by Martin Maenza
Located just east of Worland, Wyoming, in the foothills of the Bighorn Mountains, the town of Littleville began in 1800 as a trading post for the so-called mountain men fur trappers who inhabited the area. When the fur trade declined in the 1840s, Littleville found renewed life as a stopping station for the westward-bound wagon trains. It grew to a full-fledged town in 1868 when the Union Pacific Railroad passed through, sparking several large cattle and sheep ranches to spring up in the area. A discovery of large petroleum deposits in the 1880s further added to the growing area’s economic opportunities.
Today, at one of homes just off Main Street, one of Littleville’s thirty-thousand-plus residents was about to have his evening plans interrupted.
A blond young man in his mid-twenties stood in the center of the living room area of his apartment and smiled. Before him was a coffee table set with a nice red tablecloth covering up the gauged wood surface of the boxy table that was originally in his parent’s basement. Laid out were two plates, two sets of silverware with white linen napkins, two wine glasses, and lit candles to give the darkened room an incandescent glow. From the kitchen, the smell of cooked beef filled the air. In the background, soft music emitted from the large stereo speakers in two of the corners of the room.
The young man, dressed in dark slacks and a light blue collared shirt smiled. “Perfect,” the bespectacled man said to himself. “All I need is the girl.”
Almost on cue, the front doorbell rang.
He rushed to the door, paused a brief moment to keep from appearing too anxious, and then turned the knob. Waiting on the other side of the doorway was a young woman with flowing brown hair, garbed in a short pink dress that was belted at the waist. “Right on time, Pamela,” he said, stepping aside to allow her entrance to the apartment. “Welcome to my humble abode.”
The young woman smiled as she entered. “Robby, I hope you didn’t go to too much trouble for little old me,” she said, placing her purse on one of the big cushioned chairs.
“No trouble at all,” the man said, closing the door. “It was all my pleasure. Be right back.” Robby ducked around the corner to the kitchen and returned moments later with a bottle of wine that had been breathing on the counter. “May I pour you a glass?”
“Wine, too?” Pamela asked. “You really went all out here.” She reached down to the table and retrieved the two glasses for him to fill.
“But of course,” Robby said with a smile. “After all, how often do we celebrate the sixth-month anniversary of when we met?” He poured the red wine into the glasses, then placed the bottle down on the table.
Pamela handed him one of the glasses. “Who knew, when we first met in the chem lab that day, that we’d end up getting together?”
“It was fate,” Robby said, grinning.
“It was your slightly off formula,” Pamela corrected him playfully. “Good thing I was standing next to the fire extinguisher, or Dr. Mooney would’ve been really upset with you.”
“Well,” Robby said, “to be honest, if I hadn’t been so distracted by your beauty, I probably wouldn’t have messed up the measured amounts.”
Pamela smiled. “You are a charmer, Robby Reed.” She took a seat on the couch and patted the cushion next to her. He joined her. “It smells like you’ve been slaving in the kitchen all day.”
“Not all day.”
“Still, it smells great! How soon until we eat?”
“Just a little while,” he said. “I thought we could relax a bit before we did.”
Pamela pouted slightly, in a playful way. “Just relax? Is that all you were thinking?”
“Well…” He was about to lean in to kiss her when the buzz of the phone sounded. They both frowned slightly. “I better get that,” Robby said as he jumped to his feet. “It might be important.”
“OK,” Pamela sighed and took another sip of her wine.
Robby Reed ducked back into the kitchen and snatched the receiver off the wall mount just as the third ring sounded. “Hello?”
A brusque woman’s voice was on the other end. “Yes, hello, collect call from a Nick Stevens. Will you accept the charges?”
Nick Stevens? Robby thought. What could this be about?
“Yes, I’ll accept,” Robby said.
“Thank you,” the operator replied as if scripted.
There was a click over.
“Robby, it’s me, Nick! I’m sorry! Listen, I’ve been trying to get away to call you, what with everything going on, and this is the first chance I could! I’m so sorry!” The young man’s voice was hurried and urgent, sounding somewhat alarmed.
“Nick, buddy! Slow down!” Robby said. “Take it from the top. Where are you? Is everything all right?”
“Robby, sorry!” Nick Stevens said. The seventeen-year-old dark-haired teenager was standing in a phone booth just outside a diner. “Listen, I can’t talk too long! We’re on a dinner stop, and I slipped away to make this call.”
