Review by Win Wiacek
In the mid-1960s the entire world went crazy for costumed crusaders and every comic 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 teenaged everyman champion who battled crime and disaster in his little town with the aid of a fantastic wonder-tool.
This slim monochrome paperback compendium collects Robby Reed’s brief run from 1966 to 1968, wherein he becomes a new superhero in every story, sometimes more than one. This is Ben-10 for your dad’s generation and your kid’s delectation, yet only if they’re at just that certain age.
Dave Wood and Jim Mooney craft the incredible adventures of a boy genius who lives with his grandfather in idyllic Littleville, constructed as a genial everytown where nothing ever happens. That is until 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 is 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.
When Thunderbolt strikes again next morning Robby grabs his dial but is startled to become a different hero – high-energy being the Cometeer. Next time Thunderbolt’s plans are thwarted by the Human Bullet, bestial energy-being Super-Charge and eerie alien Radar-Sonar Man. The weirdest? Pick from super-powered toddler Mighty Moppet, who wielded weaponised baby bottles, a clearly malfunctioning H-Dial calling up ‘The Freak Super-Heroes’ – Whoozis, Whatsis and Howzis, or 1940s legend Plastic Man. That was a blatant tester to see if the Pliable Paladin, an inert resource since DC bought out original publisher Quality Comics in 1956, was ripe for a relaunch in the new, superhero-hungry environment.
These are perfect wish-fulfilment. They’re 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. Wood and Mooney are the A-Team, but Bill Finger and Otto Binder also wrote a few stories, while the final episodes are drawn by Frank Springer and Charlie Nicholas, although there’s no drop in quality.
Exciting, fun, engaging and silly in equal amounts, 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. You’re certainly too grown up to enjoy these glorious classics, aren’t you?