A Tribute to the of

Did you ever get something stuck in your cranium that just wouldn’t leave you alone? I was reading Maggie Thompson’s weekly “Turning Points” column recently and if you’re not familiar with it, she lists significant occurrences for the current month/timeframe with regard to comics history, either debuts of characters or births/deaths of artists or writers and so on. There are nearly always nuggets of interest and again, in that recent column, she mentioned that writer David Wood passed away on July 7, 1974 at the age of 47. At first, I thought, “Wow! That’s not very old.” Then I recalled that he was a pretty prolific writer on one of my favorite titles, the old Dial H for Hero series and I got curious, using the almighty Google to try and find more information about him. You know what? There isn’t much to be had. I remember reading an Arnold Drake interview where he mentions the Wood brothers and in addition to the Dial H series in the House of Mystery title, he wrote a number of Batman stories, co-created Animal Man, that we covered here in the Silver Age Sage and also began writing the syndicated Sky-Masters strip that caused some controversy at the time, at least for the people working on it.

For all that, though, David Wood and his brother Dick, for that matter, remain largely anonymous other than their writing credits. I decided this called for skills beyond mine and I consulted with a crack genealogical research expert (my beloved bride) to see if she could uncover anything. As expected, she found a few bits of information and as I type this, I’ve got a request for an obituary in progress, so maybe there will be a bit more forthcoming.

Anyway, here’s what she found: David M. Wood was born September 5, 1926 in Massachusetts. According to the 1940 census, he was living in Arlington, Massachusetts with his mother (listed as a widow) and his older by 7 years brother Richard. Minnie, his mother was 52 at the time while David was 13 and Richard was 20.

David enlisted in the Army at the age of 18 on November 22, 1944 and was released from his service during World War II, where he attained the rank of Private First Class, U.S. Army on August 24, 1946. She was even able to locate a photo of him from his service days and a shot of his headstone.

I have no idea why he died so young or much of anything about Dick Wood, but it gave me the itch to try and learn more, which is in progress and to dedicate this edition of the Silver Age Sage to his memory, which I hope to add to with these little tidbits of information gleaned thus far. So, I’ve selected House of Mystery #161 with a publication date of September 1966 with a gorilla cover by Jim Mooney, who also did interior art on a story titled, “The Mummy with Six Heads!” scribed by David Wood and Jack Schiff in the editor’s chair. Ironically, this issue had an on-sale date of July 7, 1966, eight years to the day prior to David Wood’s death.

Let’s look at the story at hand and I think I’ll just let Dave Wood’s splash page caption kick things off: “A mummy walks the streets! A mummy who commands the ancient Egyptian gods! A mummy who can make deserts move—make fiery meteors fall—make weird plants walk! Who could possibly fight such powers? Only one person—a boy! Yes, just a boy, but a boy who also commands strange powers, by simply turning a dial! And now, he commands you to read this story, to see how he battles The Mummy with Six Heads!

We then shift scenes to Littleville where Robby Reed resides with his grandfather and Miss Millie the housekeeper. A news special is on the television covering a big unnamed movie premiere and when his grandfather invites him over to watch, Robby responds that he’ll catch it in his lab shack.

Lucky kid. Not only does he have his own space, but even his own television. So, Robby is watching the broadcast while dinking around with some chemical compounds when he notes that the attendees at the movie premiere are ponying up big bucks for charity, dropping a C-note apiece, which, naturally, proves an irresistible lure for the underworld. Soon a figure in mummy wrappings appears, wearing a headpiece resembling a bull. He then makes an announcement: “I wear the mask of Set, the ancient god of the desert! Now, his powers shall be mine when I pronounce the magic word of the wizards—Heka! Let the sands of the desert appear! Heka!” Sure enough, the town is soon engulfed in a sandstorm, throwing things into pandemonium while the Mummy’s thugs load up the cash.

Robby Reed has seen enough and accesses the secret compartment in his lab shack containing the mysterious dial. Quickly, he dials the letters that correspond to H-E-R-O and is transformed into a hero endowed with the powers of a super-magnet. Yes! It’s Magneto!

Seriously. He’s called Magneto with his scale armor uniform resembling Aquaman’s, finned gauntlets a bit like Batman’s and a magnet for a chest emblem. Now, for the record, the first magnetic-powered hero was Cosmic Boy of the Legion of Super-Heroes, created by Otto Binder and Al Plastino in Adventure Comics #247 [Sage #41] from April of 1958 while the well-known Marvel villain, Magneto, came along in X-Men #1 in September of 1963 courtesy of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. So, the name Magneto was first coined in the fabled bullpen, but I guess it doesn’t much matter. Both were probably inspired by the old magnetos we used to see on internal combustion engines before the alternator was developed.

So, Magneto is off to fight the mummy menace, but he isn’t able to fly, so he discovers that by using his magnetic power, he can both pull and repel himself along the rooftops until he reaches his destination. Just as he arrives, the mummy and his gang are making a break for it in their sand sled, but there’s plenty of metal in the vehicle, which allows Magneto to pull them back and spill them out onto the heaped sand. The gang draw pistols, but guess what? Also metal and easily manipulated by Magneto.

