I don’t often offer my opinion on what a publisher should or should not do with their lineup of titles—that’s business, not storytelling. But when something like DC’s DIAL H gets canceled, likely in favor of another ordinary superhero book, I feel the need to say something. Numbers are numbers, of course, and often speak louder than storytelling, but the fact is that DIAL H #13 is a veritable masterpiece, able to be read by just about anyone regardless of their familiarity with the series, and a perfect example of science fiction weirdness brought to its emotional best. Its impending cancellation is embarrassing.
DIAL H, see, has thus far been a smorgasbord of different superheroes—Boy Chimney, Plantonian, The Glimpse, “Cock-a-Hoop”—who jump into one another’s worlds by virtue of the Dials, which seem to be mysterious pieces of machinery (shaped like rotary phone dials, of course) that give the holder the ability to “dial in” to whatever hero happens to fit the situation (or in some cases, not). But with DIAL H #13, the characters pause to reflect on recent events of the series—not with an ordinary recap, but with the aptly named Open Window Man (who walks around with a window frame and curtain rod around his neck like a collar) trying to explain the nature of the Dials and basic superheroics to a little chalk stick-figure graffiti boy, whose stick-figure parents are shot in the opening panels.
The concept sounds ridiculous, and it sort of is; but there are narrative details that wink, nod, and poke the reader in the nose so successfully it’s difficult not to smile widely the whole way through. Open Window Man draws flashbacks on the walls with chalk to explain everything to the boy and attempt to break the barrier between their worlds. After finding his way onto the graffiti wall, Open Window Man’s thoughts become visible bubbles: “Damnit, my thoughts are legible. Think mysteriously…” His origin story is a hilarious reference to Batman, complete with parents being shot and his looking out the window (hence the decision on his identity) to discover the meaning of his life. He even draws the graffiti boy his own Batcave. It’s such compelling material that longtime readers won’t even miss the series’ regular narrators, Nelson and Roxie.
There are very few comics on the stands—or even stories in general—that are this clever and original. China Mieville’s script has allowed Ponticelli to go to town artistically, creating worlds of giant fish, miniature cities built on asteroids, and of course, walls upon walls of chalk drawings that resemble something a child might draw on a sketchpad. Tanya and Richard Horie’s colors are so contrasted and circus-like it feels like you’re reading a Magic Schoolbus book. And as for that script, well… Mieville is no stranger to well-wraught words, as his countless contributions to the fiction world prove, and he’s also no slouch when it comes to this issue’s internal monologue—at times hilarious, and at times poetic: “Normally Centipede’s castoffs dissipate, but in that place? They lingered… like guilt.”
If this were in the review section I’d give it a 10. Since it’s a column, I’ll stick to the theme: buy a copy of Dial H #13, if only to experience the kind of layered, bizarre storytelling usually only found in sprawling Sci-Fi novels. Comics fans deserve the option. We may be getting only two more issues, but the support of magnificent world-building like this can only lead to good things, and it would make Forry Ackerman proud.