When I looked around at the "best of 2013" material for comics I found one glaring omission: Dial H. Since I've never written a short list before, I figured what better way to show a deep and abiding love for a product than a hastily compiled thing that takes 30 seconds to read?
1. Traditionally conservative DC taking a risk.
In a relaunch that started out super weird, not only in terms of creator departures and editorial edicts, but also in that there was a no joke supernatural romance comic and a war comic (both concepts Vertigo would retry), Dial H was the strangest one of them all.
When my friends first heard about it, they thought "Oh, DC must hate Miéville. They gave him Dial H." Quite the opposite. He wanted Dial H. Before the relaunch, Miéville accepted a Swamp Thing gig, but that was aborted because the toys were being brought back over to the DCU and Geoff Johns needed a splash reveal in Brightest Day. There was a story in Hellblazer #250 as what I assume was a consolation. So, after the new 52, DC gave Miéville's pitch a shot.
I'm not aware of a higher profile creator relaunching a lower profile title at Marvel or DC recently. Mieville has won most if not all of the major science fiction/fantasy prose awards available to Westerners, and Dial H is best known as the butt of a joke, or as "what DC superhero team is not even D-list?"
2. Dial H was co-starred by a woman who was old and awesome.
Yes. I know. Usually old and wizened characters stand around, look stodgy and then occasionally when a big fight comes, show how they earned their beard. Dial H's lady (Roxie Hodder) did nothing of the sort. She was actively saving lives, appearing in the comic as a major character that did shit, articulated herself well, had opinions and kicked ass.
Also? Sex between two people that wasn't 30-something Bernini sculpture and 30-something Bernini sculpture.
3. Dial H stayed away from current DC continuity.
DC gave (or more likely outgoing Vertigo founder Karen Berger shielded the series from editorial edicts) Dial H enough rope to hang itself with and only checked in when literally every single new 52 comic had to have some major hero in it and even then Miéville made it work with panache.
For fans who wanted a "plays in its own corner and needs to read no other comics" treat, Dial H did that to the hilt.
4. Dial H had a story for adults.
Mainstream American superhero comics are read mostly by people over the age of 30. But hardly ever are comics written for them. There's things that don't insult our intelligence, by and large, but there are hardly ever comics that actually treat adult readers like adults.
Dial H did that. The story was confusing, presented themes like identity, paralysis and inspiration in a way that didn't explain everything at first glance and trusted you were along for the ride. It managed a neat trick of extracting a childish degree of wonder and inspiration out of readers who were supposedly jaded enough to know better.
5. Dial H #13
Dial H #13 is a jewel in the crown, though. I compared it, privately, to All-Star Superman #10, which is a high bar to clear and it probably doesn't. What matters is that there's a bunch of tricks Miéville pulls in this issue that went largely unnoticed or uncommented on by comics criticism and this whole listicle piece is at best a flimsy veneer for drawing your attention back to it. The focus of the issue was the Dial Bunch (no really, that's what they're called) on the run, in a world with sentient graffiti. Now alone, the phrase sentient graffiti ought to be enough, but the way that these things interface with the story (and advances the plot) is genius. But that's not why I adore Dial H #13, if I'm honest. I adore Dial H #13 above any other comic released last year because of the following single panel origin of Unbled, the Demon.
The entire issue is a celebration of the inspirational possibility of superhero comics, but that single panel stuck out to me more than the constructing tricks, the earnest proclamations of heroism, and quick sketches of future possibilities we'll never see.
(The first two images are pencilled by Mateus Santolouco, the second two by Alberto Ponticelli, the fifth by David Lapham and the sixth by Alberto Ponticelli again.)