“Where are you?” Robby asked again.
“Traveling back across country to home,” Nick said. “Had the family summer vacation from hell in Seattle, but that’s not important right now! I needed to call you to tell you I’m so sorry! It was an accident…”
Pamela called in from the family room. “Robby, is everything OK?”
Robby turned the lower part of the phone against his shoulder. “It’s fine,” he answered her. “Just an old friend. I’ll be in there in a minute.” He put the phone back to his ear; Nick was still going on. “Nick, this isn’t a great time for us to catch up. I’ve sorta got company.” Still, Robby hated to dismiss the young man so quickly. “What’s wrong? Why do you keep apologizing?”
Nick glanced back to the diner. He could see the window near the booth where his parents were sitting and eating. For the moment, his absence wasn’t an issue. “OK, I guess I better Reader’s Digest this for both our sakes. Here goes. I mentioned we were vacationing in Seattle, right?”
“Well, then all this freaky alien invasion stuff went down, so I get the bright idea to go and help out. I dial up an identity based on one of my drawings — Psi-Wave. Only, turns out this alien terrorizing the town can mimic abilities. I un-dialed and was about to pull up someone new, when the alien zaps me again with my own powers. That’s when it happened!”
“I lost the H-Dial,” Nick said solemnly.
“You lost…?” Robby said in a loud, surprised tone. Then he remembered he had someone in the next room. He lowered his voice to a whisper. “You lost the dial? Where?”
“Storm drain,” Nick said. “It was wet and rainy; it fell from my hands and rolled. Before I could reach it, it dropped out of sight.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See DC Universe: Invasion, Book 2, Chapter 13: Silenced.]
“Did you try to find it?”
“I couldn’t,” Nick said regrettably. “I wasn’t able to get back downtown for days. Once I did manage to slip away from the folks, I tried looking for it. By then, it was long gone. I’m so sorry, Robby.”
Robby Reed let the words wash over him. The H-Dial was gone.
Over ten years ago, when Robby Reed himself was just a teenager, he found himself in the middle of a crime rampage. A mechanical menace hurled him from a cliff to what appeared to be certain doom, but miraculously he survived the fall and found himself in a previously unexplored cave. There, he discovered this strange-looking item that looked like a telephone dial. It was circular and had ten odd markings to it. Only after experimenting with the odd item did he realize that somehow he could decipher the alien letters, and that by dialing certain letters that he could transform himself into amazing identities. Giantboy, Cometeer, and the Mole were the first of many heroes that Robby was able to become by dialing the equivalents of H-E-R-O on this dial. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Dial H for Hero,” The House of Mystery #156 (January, 1966).]
Over time, he battled agents of a criminal organization called Thunderbolt that was operating in the area, the ones behind the mechanical menace, as well as an assortment of other weird and wacky criminals. Eventually, he ended up facing an enemy named Shirkon of the Many Eyes and had to try a different dialing combination to defeat him. Using other letters on the dial, Robby split into two forms, one that was good and called himself the Wizard, and one that was evil and called himself the Master. Skirkon was overpowered and defeated, but Robby’s two split selves began a rivalry against one another. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See flashback in “Farewell to the Master,” The New Adventures of Superboy #49 (January, 1984).]
The Wizard decided to create two new H-Dials and hid them in an old chest in the attic of a home in Fairfax, Maine. A family soon moved into the home, and young Christopher King and his new friend Vicki Grant found the chest and the dials. Unlike Robby’s original dial, their dials only had the four markings for H, E, R, and O. Also, their transformations were limited to one hour in duration maximum, and one transformation per hour. (*) This was the Wizard’s way to safeguard against what had happened to him, being separated from part of himself for a long long time. He hoped to steer these two new champions against his evil self.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Who Are the Heroes?” The Legion of Super-Heroes v2 #272 (February, 1981).]
By the same token, the Master plagued the two teens with menaces of his own creation. (*) Eventually, Chris and Vicki, with the help of their artist classmate, Nick Stevens, managed to defeat the Master and helped Robby to reunite his body once more. In appreciation, Robby gave Nick his original H-Dial.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Blood Money,” Adventure Comics #484 (August, 1981).]
Robby then returned back to Littleville, the place where he grew up, to try to live a normal life. In the past three years, he completed his education and started working in a local laboratory. He made new friends at work and had pretty much relegated all that past to his memory and scrapbooks.
