Friday, January 11, 2013

Pull List Review: Dial H #8

What is the deal with Alberto Ponticelli's work for DC these days? It has been depressingly subpar, and for a long time I assumed it was a result of having other people ink his pencils, but Dan Green marks the third (that I can remember) different inker for Ponticelli and I'm starting to think maybe I've been mis-assigning the blame. In Dial H #8, everyone looks a bit amorphous, like they are made of slowly-melting clay. The shape of Nelson's face changes a few times, as does The Centipede's, and don't even get me started on Roxie's giraffe neck in her first scene. It's not that the art is without its redeeming moments. The creation of The Centipede through a failed time travel experiment was superb, and Ponticelli handles several new heroes well. I especially liked Wolf Ticket, who not only had a great design but a palpable energy to him. But even those stronger bits aren't that impressive, and they're padded out by a lot of mushy-looking weirdness that I just don't like.
     I was so excited for Ponticelli to make the move to this title. He seemed like a happy medium between the previous artists: a bit meaner/grittier than Mateus Santolouco but with a more fun, zany style than David Lapham. Instead I got sort of a mess, art that seemed like it couldn't make up its mind. And it was not the least bit helped by the rushed and crowded script.
     As I said last month, this book is starting to get overly repetitious. Nelson and Roxie have the same arguments and fail to achieve the same goals every issue. Something needs to change in their dynamic soon or it's going to become too stale to save. I suppose we almost had that kind of shift this issue when Nelson either began to hallucinate or actually had a conversation with Wolf Ticket and Trash Talk, but is was abruptly pushed aside for the introduction of another new character. That character was similarly removed from the board in hurried and awkward fashion so we could get to the part where The Centipede confronts Nelse, and all told it felt like too many balls in the air. I'm not sure China Miéville has quite got a grasp on how to pace this book yet. The first arc was much tighter, but since then there has been too much introduction to new ideas or people, leaving too little room to develop any of them. I understand that there is a greater mythology surrounding these dials that Miéville is working to establish, but I think the book would benefit from taking a breath and deciding what the single most important thing is for its readers to understand right now. Some of these characters or concepts could surely wait for later issues, only showing up once we fully understand the things that preceded them. Instead, Miéville crams it all in at once, making it hard to latch onto anything at all.
     I do continue to like reading about The Centipede. We got an explanation of his origins and powers here, which made for what was easily the strongest section of the issue. And I liked watching him use his abilities for investigation just as deftly and effectively as he'd used them for violence and infiltration last time. He's an imposing villain, and I hate to imagine what kind of organization would be able to control him, but he is obviously working for someone and I'm excited to see who it is. And to Miéville's credit, no time was wasted in bringing this new threat head-to-head with our protagonist. Introduced only one month ago, The Centipede has already made a strong and daring move against Nelson (and Roxie, by extension) and the fallout from that is bound to be dangerous and action-packed. So there are things to look forward to by the end of Dial H #8, even if there's not too much from it that I can look back on very fondly. 
     I still like this title, but not as much as I want to. It has some excellent stars and brilliant high concepts working for it, but the handling of those people and ideas has been steadily declining for the past several months. On top of that, the art's gotten weaker since Santolouco departed, and not even Alberto Ponticelli, who is one of my favorite comicbook artists of all time, has yet been able to recapture the visual style and playfulness the series had originally. But the cliffhanger at the close of this issue intrigues me, and I can still see the overwhelming potential in this narrative, so for now I remain a fan, if a somewhat more tentative one than before.

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