Wednesday, April 02, 2008


This was a post I had been planning to do for some time, but given the passing of Jim Mooney, it's especially apt.

Mooney was a terrific artist for DC during the Silver Age of Comics. He was originally hired as a Batman artist and did some terrific work on Batman in the late-1940s. He became the regular artist for the Robin solo stories in Star Spangled Comics. Later he moved on to Tommy Tomorrow, an early DC science fiction hero.

His most famous work in the Silver Age was on Supergirl, who was at the time the backup feature in Action Comics. He drew her until the great DC shake-up in 1968. In the meantime he filled in on World's Finest after Dick Sprang left DC. And in House of Mystery #156 (January 1966) he created (along with writer Dave Wood) the character Robby Reed, in Dial H for Hero.

Robby was a young genius living in Littleville, a rural community. As he and some friends observe a robbery being executed by a giant robot, he suddenly falls into a cavern, where he finds a mysterious dial:

He deciphers the writing, which tells him to dial H-E-R-O. Of course this is something of an anachronism; I doubt if anybody under the age of 30 has used a dial phone, and they were headed out the door at the time. Being a red-blooded teenager, he does as suggested and finds himself transformed into Giant Boy, in which guise he saves a plane about to crash and foils another attempted robbery by the giant robot. Then he returns to his normal teenage form by reversing the order of the letters on the dial (O-R-E-H).

Things get really interesting the next time a hero is needed. Robby dials the letters but he is not transformed into Giant Boy again, but to the Cometeer:

And later in the story to the Human Mole:

That pretty much became the formula for the series; Robby would be transformed into three new heroes in every story, and his challenge would be to figure out their powers and how to use them best in the situations he found himself in.

Robby, as is pretty typical with superheroes, is an orphan (see Superman, Batman, Robin, Spiderman, etc). He lives with his grandfather and a housekeeper named Miss Millie. His early opposition is the Thunderbolt gang, led by Mr Thunder.

It's a cool concept for a hero, but with one obvious drawback; the requirement that three new superpowers (or more) be created for every story. Not surprisingly, Dave Wood began recycling some Golden Age favorites, as here:

Bulletman was a long-running feature in the 1940s in the Fawcett line.

In House of Mystery #157 we learned one of the drawbacks of the dial; after using it, Robby couldn't change into a different hero for another few hours. In #160, there were three very interesting heroes for different reasons. Giant Boy returned, marking the first time that Robby had been turned into one hero twice. His second transformation was into King Candy, who has magic lollipops (like Herbie Popnecker), and his third metamorphosis was truly historic: Plastic Man.

Plastic Man was, of course, a major hero for the Quality Comics line from the 1940s-1950s. His solo book lasted until 1956, making him one of the very few heroes to make it through to the end of the Golden Age. I cannot do justice to the character in a post about Robby Reed, but I can put up a few pix from the story that will give you a feel for Mooney's version of the character:

As a side note, a few months later, Plastic Man was given his own magazine by DC, although it only lasted for ten issues in this incarnation.

Littleville seemed a bit small in scope for Robby, so we quickly learned it was near Zenith City, allowing the heroes to act in an urban environment where the astonishing array of criminal activity might not be so stunning.

In House of Mystery #160, we met Robby's love interest, a gal that lives near one of his cousins, named Suzy:

In HoM #166, the romance angle was pushed forward a bit, as Suzy and her parents moved to the same block as Robbie and his grandfather. In #169, Suzy discovers Robby's secret:

And being naturally curious, she wonders what would happen if she dialed H-E-R-O-I-N-E. In the obituary for Jim Mooney, they mention that he was noted for his exceptionally beautiful women, and they weren't lying:

Unfortunately for us, Suzy suffered the convenient amnesia that afflicted most characters who discovered a superhero's secret identity during the Silver Age, so we didn't get to see her in more outfits as a heroine. Robby was canceled after House of Mystery #173 (along with Martian Manhunter), as the magazine returned to its (tame) horror roots; the last few stories weren't drawn by Mooney.

About the title: Sockamagee was Robby's expression of delighted surprise.