Monday, January 22, 2018

1,000 Superheroes and Other-Dimensional Pets

House of Mystery #157 (DC, March 1966, 12 cents)
"The Marauders of Thunderbolt Island" Script: Dave Wood, Pencils and Inks: Jim Mooney, Letters: Stan Starkman.

In Dial H for Hero stories teenager Robby Reed ("Sockamagee!") turns the mysterious H-Dial to spell out H-E-R-O, becoming any one of 1,000 superheroes. In this issue, he becomes Super-Charge, the Human Bullet, and Radar-Sonar Man to combat a criminal syndicate led by Mr. Thunder.

After being defeated by Cometeer, Giantboy, and the Mole in the previous issue, the gang steals the experimental Cosmic Computer from a naval freighter. Luckily, attentive teen Reed collected articles on the computer in his scrapbook and is able to guess the syndicate's next target: the New Gibraltar underground repository.

As the Human Bullet, Reed flies to the repository and digs deep into the ground to stop the theft. Cracking a code found at the scene of the attempted crime, he turns into Super-Charge, "a fantastic mass of some kind, radiating a strange energy" strong enough to melt the iron support beams of a bridge. Before he can stop another crime, Super-Charge is imprisoned by a magneto ray, so he reverts to the form of Reed.

The teenage boy escapes from the submersible island fortress by crawling through the HVAC system, then turns into Radar-Sonar Man, who's finally able to scuttle Thunderbolt's operations. I'm not sure I understand the appeal of Dial H for Hero. It seems to have the never-ending variety of the Legion of Super-Heroes, only limited by the teenage alter ego of Reed. Could the 1,000 heroes survive or be active independently? The idea doesn't really work as a tryout book, because if a sub-hero proved popular, it still needs Reed and the dial. What a strange concept!

"Manhunter, World's Greatest Clown" Script: Jack Miller, Pencils and Inks: Joe Certa.

J'onn J'onzz, Manhunter from Mars, stars in a backup story in which he goes up against Professor Hugo, who uses a thought-control machine to manipulate the Manhunter in an attempt to make him a laughing stock. Hugo—disguised as a circus clown—makes Manhunter "execute an intricate dance step," flip giant balls into the air, get stuck in a brick wall, and smash an underground high-pressure water pipe.

But the plan backfires, and audiences are soon laughing with J'onzz, not laughing at him. So Hugo sends Manhunter to rob the Centerville Bank to "destroy his reputation for good." The hero's "other-dimensional pet," Zook destroys the thought-control machine, and Hugo's humiliating crime spree is soon ended.

As much as Dial H for Hero threw me, this Manhunter story also threw me. Why does he have the pet Zook? What is Zook's story? The alien creature played a narrative role and might have appealed to younger readers, but he is a silly, strange sidekick for what could otherwise be a relatively serious hero—who doesn't seem to require such a sidekick.

The issue also included a one-page text piece "Mysteries of the Ages," and a Statement of Ownership, Management, and Circulation that included no circulation data.

Read Also: House of Mystery #156.

House of Mystery #172 (DC, January-February 1968, 12 cents)
"Manhunter's Stolen Identity" Script: Jack Miller, Pencils and Inks: Joe Certa.

The Martian Manhunter is hunting a man named Mr. V, head of the international crime syndicate Vulture, when he somehow swaps bodies with hatchet man Ivor Sandez—who wastes no time using his newfound powers to curry favor with his criminal higher ups. Sandez, as Manhunter, robs a bank, "ruining" Manhunter's reputation (consistent with concerns in #157 above).

Zook again intervenes, turning himself 10,000 degrees below zero to freeze out a Martian asteroid burning with a strange green flame—which had somehow enabled the body transfer. Manhunter, back in his own body, handily defeats the portly Sandez. "Now I'm afraid I've got a lot of explaining to do... to clear my reputation!"

J'onzz's reputational concerns might be the least of his worries. Has he ever captured his bounty without some kind of flub up? Why can't he be more heroic on his own? Why does he always need Zook to save him? (Perhaps Zook deserves a book of his own!)

"The Monsters from the H-Dial" Script: Dick Wood, Pencils and Inks: Frank Springer.

To stop the menace of a threatening tornado, Reed turns into a "freak super-hero" in the form of a pendulum blade. He disrupts the tornado's movement and shatters its force, but is then hit by a monster made of cosmic dust.

Kicking it up at a go-go session with the kids of Littleville High, Reed leaves to investigate earthquake tremors, turning into the Native American hero Chief Mighty Arrow and his winged horse sidekick Wingy. He encounters a weird flying octopus monster. "I've just gotta find out where these dizzy menaces are coming from! Seems each time I use the H-Dial, one of them pops up!"

Turning into a Human Solar Mirror to save a sinking ocean liner, he realizes that it's his friend Jim who's been turning into the monsters—this time, a very large, tentacled manta ray-like creature. Turns out they share a birthday. Oh, and the H-Dials click mechanism was "out of kilter." Reed fixes it, natch, and all is well. (Kind of a sudden ending and explanation!)

The issue also includes a one-page letter column "Dial L for Letter." Henry Boltinoff contributes a one-page gag strip, "Moolah the Mystic," which pits the fortune teller against a bill collector. And the half-page "Death Knock!" reprints three Mort Drucker panels from Sensation Mystery #114 (March-April 1953).

Incoming editor Joe Orlando soon ended the run of Dial H for Hero and Manhunter, turning House of Mystery into an EC-like horror anthology book. Given how silly and strange these two characters and set of stories were, perhaps that's for the best. With the advent of DC's New 52, science-fiction author China Mieville updated Dial H for Hero, which I've yet to read. DC also continues to get mileage out of Martian Manhunter, who, for the most part, seemed better suited as a member of the Justice League.

Availability: The Dial H for Hero stories were reprinted in Showcase Presents: Dial H For Hero. The Martian Manhunter stories were reprinted in Showcase Presents: Martian Manhunter Vol. 2.

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