A Tribute to the of
I've been in a bit of a pondering mood lately and one of the products of it has led me to a conclusion regarding the appeal of this era in comic book history. I've mentioned before that the pure escapist entertainment angle is always something I've appreciated. I've also said that most young boys would have given up the things they held most dear to be able to fly and bend steel with their bare hands or to skulk through the dark alleys of the underworld, fearless and ready to kick some butt or to soar through the cosmos wielding the power of a ring fueled by will power and imagination. The other element that occurred to me recently was that in these pages of heroic tales dwelt justice. Yes. Pure, unadulterated justice. The evil-doers always got theirs. The heroes inevitably trounced their foes, even when, in rare circumstances, they lost their own lives doing so. (See my review of Adventure #353, for example.) Some of it was due to the Comics Code Authority guidelines which stated very clearly for a number of years that good must always triumph over evil in the stories. Some of it was probably the simpler times, at least in the beginning. I've found it remarkable on more than one occasion that even during the turbulence of the America of the 60's the DC Universe didn't change that much. I think though, in large measure, it was part of the formula. These thrilling stories gave us heroes to believe in and they always delivered. In a world where things aren't always fair, those with high principles and a code of justice came out on top, month after month. That has got to be at least one of the primary elements that made these stories great. In fact, as you look back to the preceding years of the Golden Age, the writers and editors even had our favorite superheroes cleaning house with the Axis powers. Even the competition got into the act with that theme. So, in times of uncertainty you could always count on DC to make things right. A safe haven, if you will, for those who hold out hope for a just world.
So, time to dust off another issue and see if the themes run true to form. As if they'd do anything else. I've decided this time to pull an old favorite from my childhood collection and to revisit Robby Reed, the boy who can change into 1,000 super-heroes. It's House of Mystery #157 from March of 1966 and it's the second appearance of the new feature, Dial H for Hero. Art for this issue comes courtesy of Jim Mooney who did plenty of work on the Superman title. Perhaps that's why Giantboy looked so much like an oversized Superboy in issue #156. Unfortunately, I was unable to discover the name of the writer of this yarn, if anyone out there knows it please pass it along to me. In the Editor's chair we find Jack Schiff.
The splash page has Robby in the guise of the Human Bullet as he once again encounters the gang he took on in House of Mystery #156 (available in the archive link here at the Silver Age Sage), Mr. Thunder and his Thunderbolt gang. I don't know if the Human Bullet was inspired in any way by the old Fawcett Comics Bullet Man character from years before, but there are some physical similarities. I've never read an actual Bullet Man story, (but I do recall reading a 1976 three issue [#s 135, 136 (+ page 29 original art) & 137 ] JLA/JSA team-up story that also featured many of the Fawcett heroes--Bullet Man among them) but both he and this Human Bullet have flight capability and distinct head gear that looks pretty, well, bullet-like. Generally the heroes that Robby transformed into were originals for this series, but he did occasionally become a familiar character and/or repeat one he'd been in past issues and in fact when he became Plastic Man in issue #160 [June, 1966] it's been generally acknowledged that it was the first Silver Age appearance of that hero. That's an issue I still need to pick up one of these days. The story begins in the Atlantic Ocean where a Naval freighter is on it's way to a Bahamas destination. Rough duty for our sailors, but I guess someone has to do it. ;-) The Captain has spotted an uncharted island when it abruptly is revealed to be a camouflaged fortress housing none other than the Thunderbolt gang. Utilizing a strange, cannon-like weapon, the gang fires a beam at the ship which first removes a large section of steel plating from the hold and then spirits away a small crate that houses the Cosmic Computer. Mr. Thunder gleefully states that this object will allow him to launch Operation Break Through. The fortress then submerges, since it also serves as an oversized submarine and we then fade to Robby Reed's lab-shack where he hears a news bulletin on his radio reporting the latest exploits of the Thunderbolt gang. Robby looks up an article on the cosmic computer and learns that it has the capability to decode secret combinations and electronically manipulate them. He deduces that a likely target would be an underground repository on the coast. Time to use his mysterious dial to prepare for another encounter with Mr. Thunder and company. Dialing H-E-R-O he transforms into the Human Bullet, flying to the suspected scene of the crime. His tracer vision reveals that his theory was correct and he enters the vault to stop the gang from removing the gold bricks. Using his bullet-like ability to carom off the walls, he makes short work of the gang, but Mr. Thunder manages to slip back to the ship and pull away before he's apprehended, leaving his henchmen behind. After delivering them to police HQ, the Human Bullet is given a note that may shed light on the next move of Mr. Thunder.
