The original series debuted House of Mystery #156 (January 1966), and continued until issued #173 (March-April 1968). The art was by Jim Mooney, with scripts by Dave Wood. The original owner of the dial is Robert "Robby" Reed, a
Dial H for Hero is a comic book feature published by DC Comics about a mysterious dial that enables an ordinary person to become a superhero for a short time. The dial causes its possessor to become a new superhero with a different name, costume and powers each time it is used. These superheroes are usually brand-new, but on one occasion the dial caused its owner to become a duplicate of an existing superhero, Plastic Man.
The original series debuted House of Mystery #156 (January 1966), and continued until issued #173 (March-April 1968). The art was by Jim Mooney, with scripts by Dave Wood. The original owner of the dial is Robert "Robby" Reed, a teenager from Littleville, Colorado, who discovers the dial in a cavern. Resembling an old telephone dial, this device is hand-held and covered in unknown symbols (that somehow Robby was able to understand as modern letters.) How the dial got there or who created it is never revealed. Each time he dials the letters H-E-R-O, Robby finds he turns into a different superpowered being; dialing O-R-E-H makes him revert to his normal form. He quickly uses it to protect Littleville under the guises of numerous superheroes.
Robby's H-Dial was once used by his foe, Daffy Dagan, who in House of Mystery #158 (April 1966) briefly becomes a supervillain known as Daffy the Great after dialing V-I-L-L-A-I-N. In House of Mystery #169 (September 1967), Robby's girlfriend Suzie uses the dial, dialing H-E-R-O-I-N-E to temporarily transform into Gem Girl. At the end of the story Suzie receives a blow to the head that causes her to forget about the secret of the device.
After the series ceased its run in House of Mystery, Robby appeared in Plastic Man (Volume 2) #13 (June-July 1976). Recovering from an attack of amnesia, Robby retrieves his dial, which has become corroded with rust. The corrosion causes Robby to turn into an evil version of Plastic Man, and he attacks the real Plastic Man. After defeating Robby and returning him to normal, Plastic Man confiscates the dial from Robby for using it irresponsibly. It is never explained how Robby is seen with the dial in later stories.
In Silver Age 80-Page Giant #1 (July 2000), Robby lends the Dial to the Justice League, allowing several of its members to transform into new superheroes to defeat the Injustice League at a time when they had learned how to defeat the Leaguers in their normal forms.
The second Dial H for Hero series debuted in the 1980s, in a special insert in Legion of Super-Heroes (Volume 2) #272 (February 1981), then ran in Adventure Comics (Volume 1) #479–490 and continued in The New Adventures of Superboy Vol 1 28–49. A new feature of this series was that the readers could submit new hero and villain characters, which were then used in the stories. The people who submitted were given credit for their creations (and a t-shirt with the series logo), but the characters became DC Comics' property. The original writer and artist in the series were Marv Wolfman and Carmine Infantino.
In this series, two other dials are discovered years later by teenagers Christopher "Chris" King and Victoria "Vicky" Grant of the New England town of Fairfax in a 'haunted' house. These dials--disguised as a watch and a necklace--only have the letters H-E-R-O on them, and work only for an hour, after which they will not work for another hour. King and Grant begin protecting Fairfax from a number of menaces. Unknown to them, most of these villains are created by a mysterious villain known only as The Master.
It must be noted that, while anyone could use Chris and Vicki's H-dials, they always turned the user into a hero, regardless of his or her personality; even The Master was temporarily made good by one. This fact has been ignored in later stories.
