Like with movies, I’ve been reading mostly newer trades (stuff I haven’t read before), but after getting most of the issues of HERO bound recently, I decided to sit down with that book and read it all in one sitting. Damn, is this a good book.
Written by Will Pfeifer and drawn by a series of artists including Kano, Patrick Gleason, Leonard Kirk and Dale Eaglesham, HERO doesn’t so much follow a character, but an object. In this case it’s the “H Dial” an old device from DC comics where the gimmick was that it would change the user into a random hero, sometimes suggested by the readers themselves. Over the course of the series, the device lands in the hands of many different characters and they use it as they see fit, kind of like that show Gun that was on ABC in 1997. Sometimes they use it to turn into a superhero only to discover that’s not as easy as it seems, sometimes to become a mega powered master criminal and sometimes to impress the kids at school. Like 100 Bullets, though, the gimmick eventually leads into a larger story with many of the characters coming back in the last few issues.
But the important thing about this comic, which ran for 22 issues between 2003 and 2005, is that it never felt like a gimmick. Pfeifer had this incredible ability to introduce us to brand new characters every few issues and give us something to like in each of them. Whether it’s the business man who wants to fly or the dudes who just want to make a super-powered Jackass, these characters all felt interesting in one way or another.
You might remember there being a lot of hype about this book when it first came out because Geoff Johns offered a moneyback guarantee if anyone bought the book and didn’t like it. He talks about that in the forward of the first and sadly only trade. Johns brings up the point that Pfeifer seemed to be getting at with the series which is that every comic book fan has thought about having these awesome powers, but how hard have we really through about what we would do with them if we did in fact have them. I think in the real world you’d have a lot more people doing what these characters did with the H dial and far fewer taking the Superman and Batman route. It’s interesting that, while firmly set in the DCU HERO never had any guest stars, but the whole point of the series kind of shines a spotlight on what those other heroes do day in and day out. Basically, it’s not easy being Superman.
I could get into an arc by arc breakdown of why this is such a good book. Every artist absolutely nails their arcs and the series actually has a very satisfying conclusion, though not necessarily a happy one for everyone involved. I liked how everyone who had the H dial earlier in the series came back. I first heard about this book when I interned at Wizard. I read all the issues then and even bought a copy of HERO from Pfeifer at the 2003 Mid Ohio Con. I went on to get the rest of the issues here and there and thank goodness I did because it doesn’t look like there’s any plans for DC to collect this story anytime soon. HERO introduced me to some of my favorite artists like Gleason, Kano and Eaglesham (my buddy Rickey owns the splash page of the woman who’s all cubed up and I’m super jealous of that fact). Plus it drew my attention to Pfeifer whose work I thoroughly enjoyed on Aquaman, another run that got cut short too soon.
I know it’s not easy to pick up HERO. You’ve got to hunt down an out of print (I assume) trade plus a bunch of issues, but I bet they’re not too expensive. Maybe add them to your shopping list this con season and see what you can come up with. I’m not about to lay down a moneyback guarantee like Johns did (he said in that forward, which was written in 2003, that no one ever took him up on that, I wonder if it still holds true), but I highly HIGHLY recommend this book for anyone even remotely interested in superhero comics. Even if you’re a Marvel zombie, I wager you’d like this book. Heck, even if you’re not a superhero fan and prefer more real world-based comics because you think no one would really act like superheroes do in mainstream comics, then this is the book for you because it basically says just that.
That’s the end of the actual review. Now I just want to briefly talk about the reading experience I had with my bound comics. There were 16 issues not collected in the first trade, so I was a little worried about losing text balloons and art to the gutter (the space where the staples go). I mainly figured this would happen in the middle, but the only place I had even the remotest amount of trouble was in the first and last few issues. And even then, I just had to stretch the book open a little bit more and I had no problem. I’m also currently reading a stack of single issues about the same size and I can easily say that I prefer having everything all in one convenient space. I recommend getting comics bound like I recommend HERO, all the way.