Part II has our hero suddenly realizing that it's dinner time. Once again the curse of the juvenile hero strikes. He flies home and resumes his normal form, breezing through the evening meal with his grandfather and Miss Millie, the housekeeper, so that he can try to decipher the numerical code on the scrap of paper. Several hours later and no closer, the radio gives him the vital clue that the series of numbers is merely a military time schedule, coinciding with an armored car delivery schedule. Following the schedule, he lies in wait at nearby Whale Harbor with his dial in hand. This time the dial turns young Master Reed into Supercharge, a being composed of living energy. Feature a sumo wrestler made of electricity and you get the idea of his physical makeup. He soon discovers that the energy that is discharged from his body, often unknowingly, has the power to melt iron. He tries to harness it a bit better as he makes his way to the rendezvous point. Like Hal Jordan when he received the power ring, Robby has to learn to use the unique powers of each dial-created hero. Segue to the Whale Harbor bank, conveniently located near a bay and some familiar figures emerge to crack the armored car. Luckily, Supercharge is lumbering toward them and as the flying bullets melt around him, he reduces the cosmic computer to slag. Moments later the gang use the same magneto ray to paralyze Robby and place him into the hold of the ship. Fortunately he has his trusty dial with him and after a supreme effort is able to dial O-R-E-H, resuming his Robby identity and freeing him from the effects of the ray. He tries to become another hero but to his dismay encounters the occasional weakness in the dial. It doesn't always work consecutively. He opts instead for the air vent route and hears the plans for the next caper. Working his way to an escape hatch, the resourceful lad gets to the surface and works his way home. Upon reaching his lab-shack he tries the dial again and becomes the very alien Radar-Sonar man. With green skin, large antennae and no eyes, he soon learns that his new form has the power of flight and that his radar ability is nearly as good as sight.
We then rejoin the nefarious Thunderbolt Gang as they converge on the body of water close to Diamond Square. Torpedoes are launched but they don't go off to the great surprise of the gang. As you might expect, our latest hero is trying on some of his other powers for size, which include the ability to project his sonar waves to the gyro systems of the torpedoes, guiding them to explode harmlessly against themselves. The odd torpedo is directed to knock the screw off the sub, forcing them to surface, right into the arms of the local Coast Guard. Clean living triumphs again and the thugs are taken away to prison while Robby enjoys hearing of the exploits of another set of mysterious heroes from his grandfather.
As was generally the case, there's an accompanying adventure of the Martian Manhunter, but I'm not going to take the time to go into it this time. I don't mean to give J'onn short shrift, but I plan to give him the attention he deserves in the near future and frankly this story was a little on the silly side.
I feel like I'm repeating myself, but the appeal for the character of Robby Reed in the Dial H series is the fact that it brings a youthful reader that much closer to the fantasy of being a hero. The dial is the gateway and the numerous possibilities for becoming fantastic creatures with amazing abilities is a rich trove for the imagination. With the dial you didn't have to be born on Krypton or stumble across a rare chemical combination or be an Amazon. Just lucky beyond your wildest dreams. Best of all, you don't have to stay in the persona. Just dial up another. So for another fun trip down memory lane with good art and an adventure packed story, particularly with one of the issues I owned as a boy I must give this one a 9.
My usual offer stands to share your thoughts and impressions with me at email@example.com. Meanwhile, please join me again in about two weeks for another edition of the Silver Age Sage.
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