In 1966, a new feature appeared within DC's anthology House of Mystery: "Dial H for Hero". In a cave, whiz-kid Robby Reed stumbles upon a mysterious dial covered with strange symbols. Robby is somehow able to deduce that each time he dials the equivalent of H-E-R-O, he will transform into one of a thousand different superheroes in order to defend the town of Littleville from all manner of threats. The full Silver Age run of this feature is now collected in SHOWCASE PRESENTS: DIAL H FOR HERO.
Sound goofy? Sure it does. But while the stories in this collection have all the faults of corny Silver Age plots, the main attraction is seeing what Robby will turn into next. It could be a standard square-jawed hero in tights, such as Quakemaster, Magneto, or the Yankee Doodle Kid; a high-tech gadgeteer like The Squid, The Mole, or The Hoopster; or a bizarre monstrosity such as Super Charge or The Human Starfish. Then there's the flat-out crazy creations such as Mighty Moppet, King Coil, or Whozit, Whatsit, and Howsit. Robby even becomes Plastic Man in one adventure, and his Muscle Man identity could be an inspiration for Grant Morrison's Flex Mentallo. Amazingly, writer Dave Wood doesn't take the easy way out by having the hero selection tuned to the particular threat. Instead, the selection is seemingly random, and it's anyone's guess as to how the latest hero will be able to combat the latest threat. In addition, Wood gets a big thumbs-up for exploring the physics of certain superpowers, such as how seismic vibrations or magnetism would enable someone to "fly". It may not be physically possible, but Wood sure makes it sound logical. The art, primarily handled by Jim Mooney, is very solid and looks great. I'm guessing he was also responsible for character design, and he excels at it. These certainly don't look like hastily-conceived one-shot characters.
The original series was the ultimate in childhood wish fulfillment - why would you want to be stuck with just one alter-ego when you can have thousands? But the Bronze Age "Dial H for Hero" in DC's Adventure Comics did it one step better in that the readers created the characters (plus it was illustrated by Carmine Infantino, which is always a plus). Hopefully, we can get a collection of those stories soon.