Mapping A Millennial Superhero Journey In “Dial H For Hero”

I’m 4 years old asking my dad for the comics page of the newspaper. I love Zits and Baby Blues the most, but am always thrilled when he has a paper with an Amazing Spider-Man strip.

I’m 16 years old and my friend’s dad lends me some of his favorite comics. Frank Miller’s Sin City is one, along with Ann Nocenti and Art Adams’ Longshot and Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean’s Black Orchid. He has a page of original The Sandman art by Jill Thompson, who draws us sketches of Baby Endless when we go to Wizard World.

I’m 11 years old trying to find a good excuse to go to my neighbor’s house to watch Dragon Ball Z because we don’t have cable and I’m not allowed to watch TV on school nights. Dragon Ball Z is cool, unlike my beloved Power Rangers, which is decidedly uncool at this point.

I’m 28 years old reading The Incal on an iPad mini using a Humanoids press account. It’s not the ideal way to view Moebius’ artwork but the visuals are still astounding.

I’m 14 years old and looking through stacks of ’80s comics stored in a family friend’s bedroom cabinet. A messy stack of The Mighty Thor, Uncanny X-Men, New Mutants, New Teen Titans, Batman And The Outsiders, each issue revealing just how big these superhero universes are on the page.

I’m 32 years old writing my first column for SKTCHD, ripping off Dr. Manhattan’s narration because I recently spent a lot of time writing about Doomsday Clock. David told me I can do whatever I want and this was the impulse so I’m running with it.

This disjointed trip down memory lane comes to you courtesy of Dial H For Hero, a series that hits on a lot of my comic-book touchstones as it uses the H-Dial to explore the medium’s history. That exploration happens through shifts in storytelling, and each time someone uses the H-Dial, the creative team taps into a different style of comic. In the series’ first four issues, there are pastiches of x-treme ’90s heroes, manga, early Vertigo Comics, retro newspaper strips, creator-owned alt comics, and European bandes dessinées. These styles occasionally intersect on the page, showcasing the creative team’s remarkable versatility and knowledge of comics’ past.

Written by Sam Humphries with art by Joe Quinones, colorist Jordan Gibson, and letterer Dave Sharpe, Dial H For Hero is one of the four launch titles of Brian Michael Bendis’ Wonder Comics imprint, which also includes Young Justice, Wonder Twins, and Naomi. The latest revival of a Silver Age concept involving a magical rotary dial that transforms ordinary people into superheroes when they dial “H-E-R-O,” Dial H For Hero follows teenagers Miguel Montez and Summer Pickens as they try to bring the H-Dial to Superman, the only person Miguel trusts to handle it. Members of The Thunderbolt Club chase them every step of the way, and these former users of the H-Dial will do anything to get one more superhero fix.

Wonder Comics has done a great job making me feel the sense of wonder I got from superhero comics when I was younger, and a lot of that comes from the ambition of the visual storytelling. Naomi and Dial H For Hero are leading the charge in this regard, with art teams who use the medium in bold ways. Jamal Campbell’s digital artwork for Naomi is slick, expressive, and forward-thinking, with inventive layouts that heighten both the superhero spectacle and the quiet emotional moments. (You can read more about that in my A.V. Club review of Naomi #1.) Dial H For Hero is ambitious in a completely different way, merging different styles of comic-book storytelling to enliven the narrative in new ways every issue. From dialogue to linework, coloring, and lettering, everything is malleable when the H-Dial is involved.

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