Showcase Presents Dial H for Hero


By Dave Wood, Jim Mooney, George Roussos, Frank Springer, Sal Trapani Jack Sparling & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2648-0

In the mid-Sixties the entire world went crazy for costumed crusaders and every comicbook publisher was frantically seeking new ways to repackage an extremely exciting yet intrinsically limited concept. Perhaps its ultimate expression came with the creation of a teen-aged everyman champion who battled crime and disaster in his little town with the aid on a fantastic wonder-tool…

This slim monochrome paperback compendium collects the entire run from House of Mystery (#156, January 1966 to #173, March-April 1968) when the title vanished for a few months to re-emerge later as DC’s first new anthological supernatural mystery titles: the next big sensation…

Created by Dave Wood & Jim Mooney, Dial H For Hero detailed the incredible adventures of boy genius Robby Reed who lived with his grandfather in idyllic Littleville: a genial everytown where nothing ever happened…

Sadly, very little is known about writer Dave Wood, whose prolific output began in the early days of the American comics industry and whose work includes such seminal classics (often with artistic legends Jack Kirby and Wally no-relation Wood) as Challengers of the Unknown and seminal “Space Race” newspaper strip Sky Masters.

A skilled jobbing writer, Wood frequently collaborated with his brother Dick. They bounced around the industry, scripting mystery, war, science fiction and adventure tales and among his/their vast credits are stints on most Superman family titles, Batman, Detective Comics, World’s Finest, Green Arrow, Rex the Wonder Dog, Tomahawk, Blackhawk, Martian Manhunter and many others.

As well as Dial H For Hero Wood created the bizarre sleeper hit Animal Man and the esoteric but fondly regarded Ultra, the Multi-Alien.

James Noel Mooney started his comics career in 1940, aged 21, working for the Eisner & Eiger production shop and at Fiction House on The Moth, Camilla, Suicide Smith and other B-features. By the end of the year he was a mainstay of Timely Comic’s vast funny animal/animated cartoon tie-in department.

In 1946 Jim moved to DC to ghost Batman for Bob Kane and Dick Sprang. He stayed until 1968, working on a host of features including Superman, Superboy, Legion of Super-Heroes, World’s Finest Comics and Tommy Tomorrow, as well as various genre short stories for the company’s assorted anthology titles like Tales of the Unexpected and House of Mystery.

He famously drew Supergirl from her series debut in Action Comics #253 to #373, after which he returned to Marvel and stellar runs on Spider-Man, Marvel Team-up, Omega the Unknown, Man-Thing, Ghost Rider and a host of other features as both penciller and inker. Prior to that move he was illustrating Dial H For Hero; the only original DC feature he co-created.

Big things were clearly expected of the new feature, which was parachuted in as lead and cover feature, demoting the venerable Martian Manhunter to a back-up role at the rear of each issue.

The first – untitled – story opens with an attack on the local chemical works by super-scientific criminal organisation Thunderbolt just as young Robby and his pals are playing in the hills above the site. As they flee, the plucky lad is caught in a landslide and falls into an ancient cave where lies hidden an obviously alien artefact that looks like an outlandish telephone dial.

After finding his way out of the cavern Robby becomes obsessed with the device and spends all his time attempting to translate the arcane hieroglyphs on it. Eventually he determines that they are instructions to dial the symbols which translate to “H”, “E”, “R” and “O”…

Ever curious, Robby complies and ia suddenly transformed into a colossal super-powered Giantboy, just in time to save a crashing airliner and quash another Thunderbolt raid. Returning home, he reverses the dialling process and goes to bed…

These were and still are perfect wish-fulfilment stories: uncluttered and uncomplicated yarns concealing no grand messages or themes: just straight entertainment expertly undertaken by experienced and gifted craftsmen who knew just how to reach their young-at-heart audiences. Thus, no-one is surprised at the ease with which Robby adapts to his new situation…

When Thunderbolt strikes again next morning Robby grabs his dial but is startled to become a different hero – high-energy being The Cometeer.

Streaking to the rescue he is overcome by the raider’s super weapon and forced dial back into Robby again. Undeterred, he later tries again and as The Mole finally tracks the villains to their base and defeats them. The leader escapes, however, to become the series’ only returning villain…

Mr. Thunder was back in the very next issue as Robby became The Human, Bullet, bestial energy-being Super-Charge and eerie alien Radar-Sonar Man to crush ‘The Marauders from Thunderbolt Island’ after which criminal scientist Daffy Dagan steals the H-Dial after defeating the boy’s next temporary alter ego Quake-Master.

Dagan becomes a horrifying multi-powered monster when he learns to ‘Dial “V” For Villain’ but after the defeated hero takes back the artefact Robby redials into techno-warrior The Squid and belatedly saves the day.

Clearly the Mystery in House of… was related to where the Dial came from, what its unknown parameters were and who Robby would transform into next…

Issue #159 pitted The Human Starfish, Hypno-Man and super-powered toddler Mighty Moppet (who wielded weaponised baby bottles) in single combats with a shape-changing gang of bandits dubbed ‘The Clay-Creep Clan’ whilst ‘The Wizard of Light’ played with the format a little by introducing a potential love-interest for Robby in his best friend’s cousin Suzy

It also saw the return of Giant-Boy, the introduction of sugar-based sentinel of justice King Candy and the lad’s only transformation into an already established hero – the Golden Age legend Plastic Man.

