As I’m writing this week’s article, we’re still under state mandated stay in place orders. My backlog of articles has dissipated, and the struggle of staying at home is real. I’m lucky enough that my regular employment has shifted online, and my family is wonderful, but balancing both keeps me busy. I’m able to read more than my usual pace, but writing is hard. I usually get about two minutes into a thought before one of my kiddos races into the room bringing distractions with them. Or the dog brings his slobbery ball to throw. Or the wife needs me to get dinner going. It’s tough at times. I’m sure I’m not alone out there. We’re all adjusting in our own ways.
It helps when I can find books that are interesting but lighter. Right now, I’m looking for something that’s not too dark and brooding as the world is teetering on the brink as-is, and not something that’s going to take a ton of effort to dig into as I’ll only get a small window until the next interruption. It really helps if the book has a lot of re-read potential–because frequently I’ll start an issue, get interrupted two minutes in and have to restart later. With all that in mind, I think I have a solid recommendation: Dial H for Hero. Today, we’ll be looking at issues 1-6 that are collected in the first trade: Enter the Heroverse. The series continued to run for 6 additional issues I’ll read once the comic shops nearby open back up.
Written by Sam Humphries, illustrated by Joe Quinones (with occasional inking assists from Arist Deyn in issue 3 and Scott Hanna in issues 5-6), and colored by Jordan Gibson, Dial H for Hero debuted last year as part of Brian Bendis’s Wonder Comics imprint. Miguel Montez meets his new friend/teen runaway Summer and discovers the H-Dial.
Interestingly enough, there’s been a two week gap in real-time between me writing that last paragraph and this one. The struggle is real! As if time means anything, anymore. In the meantime, I also wrote a long, rambling personal post and a top 10 sitcom moms list that had 11 moms listed. Whoops. Not only time, but focus and even counting are a little iffy at this point. And my kiddo stomped on one of the books. You’ll have that if you leave your comics laying around too long!
Anyway, back to the article in progress:
The H-Dial grants whomever dials H-E-R-O access to super powers (and a super hero origin) for one hour. After an hour, it’s back to normal. It’s a cool concept and a book that, even though it has existed multiple times across DCs publishing history, I’ve never picked up. So I’m not sure if these ideas have been explored in this manner before, but I feel like Humphreys and Quinones really take the concept and run with it.
I have a three pronged argument as to why Dial H for Hero is worth your time:
1) It’s an artistic tour de force that can only happen in comics—because it’s all about comics!
Each superhero origin/appearance gives Humphreys and Quinones a chance to explore the tropes and make some metacommentary across the world of comic books. Quinones’s artistic range is incredible, as each character maintains their appropriate universal tropes in their panels, and each character fits perfectly into their intended style—even down to the time-appropriate cover dress in some cases. I miss the post-Crisis pre-new 52 DC bullet so much!
In the first trade alone, we get an extreme 90’s hero named Monster Truck, complete with chrome cybernetic limbs, the weird boxing helmet that Shatterstar, Gambit, and Superman (during Hunter/Prey).
The Bluebird of Happiness, a Sandman/Dreaming Vertigo style gibberish spouter that all the kids cooler than me would have loved back in the day!
Jobu, the Zonkey King. I’m not sure how offensive this is or isn’t, but if you remember my take on Dragonball, you know that tracks!
The point is, if you love homages and references to other works: this is the book for you. It truly celebrates comics of all kinds and times. References to Frank Miller, Mike Allred, David Mazzuchelli, Alex Ross, Moebius, The Hernandez Bros., The Family Circus newspaper strips, and a ton more, they’re all in there. Those are some of the more blatant ones. If you look closely, you can find allusions and homages to the last 80 years of comics, comic book toys, comic book culture, comic book everything across the board. Longtime fans of comics of all kinds can love this book for that alone—as long as homage overload doesn’t get to you.
Plus, regular old Joe Quinones art is a treat, too. He’s got one of those crisp, cinematic styles that’s more realistic but never skimps on relatability. The colors from Quinones and company go a long way to emphasizing that reality without being distracting. They somehow find that perfect alchemy where it’s not too much shading or too little, it’s juuuuust right.
2) The exploration of our favorite fantastical ideals and how they affect us drives the story. Sure, reality here is played with in a fast and loose style. It is a comic book about comic books, after all. But even though it’s playing with fiction, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t shine a light on how we are impacted. The H Dial is drugs. Imagine the high of being a bonafide super hero with super powers, a super costume, and all the super accoutrement. That’s not much of a spoiler, as Humphreys spells it out in the first issue.
This series is all about chasing the dragon. It shows the after-effects on all the folks who have used the dial before and what that does to their lives afterwards. Maybe folks become heroes; maybe they become Mr. Thunderbolts.
It’s an interesting exploration of what would happen if you took an interesting wish-fulfillment concept like the H-Dial and played it out amongst realistic folks—even if it’s an unrealistic world. Dial H makes the medicine of peering into that darkness bearable and maybe even fun with its comic-coated covering. Maybe your H Dial isn’t drugs; maybe it’s your social media scrolling; maybe it’s your comic collection; maybe it’s whatever it is for you that you get lost in. The important thing is how you let it impact you, which brings us to our next point.
3) The overall messages are positive and hopeful. After diving into a pretty dark extension of the idea, Dial H for Hero takes pains to emphasize things like the importance of hope and legacy and inspiration. Doing the right thing can lead to others following suit. In this time of all times, I think that inspirational aspect is pretty huge. The concepts of heroism and working together might need to be refreshed for folks that are struggling with the idea of wearing masks or keeping 6 feet apart from each other.
Even Superman can’t save everyone, but he’s going to do a lot more than crackpot conspiracy theories, skepticism, and ignorance. Imagine if he had everybody’s help! Back to real life for a sec: I don’t want to fall to pseudo-political trappings, but this is the first time in my life that’s required extended personal sacrifice from every day citizens. I’m sure everybody wasn’t a Captain America or Rosie the Riveter back in the day, but history has always painted a more cooperative picture than what I’ve seen recently when it pertains to times of crisis. Maybe it’s because only the loudest and craziest voices get seen when everybody’s hunkered down, but I would love to see more hope and cooperation rather than what my news and social media feeds have to offer. Maybe everything is a grand conspiracy cooked up by the media, but maybe we can all pitch in to do what they’re saying just in case it isn’t. Diah H seems like a nice comic booky reminder of the positive big ideas emphasized inside.
Are there any critical notes on this one? Sure, sometimes the gags get a bit punny or the jokes off the mark. The references might be so on the nose they smack you in the face every so often, but any critical points pale in comparison to the positives in Dial H for Hero.
In closing, this is a book I would definitely recommend if you’re a comic fan or if you need a dash of hope, but especially if you’re a comic fan who needs a dash of hope. You’ll marvel at the art. You’ll enjoy meeting the main players. I’ve stayed away from character specifics in hopes that you’ll enjoy the story, hopefully, too. Most importantly, you might spend some time reflecting on your own super hero origin story.
Until next time, hang in there. There’s light at the end of the tunnel, especially if we all chip in and work together! And if you need a little pick-me-up, reach out and Dial H. Or call a friend or loved one. That could help, too. Regardless, be well!