DC’s Wonder Comics imprint continues to go from strength to strength with another exciting issue #1. This time, it’s the return of the absurdly Silver Age series Dial H for Hero, and while it’s had a few notable comebacks over the years, this debut issue brings a energy to the concept not seen since the original run.
If you’re unfamiliar with Dial H for Hero, it goes a little something like this: Ordinary people can access extraordinary powers for a short time, simply by dialing H-E-R-O on a magical dial that, in this case, takes the form of a classic red telephone. Previous iterations have simply been a standalone dial, and the previous series to this (during DC’s 2011 New 52 reboot) was a phone booth, but here, it’s a telephone. We’ve seen this version of the Hero Dial teased in recent issues of Action Comics, and although its power seems to be known by many across the world, its origins are still a mystery.
The recipient of this powerful gift is Miguel, a young boy who narrates the issue as if he’s talking to his hero, Superman. After hitting his head on a diving board when he was younger and being flown to the hospital by the Man of Steel, Miguel has spent his life chasing any sort of thrill to replicate the feeling of being swept up in the arms of a superhero. His latest attempt sees him try to ride his mountain bike over a gorge, which ends as predictably as you’d expect. Instead of falling to his death, however, the mysterious Hero Dial appears out of nowhere, with a voice commanding him to “Dial H for Hero!”
Up to that point, the issue is fairly standard origin story fare. Writer Sam Humphries creates a likable and relatable protagonist in Miguel, surrounds him with a couple of interesting secondary characters and depicts his life as beyond mundane. What follows after Miguel dials H, however, kicks the issue into overdrive, thrusting the boy into a realm of untold possibilities and hurling concepts at the reader thick and fast with barely a moment to catch up. That sounds like a potential negative but it’s really not, this is a fun issue that takes a high-energy, unpredictable turn halfway through.
Artist Joe Quinones is superb, as always. The first half of the book is given such a wholesome edge of realism that you start to believe that Miguel really is going to spend the rest of his life manning a (disgusting sounding) food truck in the middle of nowhere. Aside from a wonderful shot of Superman on the second page, Miguel’s life is depicted like any other slice-of-life comic, without any exaggeration or signs of the extraordinary that waits around the corner. Once Miguel picks up that phone, however, all bets are off.
Suddenly, we’re hurled head-first into a brightly colored world of abstracts and flashes of lightning as Miguel falls into the mysterious Heroverse. Looking like a Jack Kirby fever dream, the Heroverse stretches into infinity around Miguel like the Negative Zone, and Quinones abandons his previous, traditional panel layouts for sharp, unreal angles and full-page splashes before Miguel harnesses the power of the H Dial and transforms into a brand new hero called... Monster Truck.
“Diesel in my veins, rumble in my mufflers and my mud flaps soar!” Whether this shift in art style will be utilized throughout the series remains to be seen, but just as Miguel changes, so does Quinones’ art. Fittingly for an ultra-macho hero like Monster Truck, Quinones adopts a distinctly familiar style, channeling Rob Liefeld as Miguel’s newly created hero looks like he’s been pulled straight from the early days of Image Comics. It’s a brilliant and funny moment that subtly references where Miguel might be getting his inspiration from. From the colors to the page design, everything is a spot on replica of classic ‘90s comics, down to Monster Truck’s massive flowing red cape, blue and yellow costume with chrome finishes and muscles on top of muscles on top of muscles.
Humphries and Quinones have brought Dial H for Hero into the modern DC Universe in a uniquely engaging way. This is unlike anything else that DC is publishing, and yet it fits into the Wonder Comics imprint perfectly. Miguel is given a traditional origin story with familiar tropes, but that only serves as a contrast to the bizarre and still relatively unexplained turn his life takes. Despite the already strange premise, there are other elements within this issue that will require explaining as the series progresses, such as what the Heroverse actually is, who is talking to Miguel through the telephone receiver, and how exactly the Hero Dial is connected to an unusual variety of heroes villains across the DCU (when Miguel channels the power of the H Dial, we see a page full of characters, their foreheads lighting up with the symbols on the button that Miguel pressed).
If you’re a fan of the classic Dial H for Hero, the spirit of that series is kept alive here, but this is genuinely a new beginning for all involved. There’s a fun reference to what’s come before in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo, but otherwise, the slate is clean. Like fellow Wonder Comics siblings the Wonder Twins, Dial H for Hero takes something old and makes it new again, and the very nature of the concept means we have no idea where it will be going next.