Rudy Panucci On Pop Culture

Courting Disaster, Zombie Babies, Dial ‘H’ For Hero

The PopCulteer
May 28, 2010

“Courting Disaster”

The World Premiere of “Courting Disaster,” which you can see this weekend at the Kanawha Players Theater, is a fanatastic show, a hilarious legal farce with a talented cast, clever writing  and very catchy music.

The fact that I’ve been in a very happy relationship with one of the actors for a couple of decades, and I produced a promotional spot for the show might compromise my objectivity, so don’t take my word for it. Kate White of The Charleston Gazette loved the show, and Rick Justice of The Charleston Daily Mail got a real kick out of it.

Bill Lynch did a nice write-up for The Gazette and Billy Wolfe covered the show for the Daily Mail.

I loved the show. It takes a serial litigant, her scheming husband, a couple of ethically-challenged lawyers, a corrupt judge and a shady health drink huckster and puts them in a farce that lets every potentially unsympathetic character come out as extremely likeable.

Jeremy Eisler’s book and lyrics drip with a slapstick sense of humorous logic, while Mark Scarpelli’s score is up to his usual brilliant standards.

Director Kelly Strom has brought this work to the stage with a lively sense of urgency and some terrific staging.  The cast does a wonderful job. Lisa Gandee as the perpetual victim and Mark Felton as the lovestruck lawyer in love make a very sympathetic couple.  Craig Auge (fresh our of CYAC’s production “Romeo and Juliet: The Musical) and Tasha Harris (recently seen in KP’s “A Raisin In The Sun”) are hysterical as the conflicted couple who want to have Gandee’s character declared insane, but not really.

Sean Price (recently seen, very much so, in CSC’s “Flaming Guns Of The Purple Sage”) is amazing as the hyper-active, earnest, and completely phony pitchman for “Health-E.”

The judge, I.M. Fair, is played by Melanie Larch (recently seen in CYAC’s “Romeo and Juliet: The Musical” and RFC 100), a performer for whom I have a particular fondness. It’s great to see my significant other bringing her talents to a fresh, original work for Kanawha Players.

And kudos to KP for producing an original work for this early-summer show. It’s a shame they couldn’t present this during FestivAll, but it’s nice that it gets to shine without getting lost among all the other cool things that happen during Charleston’s annual art explosion.

How To Become A Movie Mogul

You can become involved in the production of a motion picture! Eamon Hardiman is looking for funding for his next epic film, “Zombie Babies.”  You can help kick-start this project by going to the Zombie Babies Kickstarter page.  You can pledge money toward the production. You won’t be charged unless the goal is met by the deadline. I recently wrote about this service being used to raise money for Wolfgang Parker’s Jack The Ripper graphic novel.  It’s the new wave of micro-fundraising. Click below to check it out.

Weekend Music

Some highlights from a music-packed weekend.

Friday: A mutant conglomeration of The Carpenter Ants, including Bud Carroll, Randy Gilkey and Ammed Soloman, will be opening for The Esquires at the first Live at the Levee concert since the Stargate was installed at Haddad Riverfront park. The show kicks off at 7:30 PM.

Blue Million will be at Bruno’s on Leon Sullivan Way, starting at 9 PM.

InFormation (you’ll see them on RFC 103) will perform at The Sound Factory tonight. The start time is listed as 8 PM, but I’d be surprised if they kick off that early.  Might be the perfect band to catch after Live at the Levee.  These guys are terrific. We had an early incarnation of the band RFC in 2007, but this new line-up has an incredible level of energy.


Scott Blake of the band Simply Sadi (heard on RFC’s April Fool’s Day show this year) brings his solo, acoustic tribute to RUSH to Taylor Books at 7:30 PM.

Option 22 will bring their other-worldy music to The Alban Theater in St. Albans, with a ten-dollar cover .

Granpappy’s Lap will be holding an all-day benefit for Leukemia victim Alex Tanner at The Roundhouse in Evans WV, right outside of Ripley.  The show kicks off at 2 PM and runs all night.  RFC faves, WATT 4 are on the bill, so you might want to make the drive. It’s for a good cause.

Cool Comic Of The Week

“Dial ‘H’ For H.E.R.O.” was one of the goofier concepts springing out of the mid-1960s super-hero craze that was sparked by the campy Batman TV show. Writen by comics veteran Dave Wood and mostly drawn by Jim Mooney, an overlooked talent who worked on everything from Supergirl to Spider-man, this comic book followed the adventures of Robby Reed, a young science nerd who finds a dial hidden in a cave.  He deciphers the writing on the dail and somehow deduces that he can dial the letters “H-E-R-O” and turn into a random superhero.

