Thursday, May 12, 2016


The team of Bob Rozakis' and Stephen DeStefano's collaborative influence on DC Comics was largely relegated to a pair of books and brief period of whimsical delight, but the legacy they left was absolutely unique. Besides their most high-profile creation, the humble 'Mazing Man, the pair brought to the DC Universe the bottom tier of super-hero action in the street-level heroes behind the emergency number phone-bank, Hero Hotline.

Bankrolled, according to a passing reference, by Wayne Industries, Hero Hotline existed at the other end of a 1-800 number where anyone could call for superheroic help. Compared relentlessly - and not unfairly - to Marvel's Damage Control, the highlight of Hero Hotline was that it showed the periphery of superheroic adventures in something resembling more the everyday world which the reader experienced.

Hero Hotline interacted with a lot of thinly-veiled
versions of established comics characters -- Nancy
and Sluggo, Donald Duck and, in this instance,
the Comedian's button from Watchmen!
Unlike Damage Control, however, which employed a cast of normal human beings as their regulars, the heroes of Hero Hotline were distinctly superheroic. The Coordinator, the boss of the outfit, was a typically unseen Tex Thompson, a Golden Age character with a lineage as long as Superman's and who'd fought crime under the names of Mr.America and the Americommando. Assisting Tex is Soozie-Q, a floating robot with a mannequin's head over a bank of television screens, through which they monitor the field team

This is Tom Longacre (aka Stretch, an elastic hero who, like the Elongated Man, uses the fruit of the gingold tree to give himself the power of super-elasticity), busy mom and radioactive superhero Belle "Microwaveabelle" Jackson, easily distracted Private Eyes (aka Lester Lee, adorned with a pair of super-binoculars), Diana "Diamondette" Theotocopoulos and her hard-as-diamond nails, voice-throwing Voice-Over (aka Andy Greenwald), fire-flinging Billy "Hotshot" Lefferts and, lastly, Sturgis Butterfield, a muscleman whose identity changes as often as his vanity allows.

The street names of the superheroes made up a significant portion of the appeal, as the story was as much low-stakes soap opera as it was superhero drama. While they dealt with occasional superheroic menace, they also dealt with common domestic issues (abusive spouses and stalker fans) and additionally would simply have human conversations between one another.

Plus the villains were real pips.
If this summary is lacking in the usual jokes and asides, it's because I couldn't write anything funnier than the funniest moments of Hero Hotline, and I'd only be diminishing its expert drama but finding a wisecrack in it. Superhero comics have peaks and valleys, and Hero Hotline has a great view from on high.

Hero Hotline, for the most part, experienced only a four-part tryout in Action Comics Weekly and then a six issue miniseries of their own, after which they basically vanished. Mention was made in later books -- Infinite Crisis, Swamp Thing, and so on -- but, fortunately for the legacy of the concept, these were usually relegated to passing reference. A reprint volume wouldn't go amiss, mind you.

The charm and humanity of Hero Hotline would have made them a bad fit for the antihero age of the 2000s, so it's appreciated that they were pushed aside as DC's heroes got darker and meaner. In the era of never-ending TV adaptations of old comics, there's probably very few better contenders for a primetime slot than Hero Hotline --- providing they can translate Stephen DeStefano's superb costume and character design to the small screen ...

I'd be remiss in not also mentioning the graveyard shift ...

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