THIS REVIEW OF ‘DIAL H FOR HERO’ #1 CONTAINS SPOILERS.
by Clyde Hall. Before Ben Tennyson found the Omnitrix, before Darwin reactively evolved with his mutant power, before Jack-Jack Parr manifested super powers by the gross, there was Robby Reed and his H-Dial. Once Robby found the strange rotary device in House of Mystery #156 (January 1966), he could become a random, heretofore unknown superhero by dialing H-E-R-O. His feature struck a chord with comics fans who couldn’t get enough caped wonders. It had a whimsical approach, villains as silly as many of Robby’s alter-egos. It was also a chance for artists and writers to come up with characters hard-pressed to headline a feature or title (on the average, three such new creations per story). More, it was a venue for young readers to identify with a kid who transformed into adult superheroes when Billy Batson hadn’t yelled “Shazam!” for thirteen years.
When Brian Michael Bendis pushed for his Wonder Comics imprint, Dial H for Hero was one of the titles in the original slate. Not that the Hero Dial had been dormant. Other tales with other owners were chronicled, from its Adventure stint during the 1980s to more recent mature titles, appearances in Legion of Super-Heroes storylines, and DC’s Silver Age event. The tone of Wonder, however, indicated the Dial was returning to its fun, non-angsty foundations. With Dial H for Hero #1, Sam Humphries and Joe Quinones have fulfilled that promise.
It all starts with a kid named Miguel. He likes to push boundaries, and one such incident resulted in a brief encounter with Superman. The thrill of the incident further fuels Miguel’s adrenalin addiction tempered by the eventual realization that assurances are not the same as promises. Which brings us to today, where teen Miguel’s life is mostly yawn-worthy. He works possibly the lamest excuse for a food truck ever, and suffers heaped indignities from its owner, Uncle Brant. Buzz-thrill opportunities are sparse.
He briefly finds alternate excitement meeting Summer, a peer with a rep as a habitual runaway. But Miguel’s jump on a rickety BMX ramp spanning a canyon ravine truly tests his nerve. (Nearly shatters his bones, too.) Mid-plunge to traction or death, he’s saved by the sudden appearance of the Hero Dial. He’s been chosen as its new wielder. But other interested parties covet the artifact and to keep it Miguel must unlock its mysteries and learn how to be a superhero. Many superheroes.
Writer Sam Humphries taps the original H-Dial appeals but with his own flair. We feel trapped alongside Miguel, relegated to a nowhere hometown, slinging mayo for an ungrateful relative who considers him a lazy, undisciplined burden. Humphries introduces an overwatch entity serving as Operator behind the Dial. Is she equivalent to wizened wizards dolling out magic words, or more akin to The Matrix’s Trinity?
Another departure is mini-origins. Instead of dialing a form and inherently knowing identity and power, Miguel undergoes an instantaneous and internal background story. He also experiences a crash course download of how the powers were utilized in past conflicts. Saves learning on the fly, mid-crisis.
Humphries isn’t averse to coupling the fun with ‘funny’ moments. The Dial’s reputation precedes its reemergence across the DCU; Lords of Order wince, champions of chaos rejoice. Miguel’s first superhero form, Monster Truck, is a double-tap pastiche of Transformers and every 90s superhero with huge shoulder pads, neo-tech arsenal, and face-framing cowl/helmet. Humphries even manages to infuse the Superman/phone booth legacy into a touchstone.
Eventual duo-dialing with Summer to unleash pantheons of superheroines seems likely. After all, two heroes are better than one when spinning the powers roulette wheel. Past tales have hinted that, while the Dial selections may not be haphazard, they require will on the part of the user to call up a hero best-suited for the corresponding situation. Humphries may expand on this or blaze a whole other course for the device’s precepts.
Artist Joe Quinones flits nimbly from scenes of profound impact (Superman’s rescue) to the agony of teen boredom (Devil’s Canyon, CA. Zip code E-I-E-I-0), from Liefeld-esque battlescapes to the trans-dimensional wonder of the Hero Dial. He’s put through the paces but brings off each step as few artists could. Letterer Dave Sharpe gets a workout keeping up: Lunch special chalk boards, heroic exclamations in 90s style, and transcendental sound effects accentuate as needed without overwhelming the narrative.
My only question: Will 6 issues suffice to establish the new H-Dial footprint in the DCU? With super-identity origins, a shiny new cast of characters, a ready-made group of enemies, and new dimensions to the device itself, will it be hurried? The first issue leaves you wishing for an ongoing instead of limited series, itself an unequivocal testament to the success of its creative team.
Wonder Comics / DC / $3.99
Written by Sam Humphries.
Illustrated by Joe Quinones.
Letters by Dave Sharpe.
8.5 out of 10
Check out this 6-page preview of ‘Dial H for Hero’ #1, courtesy of Wonder Comics, an imprint of DC!
Cover A by Joe Quinones
Cover B by Nick Derington.