It is with no small amount of praise that I must say Dial H #13 has to have been one of the most fun Batman stories to be released in quite some time. Now this might seem like a strange thing to claim, but as with China Mieville and Dial H, which has become hallmarked with strangeness, Mieville gives readers this similarly insane twist to the Batman mythos.
One of the greatest strengths of this series has been its initial gimmick – to be able to showcase within its pages any number of superheroes both new or old, and to be able to run with them in any manner possible. Mieville has displayed boundless imagination in this area introducing such fan-favorites into the DC Comics universe as Boy Chimney, The Iron Snail, The Centipede, and much, much more. Although this also plays into one point of contention that some fans have with the series – that these are merely fleeting cameos of heroes with such potential. Which is why Dial H #13 has to be one of the most entertaining issues that the series has had so far, because it gives the audience a much-wanted look into one of these heroes. One that is laughably (in the positive way) called “Open Window Man”.
Mieville showcases his ability to add depth and emotion to such an inane concept such a man whose whole superhero identity is centered on the idea of windows being open – which is vintage Dial H to be honest. The story that is weaved in this issue not only maintains the youthful and invigorating cleverness of its silver-age roots but also touches upon some rather emotional beats – both heartwarming and sad. We have the typical exploits of our erstwhile protagonist, the middle-aged Nelson Jent, who has assembled a not-so-crack team of multiverse heroes, including "Open Window Man", in order to solve the mystery behind the magical Dials that give them their powers and bind them all. Though, as aforementioned, Jent is conspicuously placed in the background of this issue that finds them journeyed into a world where walls hold a universe of living chalk doodles.
It is in this world that "Open Window Man" shines out with such passion as he finds himself too late to stop the murder of the two parents of a young boy, in a dark alley, after watching something at the theatre – is this starting to sound familiar? In Mieville’s world "Open Window Man," named Jed Oliver, is but another version of Batman from a world that could have been – where instead of a bat being his inspiration, there was but something more eccentric. So the majority of the issue is him taking the younger chalk version of himself, whose destiny is already set, under his wing. A somewhat cyclical Batman and Robin, where this partnership is mutually beneficial – both being able to work through this same traumatic, but temporally different, experience in their lives.
It’s cute, it’s sweet, and it’s all manner of things. There’s the adorable precociousness of what would be called “Chalk Bruce Wayne” and the hilariously dissonant darkness of the goofy "Open Window Man" – it makes for an amazingly entertaining dynamic duo. Mieville puts in humor where it is necessary, the downer moment as well, but also the downright joyful moment. In the end "Open Window Man" is able to grow in ways that the regular universe Batman hasn’t been allowed to in a long time – and it’s played off so believably and naturally. I would definitely read an ongoing about the adventures that these who fresh characters would have.
And that’s what makes this issue so bittersweet to boot. This has been an example of Dial H at the top of its game and at it’s fullest potential – new twists, new turns, and endless creativity. Mieville knocks it out of the park in a unique way that hasn’t been seen since the first arc. Artist Alberto Ponticelli is in his element with this type of series and putting the light onto the various alternate worlds and beings, it’s something that shouldn’t be a delight – but it is one anyway. So now that’s upcoming cancellation is quick on its heel, it’ll be sad to see this go. It’s lasted longer than anyone could have expected it to last, so I’m willing to follow it up into it’s swan song and epilogue in the form of Justice League #23.3: Dial E #1, a part of DC Comics' upcoming "Villain Month."