It was a cheesy gimmick. Basically it allowed DC Comics to take its “House Of Mystery” title and turn it into a book with three colorful superheros on the cover every issue. The charm in this series is in the way that the writer just absolutely phoned in his stories in the most half-assed manner possible. Mooney would deliver solid artwork, but the stories were so formulaic and most of the super heroes were so lame that it seems like a brilliant parody.

The stories go like this: A menace appears; Robby Reed utters his catch-phrase, “Sockamagee” (no, really!); he rushes to his science lab/shed to retrieve the dial and becomes the first of the three heros he will become in the story; he changes back in time for dinner with his granpa: he defeats the bad guy on the third try.

The heroes that Robby Reed turns into are so moronic that the writer, Wood, obviously couldn’t have given less of a crap about what he was writing. We get winners like King Kandy, who has candy-based powers, Mighty Moppet, a super-powered baby in a diaper and cape who shoots people with his bottles and The Yankee Doodle Kid, a patriotic super hero with powers based on fireworks.

Seriously, fireworks. Not even good fireworks, either. “The critter’s making a second charge at me. Maybe my SPARKLER MISSLES will dazzle him…”

The way he turns into the heroes is priceless. He dials in H-E-R-O and in the next panel he’s the hero, with his name and powers coming to him, “I’m The Velocity Kid, master of speed. Sockamagee!”

In one story they just had Robby Reed turn into Plastic Man for no reason. The people in Robby Reed’s tiny hometown of Littleville never seem to mind that a non-stop supply of brand-new superheroes who usually only turn up once, then disappear, has decided to show up in their city.  The teens in town think they’re swell, and buy posters of them, which are apparently being printed without permission, since we never see Robby negotiating any merchandising contracts.

So, with phoned-in scripts and contrived characters designed to cash-in on the superhero craze, why are these stories so much fun? They have the charm of the kind of tale an alcoholic parent would make up as a bedtime story. They are so bad that they’re good. You have to wonder if Dave Wood was related to Ed Wood.

There’s also the nostalgia factor. I grew up reading these things.

Anyway, DC Comcis has collected the 1966-68 run of these stories in an affordable “Showcase” edition.  It’s under ten bucks for about 280 pages of goofy, campy superhero antics, printed on cheap newsprint in glorious black-and-white.  You can grab it from Amazon, order it from The Rifleman on the West Side or have Taylor Books track it down for you.  The ISBN # is 978-1-4012-2648-0.  It’s great bathroom reading!

Photo Phun

Images from last week: Captain Crash and The Beauty Queen at Taylor Books. Sean Richardson at UUC. Spurgie Hankins Band at The Empty Glass.

Next Week In PopCult

We’ll have the usual features, plus the kick-off of this summer’s PopCult Animation Festival, which will present nine animated short films, right here in this blog, every Tuesday during weeks where we don’t have a new Radio Free Charleston.

And don’t forget to check out our big 100th episode of RFC.  You can read five or six questions with me about it here, and tons of other stuff about it elsewhere in PopCult.


  1. scotty.

    i also really liked how they brought the hero dialers back in teen titans for a three or four issue story arc back in the late 80s or early 90s. it answers the question of why O R E H wasn’t ever dialed. SCARY.

  2. Elvis Capone

    In the 1970s, NATIONAL LAMPOON published an entertaining comic book parody of H.E.R.O., by Doug Kenney and Nick Cardy. It was called DIAL H FOR H.O.M.O. It’s worth looking up. “Suckamagee!”

  3. Bob

    In one story they just had Robby Reed turn into Plastic Man for no reason.

    They had a pretty good reason. When DC bought out Quality Comics, they got the rights to Plastic Man as part of the deal. Plas was a big hit for Quality in the 1940s, but DC wanted to run a test before starring him in a new series in the ’60s. Sales on the Dial H story were good enough to kick off a new Plastic Man comic in 1966, but it was cancelled less than two years later.

  4. rudy panucci

    Thanks for the comment, Bob. I knew the business reasons behind the revival of Plas—DC had owned the rights to Plastic Man since the 50s, and had to act agressively to protect their trademark because Izzy Waldman had been illegally reprinting some of the old Plastic Man comics in the early 1960s. He’d purchased some old printing plates and was cranking out comics that he didn’t legally own.

    Because of the nature of the market at the time, DC didn’t continue Plastic Man when they bought out Quality, like they did with Blackhawk and G.I. Combat. But during the superhero boom of the 1960s, they decided to take a shot with Plastic Man and protect their trademark at the same time.

    However, it made no sense in the Dial H Series, since it was the only time that Robbie Reed had turned into a previously-seen hero, and also since he seemed familiar with him.

    But it’s part of the chop-logic that makes Dial H For Hero so delightfully messed up.

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