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H-E-R-O #1 By Matt Martin
DC Comics Ė Will Pfeifer (w); Kano (a)
DC has a strong history of reviving and relaunching their old concepts (and doing so with financial success). Most recently, they brought back JSA, a bigger accomplishment than most people realize.
Until the recent announcement of its cancellation, I would have said that the new Doom Patrol was a success, given that it had achieved respectable sales figures and critical acclaim, no small task when you consider the fact that the majority of comic readers probably donít have a rosy recollection of their childhood involving Doom Patrol (and letís be honest, nostalgia is what drives 90% of this industry; itís not a new development at all, the guys doing G.I. Joe were just smart enough to capitalize on an untapped resource). This is all relevant because this book is essentially a straight relaunch of the long-dead title Dial H for Hero.
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For those not aware, the essentials of Dial H for Hero, as I understand it (given that Iíve not read more than a handful of issues in my life, if that), were that a particular device had the ability to grant superhuman powers to its possessor if the word ďheroĒ was dialed out on it. Now, I donít recall if this gizmo switched hands on a regular basis or if it stayed with one owner, but in this incarnation, the magic doohickey in question will be passing from owner to owner as each story arc changes. Essentially, the high concept is that an object of unchecked power will pass from person to person, making heroes and villains of the most unlikely individuals and the story will serve as a character study in regards to what average people would do with nigh-limitless power. Think of it as the superhero version of 100 Bullets, thatís how Iíve been explaining it to my customers. All in all, a concept that has a lot of potential. Whether or not that potential is realized, of course, is a matter of whoís in charge of the book.
Pfeifer has chosen, in the bookís opening story arc, to tell a story that is less than uplifting. Now, thatís probably not a decision that I would have made (because you donít want to give your superhero-centric readers the impression that your book is going to be a downer, since thatís apparently the kiss of death to a lot of them), but itís gutsy and I think it works on basically every level.
Jerry Feldon, our protagonist, is a man down on his luck. When the story opens, Jerry is huddled in a phone booth in the pouring rain, mumbling desperately to an operator on a suicide hotline. In the course of his cry for help, Jerry pours out his life story to the stranger on the other end of the line.
At one point, he had a pretty decent, if exceedingly mundane, life. He lived with his parents, went to school and made good money working in the local automotive industry. But in a tale nearly as old as the Industrial Revolution, his areaís economy took a turn for the worse and his job disappeared before his very eyes. Within a span of months, he goes from a man with a good job and a healthy family, to a man who is unemployed and completely alone (his father passes away and his mother moves out west to look for work, effectively abandoning him). Forced to make do on his own, he accepts a job in a local restaurant, making sundaes for a clientele that he is increasingly disgusted with.
Jerryís luck begins to look up when one night, while doing the dishes at work, he chances upon the Hero device (or so I will hereafter refer to it until it gets a proper name). Concealing it in the filthy dishwater from the prying eyes of its rightful owner, Jerry takes it home and ponders it while watching tv with his cat. And in a flash of inspiration, he takes it and climbs the highest building in his town, a bank office ten stories high. Dialing out the word ďhero,Ē Feldon finds himself transformed, wearing a costume and cape, able to soar away from the roof through his own power. But, unsurprisingly given the fact that the reader knows that Jerry ends up on a suicide hotline in a downpour, things do not go as planned.
If I had one complaint about this book (and thatís all I have: one complaint), itís that I was under the impression that each issue would be a self-contained story, an idea thatís disturbing novel given todayís more popular trend of writing arcs for the purpose of being collected in trade paperback form. I have no idea where I got that idea and I was clearly mistaken, as the story will be resolved no sooner than next issue.
However, as first issues go, Pfeifer has cranked out an exceedingly solid one. The premise is well-established via its reliance on a pre-existing one, but not fleshed out so much that there isnít room for creative license or a sense of wonder about whatís going to happen next. And when you figure that the real mark of a well-crafted first issue is a drive in the reader to pick up the next issue, you canít help but call H-E-R-O #1 a success.