But the mummy isn’t sitting by idly and he soon removes his headpiece and replaces it with a bird-like one and utters, “I now call upon the power of Ibis-headed Thoth—ancient god of the moon! Let moon rocks rain down upon my enemy! Heka!” And sure enough, that’s exactly what happens, but fortunately, lunar rocks hold a metal component and Magneto is able to deflect them. The gang is again making tracks in the sand sled, but Robby hears the cries of trapped children in a nearly buried school bus. Calling upon his magnetic abilities, he strains until he frees the bus from the dune and then turns his attention back to the criminals, but it seems he has exhausted his abilities.

Our hero then heads for the police station and goes through some mug shots where he is able to identify the man in the mummy suit. It turns out to be Joe Beket, convicted of armed robbery who claims to be the descendant of an ancient Egyptian wizard. Robby recalls that he’d read of a recent Egyptian tomb robbery of a sorcerer named Bek-Et and wonders if it’s more than coincidence.

Apparently so, as we readers are privy to a flashback sequence where Joe Beket does exactly that, discovering a chest in the tomb with the heads of the ancient gods that family legend says allowed Bek-Et his formidable supernatural powers. According to the accompanying roll of parchment (that Beket can somehow read) he must wear mummy wrappings to seal the power within his body.

Meanwhile, Magneto goes to the local passport office to locate Beket’s information and the office confirms he’d taken a recent trip to Egypt. Magneto then requests his home address and it is cheerfully offered up. No concerns about privacy or identity theft in 1966, folks. Robby goes to the apartment and Beket is, of course, long gone, but he locates what he hopes are some helpful clues including a drawer full of miniatures of masterpiece paintings, one of which is encircled in ink.

One inevitable shortcoming of being a teenaged superhero is that you have to get home before the family starts worrying, so Robby employs the dial in reverse and in his civilian guise, heads for home. Lying in bed, he ponders the case and suddenly realizes that the marked miniature is a Rembrandt and that it’s coming to the city museum on loan, arriving by freighter. Leaping up, he hits the ol’ dial and this time becomes the winged Hornet Man! Part I then closes out.

Part II finds us at the docks where a freighter is being lifted up out of the bay by an arm of water. The water, naturally, is being manipulated by a familiar figure wearing a ram’s headpiece. “Within me is the power of Khnum—ancient god of the waters.

Once they’ve secured the Rembrandt, the gang jumps into their convertible to make their getaway. But before they get far, they hear a loud buzzing sound (perhaps like the theme song for the Green Hornet? Couldn’t resist…) and soon Hornet Man is knocking the driver unconscious with his stinger index-finger. The car crashes and Beket loses his headpiece while one of his hoodlums takes it on the lam.

Beket, however, has come prepared and pulls out another headpiece, this time that of Ranno the asp-headed, ancient god of gardens. He promptly orders the local flora and fauna to become animated and to attack Hornet Man. Various plant creatures attack, but it is the green gorilla who gives Hornet Man the most grief, gripping him mercilessly. Hornet Man tries everything to break the grip or fly away, to no avail. Finally, spotting a statue of George Washington, Hornet Man swoops between the statue’s legs and finally dislodges the plant primate.

The gang has departed, but left the priceless painting behind. Hornet Man returns it since the plant creatures are returning to their normal status and soon Robby Reed is back at his school, but thanks to his powers of observation at Beket’s apartment and a display during class, he deduces where the criminal will strike next. Feigning a headache, Robby gets himself excused from his class and the next dial-induced transformation reveals Shadow Man, a living silhouette with a fedora and cape, not unlike the Phantom Stranger.

Meanwhile, in an abandoned subway (who would have thought Littleville would have need of a subway?) Beket has donned the jackal head of Anubis, ancient god of the underworld and is commanding the subway car to crash into a wall revealing the basement vault of the jewel exchange.

Just then, however, Shadow Man arrives and while he appears to be a mere shadow, his fists are solid enough as he plows into Beket’s gang.

Beket heads for the street, climbing up a ladder to a manhole covered access so that he can change headpieces again, but Shadow Man is on his tail. Quickly donning the hawk head of Ra, the sun god, Beket uses the newly gained powers to send a fiery bolt at Shadow Man, who beats a hasty retreat into an alleyway. A gloating Beket follows, noting the fluttering of Shadow Man’s cape as a dead giveaway and fires another bolt at a pole in the alley where he spotted the cape.

At that moment, Shadow Man emerges from the shadows in the alley and clocks Beket with a haymaker, revealing that he hung his cape on the pole as a diversion. Beket cannot understand how Shadow Man can touch his fiery body, but our hero explains: “You forget, I’m a shadow-man—and shadows are always many degrees cooler than anything around it…” Robby then proceeds to unwrap the mummy and as he suspected, releases the power from Beket’s body, allowing him to, ahem, put a wrap on this case.

I’ve remarked before that this series had to be tough for the writer, cranking out 2 to 3 new superheroes for each issue, but Dave Wood consistently pulled it off and I find that impressive. These Dial H stories are perennial favorites of mine and so I’m likely biased, but I give this a solid 8 on the 10-point rating scale for imaginative heroes and classic DC Silver Age enjoyment.

We’ll be back the 1st of August with the latest installment and you, dear readers, know the drill. Comments, questions or feedback? Send ‘em along to: professor_the@hotmail.com.

Until then…

Long live the Silver Age!

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