Contents: Dial H for Hero stories from House of Mystery #156 (January 1966) to #173 (March-April 1968)
Key Creator Credits: Dave Wood, Jim Mooney, and others
Key First Appearances: Robby Reed
Overview: Robby Reed is a typical teenage boy growing up in Littleton, Colorado. He lives with his grandfather, affectionately referred to as Gramps, as well as their housekeeper, Miss Millie. Robby discovers an alien device that looks like a telephone dial hidden away in a cave. Taking it home, Robby begins the task of deciphering the language on the device, and determines that dial the characters that would spell our HERO. When he does, Robby finds himself transformed into an adult superhero. But with each subsequent dial of the device, he becomes a different superhero, with different powers that just happen to be what he needs to defeat the current threat of the month.
Along the way, Robby’s girlfriend Suzy has need to use the device. Of course, this being the 1960s, Suzy would have to dial HEROINE in order to change into a superhero herself. One would wonder that if a alien race could develop something like this, that it would work just by dialing HERO regardless of the bearer’s gender, but we’ll table that for now.
While most of the characters are one-and-done and are unique to the situation, there was one time, in House of Mystery #160 (July 1966), when Robby was changed into a recognizable hero – Plastic Man! Maybe this was done to test the waters for the return of the character, as later that year DC started a new Plastic Man series. A decade later, when the Plastic Man title was revived during the DC Explosion campaign, Robby Reed would cross paths with the actual Plastic Man, who ends up confiscating the device from our star due to irresponsible use.
Why should these stories be Showcased?: There are parts of this concept that I really, really like. The variety of characters used in each story. Revisiting the concept of a kid transforming into an adult hero (i.e., Captain Marvel/Shazam). The beautiful covers that truly represents the best of the Silver Age as that era was starting to come to an end. I think my biggest complaint is just how short this collection is at 285 pages. Yes, it collects all of the stories from House of Secrets in the 1960s. Maybe DC could have included the Robby Reed appearance in Plastic Man #13 (June-July 1976). Or maybe DC starts the Chris King-Vicki Grant run from Adventure Comics in the early 1980s. DC priced this book at $9.99, so at least we didn’t pay the standard rate for a Showcase Presents. But I think I would almost want to pay the higher price and get more stories with this concept.
Footnotes: House of Secrets switched formats following issue #173. The Dial H for Hero feature (as well as the Martian Manhunter feature) were dropped, and the title became a horror anthology with issue #174. Those issues have been collected in Showcase Presents The House of Secrets Vol. 1.
If you like this volume, try: the H.E.R.O. series from 2003-2004 by Will Pfeifer, Kano, Dale Eaglesham, and others. The concept of Dial H has been revisited several times over the years. In the 1980s, Dial H for Hero was revived in Adventure Comics and then later as a back-up in The New Adventures of Superboy. But with this iteration, DC allowed fans to submit character ideas to be used as the different heroes created by the dial. But this concept never had it’s own title until the H.E.R.O. series started up. But this title took a different spin, as the dial, now referred to as the H-Device, is passed around from stranger to stranger, and each person had a less-than-desirable experience, which would encourage them to get rid of the device. While this is going on, a grown up Robby Reed is on the hunt trying to find his old device, maybe in hopes of regaining the glory of his youth. The series ran for 22 issues, and the first six were collected in a 2003 trade paperback. But I think many of these issues can be found in the .50 cent bins at conventions and local stores. Go on the hunt and see if you can find all 22 issues – or your own H-Device!