The phone call and Nick’s bad news brought it all back to him in a flash before his eyes. He stared vacantly for a moment until Nick’s voice on the other end of the receiver brought him back to the present moment.
“Robby! You still there?” Nick called out.
“Yeah,” Robby said, lifting his glasses with his free hand so he could rub his eyes. “I’m still here.”
“Look, Robby, I know how much you entrusted that to me,” Nick said. “I was really honored! But now, I let you down. I didn’t want to tell you this way, over the phone. I thought I should do it in person, but if I waited until I could actually come out to visit, well, you would’ve thought me a coward. I just had to tell you I was sorry. I hope you don’t hate me.”
Robby blinked. “Hate you? No, not at all!”
Pamela looked up from the couch, curious.
Robby saw her, raised two fingers, and tried to indicate he would be done in two moments. He slipped back around the corner into the kitchen and dropped his voice again. “Nick, I don’t hate you. You said it was an accident, right? Accidents do happen. I’m just glad you’re OK. You are OK, right?”
“I’m OK,” Nick said.
“And you’re not a coward, either,” Robby added. “You called me as soon as you could and owned up to what happened. That takes a lot of courage, Nick.” As upset and concerned as he was about the loss of the device, the blond man couldn’t take it out on the teen.
“Thanks,” Nick said, somewhat relieved. He glanced at the diner and noticed movement. “Uh, look, Robby, I need to go! I’ll call you after I get home, maybe drop you a letter before that. OK?”
Robby Reed nodded. “OK, Nick, sure,” he said. “You keep safe, OK?”
“I will. Later.” Nick hung up the phone.
Robby held the phone for a moment after the click. Nick was a good kid, and he meant well. The dial had suddenly come into Robby’s life all those years ago, and now it was suddenly gone again. That was just something he had to accept.
Hanging up the receiver, Robby turned to the oven where his dinner was just about ready. He decided to check on it.
Pamela poked her head into the room. “Hey, is everything OK?” she asked.
“Yeah,” Robby said with a slight lie. “Nothing to get worked up over. Not anything I can do anything about.” He opened the oven door and pulled out the meat, which was searing nicely in its own juices.
Relics and Remembrances was a shop in a one-story brick building on the corner of Marv and Carmine. Most of the shop was a maze of items piled high to the rafters, with furniture, vintage clothing, records, knick-knacks, jewelry, you name it. It was difficult to tell when new items had come and gone. The front window display, however, was very well-planned-out and often changed to showcase recent finds.
A young black man with brown eyes, very short brown curly hair at the very top of his head, a slight mustache with a beard, and a gold earring in his right ear, was just finishing the latest window arrangement when the bell over the front door rang. He glanced at his multicolored Swatch on his left wrist. It was 10:23.
“Must be nice to be the boss,” the black youth said. “Come and go as you like and whatnot.”
The red-haired white man, short and pudgy, smirked. “Just one of the perks of bein’ management,” Randy said, putting his morning coffee on the counter. “Hey, nice work there, by the way.” He tipped his head toward the window. “I like how you played off that old comic-book from the ’50s with the toy space ship and those wild silvery disco boots.”
“Thanks,” the black man said with a smile. It wasn’t often that Randy Kilmer paid anyone a compliment. He approached the counter and reached his fingers toward the bag his boss was holding. “Did you happen to pick me up a banana muffin?”
Randy snatched the bag away playfully. “I ain’t your delivery boy, H.C.,” he said. “You know where the shop is if you want one.” The man put the bag out of the way and then headed over to a boom box they kept behind the counter. “What’s this?”
“This.” Randy indicated the stereo. “This stuff you’ve got on.”
“That’s Ella,” Hero Cruz replied in an instructive voice. “It’s a recording of tunes from the Jerome Kern Songbook.” He pulled up one of the wooden chairs to a nearby dark oak dining set and sat down. “You know, for someone in the business of antiques, I would’ve expected a bit more of a refined taste from you.”
Randy poked at the stop/eject button firmly. “I’ve got taste,” he said, removing the tape and putting it aside. “But you know I like to support the local talent, too.” He popped in a different cassette, pressed play, and loud roaring rock number came out of the box. “Now, this is the type of pick-me-up I need first thing in the morning!” He started to bob his head up and down to the beat. “It’s by some young guy and his band. Kirk something or other.”
Hero merely rolled his eyes. The man couldn’t even remember the musician’s name. “Whatever.” He dismissed his boss with a wave.