from Vertigo’s golden age as anything at the publisher can, but also riffs heavily on a classic character from DC history. Having recently taken on The Flash, this issue puts an altogether different spin on — of all people — Batman.
By introducing The Dial Bunch, each of whom has a different-lettered dial with its own unique effect, Mieville continues to exploit his ability for weird, rapid-fire character ideas that nonetheless work just out of the sheer pathos he has for each one. All of that takes place against the backdrop of a story set in a world of graffiti come to life. In the wrong hands, it would be near-lunacy, but with these creators on board it’s more sublimely ridiculous.
In many ways, this is the issue readers have been waiting for. There’s a ton of information finally dropped about the dial-users, as well as hints about what created them, why they’re out there and what their purpose might be. Series protagonists Nelson and Manteau aren’t quite as prominent as usual, but they’re still around, and their journey into the mythology is ours. The reiteration and expansion of the dial concept means that it does feel like a major act is about to begin.
A story like this demands much of all its creators, including artist Alberto Ponticelli and letterer Taylor Esposito, who are thrown a lot of less-than-standard concepts that must be brought to life. It’s easily the most technically accomplished issue of the series, which speaks a lot of how well the entire team has gelled over recent issues. It’s always been a well-constructed book, but this is another league entirely.
The book’s only real flaw — and in fairness, it is quite a large part of the experience — is that it’s so packed with ideas that picking out the actual story can be hard on a first reading. The density of material is such that you can’t help but rush through, wanting to know what’s coming next, but it demands more attention than most comics if you want to ensure you don’t miss the important plot beats hidden amongst the unimportant throwaway concepts.
It’d be churlish to complain too hard about material this intentionally anarchic, since that’s also its main appeal, but it’s also true that it could stand to be a bit more conventionally structured if it wants to draw in new readers. It’s a moot point, considering its impending (and rather disappointing) cancellation. Still, it’s a comic that benefits from being re-read, and that’s true of this issue more than most. “Dial H” is a great title that’ll leave a huge gap when it’s gone.