Tuesday, August 13, 2013

It came from the Dollar Bin! H-E-R-O #1 & #2!

Dial H for Hero is dear to my heart because I got a few of the Chris and Vicky, 80s issues at a secondhand book store when I was a kid. The concept fascinated me, and as any idiot can tell you, the possibilities are endless (though Siskoid notes that most dialed heroes aren't good enough to exist outside the context of the dial).

H-E-R-O was something of a dream come true for me, and to this day it remains one of my favorite comic series. I'm no fan of the New 52 Dial H, for lots of reasons (though I do like the Nelson Jent character), but that's not what we're here for today.

H-E-R-O follows the lives of people who get their hands on the HERO Dial. It's not like previous Dial H for Hero concepts, where one or two people have permanent possession of it; no, this one changes hands all the time. Exhibit A is Jerry, whose story lasts the first four issues (and doesn't even really end there).

Jerry is a hapless nobody; the biggest event in his life is the time he saw Superman, something that drove him into depression because "he's everything and I'm nothing!" Well, that's not the biggest, but his story is relayed to us via his call to a suicide hotline. 

Jerry lives in Heaton, Penn., a former industry town now known for rampant unemployment and crime. He works at an ice cream shop for minimum wage, and the only light in his life is a cute co-worker named Molly. But... she was a huge fan of Superman and always wanted to talk about the time Jerry saw him.

A lot of people would probably say Jerry misses the point of Superman, but not me; his reaction is a perfectly rational and very human one. Of course, he's suffered from depression for a while, so that may have something to do with it. 

But Jerry doesn't want to kill himself because he can't be Superman -- it's because even with powers he still can't measure up. See, he found something a customer must have forgotten one day while doing dishes. It was the dial, duh.  He seemed to almost subconsciously understand what it was, and later that night went up to the roof of his apartment building and, well, dialed it. 

I have few complaints about this series, but one is that Doug the suicide hotline guy doesn't buy Jerry's story at all and thinks he's either delusional or on drugs. Uh, what? This guy seriously doesn't believe someone could have superpowers in the DC universe?  Anyway, Jerry turns into Afterburner, a guy who is a whole lot like Superman and basically your stock superhero. He saves a kid on a bike from being run over by a drunk driver, but the kid isn't grateful because nobody asked for his help and now his bike's destroyed. 

That's item #1 on the "I'm not good enough" list for Jerry, though he didn't think much of it at the time. Brushing it off, he goes to take care of the drunk driver, who is still speeding down the road. He flies in front of the huge truck, holds out a hand, and... is flung far away and seriously injured by the ensuing collision.

Turns out Afterburner isn't as invulnerable as he looks. Usually the dial provides instant knowledge of your dialed hero's powers, but I imagine Jerry let his preconceived notions get the better of him.

#1 ends there, but continuing into #2. Jerry dials back and is fine, and pulls the drunk driver from the wrecked car. He calls 911 anonymously and leaves the guy on the side of the road. He thought about how he was still the same loser even with powers, and didn't use the dial for a while, instead going about his life normal-like. 

That is, until the old lady who left the dial shows up and demands it be found and returned to her. Jerry doesn't do anything, but he had a nightmare -- as bad as his first time super was, he's afraid of being brought back down to normal, too. He decides to give the dial another go. He turns into the Bouncer, a springy, rubbery guy, and has a blast just bounding around the city. He starts using the dial for fun, for the simple experience of having these abilities.

Is it me or does Jerry have way better luck with the Dial than anyone before him? That's something you'll see in this series; there are no lame or crappy heroes, though you could argue that there are boring ones.

He started skipping his job by pretending to be sick, and devoting his life to these thrills. He also turned into a strong guy called the Wrecker and destroyed the old auto plant that ruined the city when it closed. Doug points out that none of this is really heroic, and if anything the old lady was better off with the dial, causing an incensed Jerry to hang up... only to call back moments later and admit fault. 

See, Jerry was upset because of what happened next; he needed something to focus his powers on before they drove him crazy, and he vowed to become Heaton's own superhero, just like Robby was to Littleville. Only, after a few days of watching the town like a hawk, he couldn't find any crime. Realizing he must be going about it the wrong way, he starts checking out the bad (or worse, more like) part of town.

But even as Powerhouse, he has no idea what to really do with prostitutes or drug dealers, and just makes a fool of himself. He has an extended dialogue with a drug dealer who counts all the ways Jerry can't do anything to him. This frustrates Jerry so much that he loses his temper and pops the guy in the stomach, a move he soon regrets.

Obviously the issue ends there, but (not to spoil stuff too much) Jerry's story is also obviously not over -- though I didn't get those issues at the used book store, I WILL come back to finish this story arc, which ends in H-E-R-O #4

The title of the story arc is "Powers and Abilities"; Jerry has powers that allow him to do good, but lacks the ability. Not everyone's cut out to be a superhero, and this is a great examination of how and why that is. Jerry's not a bad man, far from it, but he's clinically depressed and being a superhero can't change that or help it. He's also both clueless and sensitive, not knowing how to go about heroism and letting every little thing get to him and worsen his mood. He's very much a fascinating character, and I hope that helps you see why I love this comic so much.

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