Our hero's journey started when Robert and Marjorie Dial decided to uproot their family and move with their two boys from San Francisco to Tucson in 1979.
"I grew up in the '80s watching Super Friends and reading comic books. I grew up in the age of superheroes, where good was good and bad was bad," said Dustin Edington Dial, now a 37-year-old Tucson Police officer who regularly dons superhero garb to entertain ill children and raise money for charity. "There were no blurred lines. You had a definitive idea who the good guys were."
Dial can relate to the superheroes who were around before Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns and Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon's Watchmen featured anti-heroes that changed the tone of superhero comics.
"I have a disdain for people hurting other people, and creating victims," Dial said.
Dial has been protecting and serving residents of the Old Pueblo for 14 years. The majority of his tenure has been in patrol beats, instructing at the police academy and in undercover work. He's currently assigned to the midtown beat. "My heart has always been in patrol," Dial said. "An officer exists, in my mind, to serve the public."
Last year, Dial was given the Tucson Police Association's Unsung Hero award for his fine policing and his countless hours of volunteer work. "I was very reluctant to take it," Dial said. "It's the biggest honor I have ever received. I was very humbled and I didn't feel right taking (the award) compared to the other nominees."
Before Dial started bringing his favorite childhood characters to life, he joined a monthly Star Wars fan club because he was bored. He was introduced to the 501st Legion Star Wars costuming group at the Bookmans Entertainment Exchange at North Campbell Avenue and East Grant Road. "They brought an extra storm trooper suit, they put me in it, and I was hooked," Dial said. "What got me was, one, being able to portray a character I grew up with and, two, the reaction from the fans was overwhelming. People were almost rear-ending each other on the street."
There are a couple of things Dial thinks about before constructing a suit from scratch. "I portray a hero I have always loved," he said. "And to portray a hero that everyone else recognizes, there's a monumental amount of satisfaction (when it) brings a smile to someone, especially a child.
"I never thought I could pull off wearing a superhero costume because I have struggled with weight issues my whole life," he said. But "I found a character I love and that lets me do it creatively, and that character is Doctor Fate." Doctor Fate has a full face mask that shield's Dial's double chin and the gold cape conceals his stocky build. Dial made all of the costume except for the boots and gloves. And he's started working out so he can dress up as Batman and Superman for Justice League Arizona, the charity he started.
"There was a Marvel costuming group, but no DC," Dial said. He created the nonprofit so that like-minded costume designers and comic book fans could bring smiles to faces young and old, and he set up a Facebook page to recruit members. The JLA makes regular appearances at the Diamond Children's Hospital and at annual events such as Relay for Life and Tucson Troop Support. The latter event is a party for families where the mom or dad is deployed overseas during the holidays. The JLA also attends the Phoenix Comicon convention to raise money for the Kids Need to Read foundation. "There are more JLA members in Phoenix than Tucson," Dial said.
Dial says he has spent more than $3,000 on crafting suits and building sets and props for the 501st Legion and the JLA. "I never consider it a loss because I enjoy it so much," he said. "My goal is to make sure that the league lives on beyond me."
Dial and his wife, Michele, have two children. Michele, who home-schools the kids, has started the Northwest Tucson Homeschoolers, a support group for families whose children are home-schooled.
The couple met in a Tucson AOL chat room. "We were the only ones in there that weren't 15 years old," Dial said. "We finally met and I scared her to death because I showed up wearing a biker jacket. I had to convince her I wasn't a biker, but a nerd."