Vicki and Chris prepare for battle. Artist: Carmine Infantino.


Medium: Comic books
Published by: DC Comics
First Appeared: 1981
Creators: Marv Wolfman (writer) and Carmine Infantino (artist)
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If DC Comics' 1960s "Dial H for Hero" series was like Captain Marvel "kicked up a notch", then the 1980s version kicked the concept up two …

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… more notches. The first was giving it not just one but two teenage protagonists, one male (Chris King) and one female (Vicki Grant). The second was borrowing a schtick from a character Archie Comics had published decades earlier, Katy Keene.

The schtick was to bring the readers into the creative process. Katy Keene changed clothes constantly, and never wore the same outfit twice, so readers were encouraged to help cartoonist Bill Woggon, Katy's creator, come up with new ones, by sending in sketches. Any design that was used got the designer a credit in footnotes. Since "Dial H for Hero" went through superhero ideas almost as fast as Katy Keene went through her wardrobe, DC offered the same deal for designers of new ones, but with the added fillip of giving special "Dial H" T-shirts, available nowhere else, to the amateur superhero creators.

As in the original series, the H was dialed on a mysterious device found in a creepy, seldom-visited place — in this case, the attic of the house Chris's family had just moved into, where he and Vicki had been summoned by a mysterious voice. They found the dials, learned that by dialing "H-E-R-O" on them they could become superheroes (but never knew in advance "who" they'd be), and embarked on a typical superhero's crusade against crime. Chris disguised his as a wristwatch, and Vicki wore hers as a pendant.

This story, by writer Marv Wolfman (a former editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics, among other things) and artist Carmine Infantino (former editorial director of DC), appeared as free insert in Legion of Super Heroes #272 (February, 1981). The company used that promotional device, binding the origin story in with a popular title, several times during the 1980s, e.g., Captain Carrot & His Amazing Zoo Crew, which first appeared as an insert in New Teen Titans #16.

A month later, Chris and Vicki moved into Adventure Comics, where they crowded out the series that had been featured there for the past dozen or so issues, Plastic Man, Aquaman and one of the lesser-known versions of Starman. And a dozen or so issues is about how long "Dial H for Hero" lasted in that venue, too, because the title went on hiatus as of February, 1982. The series was transferred to New Adventures of Superboy, where it occupied the back pages from #28 (April, 1982) to #49 (January, 1984).

Despite the big launch, and despite the successful strategy for ensuring a steady supply of fresh superhero concepts, this incarnation of "Dial H for Hero" seems simply to have run out of steam. After losing its berth in Superboy's comic, it wasn't seen again.

Like most 1980s comics, "Dial H" had a continuing storyline. Unlike many, this one reached an actual conclusion when the series ended. It was revealed that the person behind many mysterious goings-on was actually Robby Reed, hero of the original "Dial H" series. In fact, it was he who had placed the H-dials in the attic for them to find, and whose mysterious voice had lured them there.

How the original H-dial got to where Robby found it in 1966 remains unexplained. But DC kicked the "Dial H" concept up one more notch (a new protagonist with each new story), and re-introduced it in 2003. So maybe we'll find out.


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Text ©2002-03 Donald D. Markstein. Art © DC Comics.