Dial H #12 is a dizzying read, but in a way that mostly works. China Miéville's script never takes much of a pause, speeding from a fight to a chase to another, bigger fight that also introduces a whole new seven-person team to the cast. There are definitely glossed-over details as a result, with the new characters especially, who at this stage are more like one big group character than a team of distinct individuals. Still, on the whole the story works because there's a lot of humor and action to it, both of which are aided by the pacing. The reader has a chance to get just as overwhelmingly swept up in the issue's events as Nelson and Roxie, and if you let yourself go along for the ride, there is quite a bit to enjoy. It isn't the most well-put-together comicbook available, because its approach is too slapdash for that. But it is knowingly, intentionally so, and that attitude, when embraced so completely, does more good for this series than harm.
The book has always been zany, and to some extent its been about the inherent zaniness of the superhero genre. So here we have that same lens applied to a meet-the-team story, where the group that's introduced is about as madcap and silly as you could hope for. Nonsensical names, goofy power sets, bizarre looks, and the ever-changing nature of the group because of their use of dials make The Dial Bunch—aka Team Adventitious aka The Junkyard Posse—immediately entertaining and amusing. They are an addition to be excited by, because it's a fitting time for this book's cast and world to expand. Now that The Fixer has been established as a new, bigger-than-ever-before threat, having the good guys get larger and more powerful makes sense. And we've been with only Nelson and Roxie for so long, fresh blood is welcome. When Roxie first came onto the scene, there was a lot of material to be found in learning her backstory and discovering what she already knew about the dials. Now there are seven new characters who will also have their own histories and personal experiences with the dials, and they clearly already know more about what's happening than the established protagonists. So the potential for them to deepen Nelson and Roxie's (and, by extension, the readers') understanding of and control over the dials' power is enormous.
For now, though, they arrive only to temporarily save the day, ganging up on The Fixer and The Centipede with a clear team harmony, sending the villains back to wherever The Fixer comes from. It is a high-octane battle with a lot of players, several of whom change their physical appearance in the middle of it, some more than once. That's a tall order for penciler Alberto Ponticelli, but he largely pulls it off. Though some of the exact workings of the story are confused by the artwork, the actual fighting is all done well, and Ponticelli does much more consistent work with the cast than usual. Nelson and Roxie still have panels here and there where they look wildly different from themselves, but not as many as there have been in previous issues. All of The Fixer's many looks, as well as those of the entire Dial Bunch, are really impressive and detailed and fun. Ponticelli has a clear knack for character design, and seems to enjoy it, giving a lot of life and energy even to characters who only get a panel or two. And they all have unique abilities which, even if we don't know exactly what they all actually do, always look great, and that counts for a lot.
There is a fair deal of portal opening and closing, and that is where the art becomes a tad muddied for me. I think there must be two portals open at one point, but Ponticelli never makes the layout clear, and there's not enough help from Miéville's dialogue to clarify or explain what exactly is going on. The portals themselves look neat, as if the walls are being pulled open like curtains, but where they are and precisely how they work is indecipherable. But that's just a tiny annoyance, a plot point that's not as strong as it could be but holds up well enough to get the job done.
I'm firmly in a place of being re-jazzed about this title, because it seems to be moving away from it's slightly darker era and back toward the outlandish hilarity it once focused on. Add to that general shift this month's introduction of a whole slew of new characters, all of whom look great, and there's plenty to be excited about. Ponticelli's artwork seems to be finding itself at last, going big and broad and just plain silly as often as possible, and Miéville's writing is playful and snappy again instead of feeling garbled or awkward. Oh, yeah, and Open-Window Man was perfect, a totally sincere and capable superhero who just happens to have an absurd appearance and a name to match. Can't wait to see more from him, or any of his allies.