Eventually Chris and Vicki discover that a fellow student named Nick Stevens has been drawing up superheroes as a hobby--and somehow, the dials turn them into those heroes. With Nick's help, they find out that their dials were created by a being called The Wizard (not to be confused with the villain of the same name), whom the Master thought he'd killed years before. In truth, The Wizard faked his death while he looked for the original Hero Dial. With it, he merges with The Master--and transforms into Robby Reed, who explains that years before, he had used the dial to split in two so that he could disarm a dead man's switch, while his other self, the Wizard, defeated the villain who set it. However, the Wizard carried all of Robby's inherent goodness, while the Robbie that remain possessed only evil impulses; the original Hero Dial was lost when this Robby, renaming himself The Master, dialed "hide yourself", causing the dial to vanish along with The Master's and The Wizard's memories of their former life as Robby Reed. While The Master learned genetic techniques that allowed him to create his army of super-villains, the Wizard was driven to create the new H-dials, unconsciously designing limitations into them to prevent what happened to Robby from recurring (only heroic identities, a time limit, and the exclusion of letters other than H-E-R-O; the latter, however, did not prevent Chris from experimenting on one occasion and dialing H-O-R-R-O-R, with disastrous results). With Nick developing the ability to actively influence the dials' results (rather than subconsciously as before), Robby passes his dial to Nick, and retires as a hero.
In New Teen Titans (Volume 2) #45 (June 1988) Victoria and Chris' history after the end of their series is revealed. After the two teens graduated from high school, they found they had gained the ability to transform without the dials--apparently because of their extensive use--but as a side-effect Vicky began experiencing mental problems. Vicky later joins a cult called the Children of the Sun, where she is physically and mentally abused, deranging her even more. She seeks out her former partner Chris in order to kill him. With help from the Teen Titans, Chris rescues her (in New Teen Titans (Volume 2) #46). Chris now finds that he changes into a new superhero every hour, without the dial, and remains that way until he expends an unspecified amount of energy. He decides to continue his superhero career, using a suit provided by S.T.A.R. Labs to monitor his changes.
In Superboy and the Ravers #5 (January 1997), Hero Cruz finds Vicki's H-dial in the lair of Scavenger, and uses it to gain superpowers. A still deranged Vicky returns in Superboy and the Ravers #13 (September 1997) to get her dial back from Hero, but she regains her sanity once she uses the device. She is last seen in the care of the Forces, a family of metahumans.
As an epilogue to the Chris King/Vicki Grant Dial H series, The New Adventures of Superboy Vol 1 50 features a story in which Chris King's watch is stolen from the Space Museum of the Legion of Super-Heroes' time period by a thief named Nylor Truggs, who flees with the dial to the ambiguous late 1960s/early 1970s era-Smallville of the original (Earth-One) Superboy by altering the dial's functions in some unexplained manner, allowing him to travel in time. Truggs further alters the H-dial to break the restriction that users can only transform into heroic identities, changing the "H" in the center of the dial to "V" for "villain". Truggs also makes the dial capable of changing individuals other than himself into villains if he desires; those transformed would then be under Truggs' control. Truggs transforms several of Clark Kent's high school friends, and forms a temporary alliance with a teenaged Lex Luthor, in a scheme to plant seismic devices in their time period so that Truggs can use those devices against the people of his own future time upon his return. Truggs' plan is foiled by Superboy, several members of the Legion, and Krypto the Superdog, the latter of which destroys the stolen H-Dial by crushing it in his jaws. As this story was published before the events of the Crisis on Infinite Earths, and the subsequent reboots of the Legion of Super-Heroes, this story may not exist in current continuity.
In Legionnaires #69, Lori Morning uses an H-dial that was given to her by the Time Trapper to gain superpowers, and becomes a member of Workforce. Lori gives the H-dial to Brainiac 5.1 to use against the Rift; the device is destroyed in the process. This timeline was also erased in the Legion reboot.
DC relaunched the series again in 2003, this time simply titled H-E-R-O (Volume 1). The new series, written by Will Pfeifer with art by Kano, focused on the effect the HERO dial has on a series of average people, who lives are usually ruined by the pressures of superherodom. Robby Reed, now grown old and bitter, is searching for the missing dial, determined to retrieve it. The series lasted 22 issues.
In a One Year Later storyline the H-Dial comes into the possession of Father Time, who hopes to clone the device and create an entire army of "one man Justice Leagues". However the device is stolen, and Johnny Mimic (the reformed Green Lantern villain called to act as a profiler) dupes Alan Scott into killing him while holding the device, destroying it for good.