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Hero Hour

  HERO: Powers and Abilities


Will Pfeifer, Kano

DC, 2003

Rating: 4.2



Posted: January 8, 2004

By The Gentleman (exclusive to Shaking Through)

Ever since the vintage black-and-white TV series The Millionaire, an anthology in which a guy went around dispensing checks to different people each week, popular culture has thrived on the concept of characters suddenly being handed items with the ability to change their lives. Given that DC Comics, via its Vertigo imprint, has had some success with this idea with 100 Bullets, it was perhaps inevitable that the publisher would go back to the well, this time handing out super powers (instead of a briefcase full of untraceable bullets).

Luckily for wary fans, HERO -- a re-imagining of DC's venerable Dial H for Hero concept, which featured a device that offered up a new costume, power and identity every time a character dialed that four-letter-word -- is more reminiscent of the late Robert Altman TV series Gun than Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso's noir-ish crime thriller. The conceit behind this 21st-century take on the concept is that the "Hero" device -- an awkward, circular box with the letters H, E, R and O in a dial on its surface -- wends its way across the DC universe, falling into and out of the lives of various "everyday" characters with interesting results.

Powers and Abilities collects the first six issues of the ongoing series, including the four-part title story that opened the series. In that arc, a self-described loser named Jerry, stuck in a dead-end job in industrial Heaton, Pennsylvania, comes across the device when its previous owner, a nasty old biddie of a woman who leaves it behind at the ice-cream parlor at which Jerry works. Through the device, Jerry gets a taste of the life he's never known -- the life of a non-loser -- and even summons the courage to ask Molly, a fellow employee, out on a date. When the device fails to help him keep Molly out of harm's way, he resolves to destroy the device, which doesn't work out quite the way he plans. What does work is Jerry's obligatory shift in perspective, which writer Will Pfeifer handles with aplomb.

The other two issues collected here are less effective, but continue to highlight the potential in the series' premise. In "Meet Matt Allen," the device falls into the hands of a breezy, shallow executive, who becomes so addicted to the rush of superheroics that he neglects both his job and his marriage, with disastrous results. In "Girl Power," the device falls into the hands of Matt's daughter Andrea -- and her friends at her new elementary school. Like Matt, Andrea finds that cavalier use of the device's gifts can have an adverse affect on the user. And like her father, Andrea loses the device due to carelessness. These back-to-back tales may give rise to fears that the series is bound for a rut, although recent issues suggest that that's not the case.

Powers and Abilities positions Pfeifer as a writer worth watching -- and it does the same for artist Kano, whose renderings veer between Risso-style, atmospheric grit and a slightly cartoony style that, a la, say, Humberto Ramos, stays grounded in the real world. That's appropriate for a series that promises to examine the nature of power and unexpected gifts, and all of the adages that come with those themes: "With great power comes great responsibility," "Absolute power corrupts absolutely," etc. Although it rushes by at a pace that feels a bit slight, even for six issues, Powers and Abilities gets that series off to a capable, assured start.

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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: Breaks new ground
 4.0-4.9: First-rate
 3.0-3.9: Solid
 2.0-2.9: Mediocre
 1.1-1.9: Bad
 0.0-1.0: The worst

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