“Feel again the placeness of this place” – What the hell is China Miéville talking about in Dial H #4 and why it doesn’t matter

It’s sort of incredible how little plot development China Miéville has made in four issues of his spacey, nihilistic superhero story. We’ve had a lot of scene setting, very little time with our heroes, even less time with the fascinating main character and almost no explanation as to who the villains were or what they were hoping to accomplish. He plays a lot of cards in the newest issue, setting up X.N.’s plot as well as Squid’s betrayal but he sets the tone of what will surely define the rest of the series in the heroes and villains’ encounter with Abyss, a physical manifestation of entropy.

Miéville has obviously drawn extensively from Grant Morrison’s mind expanding work in series such as Flex Mentallo, Doom Patrol and the loopy dialogue of Arkham Asylum. The Abyss encounter has an intoxicating, thoroughly bizarre feel, filled with lines that ring with promise rather than statements of intent. As the avatar unleashes his vengeance on Squid and X.N., it intones in measured, slightly growing fonts, “Long in deep it will not there will be none I am blindness. IT GLOWS YOU GLOW COME.” It took me a couple read-throughs of this issue before Abyss’ presence makes some modicum of sense but it is a thing of truly bizarre wonder.

The rest of the issue is suitably heroic, somewhat uncharacteristically for Miéville. Without a working dial, Squid encourages Nelson to claim to be a hero as chaos rules in the streets so that he can attempt to rescue the elderly Manteau from the nullomancer X.N. Yes, its all a twisty mess of broken alliances, alternate dimensions, powers that exist beyond human comprehension and witches that turn into mech suits but there are few mainstream comics right now that have this same sense of auteurism.

When Squid and Nelson plan the breakout, its hard to imagine that Miéville isn’t attempting to make a greater point about the nature of what it is to be a superhero. In Squid’s eyes, a chaotic world demands that any man or woman can put on a cape and save the world. All he has to do is prove to Nelson that he has a reason to do this. Watching Nelson’s reunion with Manteau shows how far the suicidal fleshy waste of the first issue has changed and it makes Miéville’s work stronger, despite the perceived slow start.

I have plenty of friends who have thought that the fact that most of my comic reading is in superhero books has blinded me to the real creativity in the genre. I’ve never thought this was the case. The potential for true creativity in all manner of comics, regardless of genre is boundless but only available for those that are willing to experiment with it. As Grant Morrison prepares his exit from monthly superhero stories after Action Comics 16 and Batman Incorporated 12, we’ll be left with nearly no true auteurs superhero comics. For now, Miéville isn’t just one of the few choices, he has the potential to be one of the best.

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