Cynical me now suspects the move was a tester to see if the Pliable Paladin – who had been an inert resource since the company had bought out original publisher Quality Comics in 1956 – was ripe for a relaunch in the new, superhero-hungry environment.

DC’s Plastic Man #1 was released five months later…

House of Mystery #161 featured awesome ancient Egyptian menace ‘The Mummy with Six Heads’ who proves too much for Robby as Magneto (same powers but so very not a certain Marvel villain) and Hornet-Man, but not intangible avenger Shadow-Man, whilst in the next issue ‘The Monster-Maker of Littleville’ is proved by Mr. Echo and Future-Man to be less mad scientist than greedy entrepreneur…

‘Baron Bug and his Insect Army’ almost ends Robby’s clandestine career when the boy turns into two heroes at once; but even though celestial twins Castor and Pollux are overmatched, animated slinky-toy King Coil proves sufficient to stamp out the Baron’s giant mini-beasts. Human wave Zip Tide, living star Super Nova and Robby the Super-Robot are then hard-pressed to stop the rampages of ‘Dr. Cyclops – the Villain with the Doomsday Stare’ but eventually overcome the outrageous odds – and oddness…

Things got decidedly peculiar in #165 when a clearly malfunctioning H-Dial called up ‘The Freak Super-Heroes’Whoozis, Whatsis and Howzis – to battle Dr. Rigoro Mortis and his artificial thug Super-Hood in a bizarrely captivating romp with what looks like some unacknowledged inking assistance from veteran brush-meister George Roussos (who popped in a couple more times until Mooney’s departure).

Suzy became a fixture by moving into the house next door with ‘The King of the Curses’ who found his schemes to plunder the city thwarted by The Yankee-Doodle Kid and Chief Mighty Arrow, a war-bonneted Indian brave on a winged horse…

In HoM #167 ‘The Fantastic Rainbow Raider’ easily defeated Balloon Boy and Muscle Man but had no defence against the returning Radar-Sonar Man, whilst ‘The Marauding Moon Man’ easily overmatched Robby as The Hoopster but had no defence when another glitch turned old incarnations The Mole and Cometeer into a single heroic composite imaginatively christened Mole-Cometeer, but the biggest shock of all comes when ‘The Terrible Toymaster’ defeats Robby – AKA Velocity Kid – and Suzy cajoles the fallen hero into dialling her into the scintillating Gem Girl to finish the mission.

As it was the 1960s, Suzy didn’t quite manage on her own, but after Robby transforms into the psionically-potent Astro, Man of Space they soon closed the case – and toybox – for good. This one was all Mooney and so was the next.

‘Thunderbolt’s Secret Weapon’ was also the artist’s last hurrah with the Kid of a Thousand Capes as the incorrigible cartel tries to steal a supercomputer, only to be stopped dead by Baron Buzz-Saw, Don Juan (and his magic sword) and the imposing Sphinx-Man.

With House of Mystery #171 a radical new look emerged, as well as slightly darker tone. The writing was clearly on the wall for the exuberant, angst-free adventurer…

‘The Micro-Monsters!’ was illustrated by Frank Springer and sees Robby dial up King Viking – Super Norseman, Go-Go (a fab hipster who utilised the incredible powers of popular disco dances …and how long have I waited to type that line!!!?) and multi-powered Whirl-I-Gig to defeat bio-terrorist Doc Morhar and belligerent invaders from a sub-atomic dimension.

Springer also drew ‘The Monsters from the H-Dial’ wherein the again on-the-fritz gear turns Reed’s friend Jim into various ravening horrors every time Robby dials up.

Luckily the unnamed animated pendulum, Chief Mighty Arrow and the Human Solar Mirror our hero successively turns into prove just enough to stop the beasts until the canny boy can apply his trusty screwdriver to the incredible artefact once again.

In those distant days series ended abruptly, without fanfare and often in the middle of something… and such was the fate of Robby Reed. HoM #173, by Wood & Sal Trapani, saw the lad solve a mystery in ‘The Revolt of the H-Dial’ wherein the process reshapes him into water-breathing Gill-Man and a literal Icicle Man: beings not only unsuitable for life on Earth but also compelled to commit crimes.

Luckily by the time Robby dials into Strata Man he’s deduced what outside force is affecting his dangerously double-edged device…

And that was that. The series was gone, the market was again abandoning the Fights ‘n’ Tights crowd and on the immediate horizon lay a host of war, western, barbarian and horror comics…

Exciting, fun, engaging and silly in equal amounts (heck, even I couldn’t resist a jibe or too and I genuinely revere these daft, nostalgia-soaked gems), Dial H For Hero has been re-imagined a number of time since these innocent odysseys first ran, but never with the clear-cut, unsophisticated, welcoming charm displayed here.

This is Ben-10 for your dad’s generation and your kid’s delectation: and only if they’re at just that certain age. Certainly you’re too grown up to enjoy these glorious classics. Surely you couldn’t be that lucky; could you…?
© 1966, 1967, 1968, 2010 DC Comics. All rights reserved.