Or – “How To Say Nothing With Style…”

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reviewbubble.jpgIt’s always nice when a book is well drawn. After all, when you boil it down, the comics industry is based on a strong foundation of purty pictures and lying to your employees . Lately, in fact, companies have been willing to risk their sales for good art, betting that Steve McNiven’s art (or Jim Lee’s or Jim Cheung’s or whomever) is worth waiting a month or ten past the original shipping date. Billy Tucci’s art on Heroes for Hire has been routinely stellar, but five issues in, I’m starting to raise the question: Is there anything else going on here?

Well, there’s a whole lotta something going on here, but what’s missing for me is coherence. The team proper consists of The Daughters of The Dragon (awesome), Shang Chi, Master of Kung Fu (long since overdue for a comeback), former Spider-Man villains The Black Cat and Humbug (Meh and Heh, respectively), Orka the Killer Whale (rogue Atlantean), a new Tarantula (Marvel’s SIXTH iteration of the name, but a pretty character) and the recently-discovered-to-be-a-traitor Paladin (Have gun, will travel). Even with Paladin’s exit last month, that’s seven main characters in a brand-new book, which kicked off with a three issue Civil War Crossover, AND brought back the villain from The Daughters’ limited series last year. This issue’s plot? I’ll let Misty tell you.

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Everybody got that? Apparently, Ricadonna (a Paris-Hilton-inspired crimelord with a grudge against Misty and Colleen) has been powering up stealth villains for the underworld. The whole team comes out en masse with Tony Stark’s flying car (that’s what the this that looks like a tuning fork in that picture is) and gets ready to bust things up. And, we fight! Seriously, that’s pretty much the whole issue. Black Cat and Humbug seek out the organ generator, while Orka handles the super strong types. And for Shang, Misty and Colleen? Swift and blinding violence, punctuated with some cute dialogue…

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Heh. What’s interesting is that the series makes no bones about the fact that Shang-Chi is the best hand-to-hand combatant in the Marvel Universe, never worrying about things like keeping the fighting balanced. He’s so good that he can have a deep philosophical discussion while kicking butt. And Colleen’s sense of humor is actually one of the most delightful bits of this book, never allowing any of the events to go too far into “Woe is me, on the eve of Civil War” turf. As for Tarantula, where IS she? Around, someplace… Misty Knight confronts Ricadonna and her lieutenants Blue Streak (who was shot by Scourge and is very dead) and Feral/Fera/Ferocia/WhateverTheCatWoman’sNameIsNow. She easily handles the two that HAVE powers, thinking that Paris- er, Rica is no threat. Used to be, she’d have been right, but no longer…

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Wow. Coruscating coronas of undifferentiated Kirby force… and still she gets no respect. Misty’s right, though, Rica’s… assets… are considerably larger now than before, though it may be worth noting it’s a different artist than in her last appearance. Her “Skrulled-Up” powers allow her to smack Misty down hard, but before she can throw the killing blow, Tarantula upgrades her status from “hanging about” to “crackin’ skulls,” attacking Ricadonna with uncommon fury, even for her. Rica, in a previous issue, sent her ninjas to kill Tarantula, but only killed Tarantula’s papi. Daddy is about to be avenged, if Tarantual VI has anything to say about it. Everyone shifts focus from “Don’t get killed” to “Keep Tarantula from becoming a murderer”, but Ricadonna has had enough. Shaping herself some nifty dragon wings (seen on the cover waaaay up there), she takes off… right into Colleen Wing’s clutches.

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Hee… Now, that’s funny. Colleen causes Ricadonna to crash into the Skrull Organ Generator (“I used to think you were CUTE!” snaps the angry dragon-girl) and suddenly it’s time to run away from an explosion, just like a movie trailer! Yay! Orka starts digging like mad (as he’s the only one with really impressive super-powers on the squad) and the H4H escape into the subways, dragging their unconscious foes along.

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Nice use of the expository dialogue to explain how everybody parachuted out of their burning Cobra Jets in time, and it’s telling that only Shang thinks to worry about the innocents. As for Ricadonna, to paraphase Benjamin J. Grimm, “if ya’s don’t see a body, they ain’t dead. If you do see a body, kick it, cuz they prob’ly still ain’t dead.” The man’s been around since Day 1 of the Marvel Universe, and you should trust his instincts, as an even-more-powerful Ricadonna escapes from the explosion to pose menacingly for her next appearance. As for the Heroes, there’s stilll some unfinished business. The team puts in an appearance to support Tarantula at her daddy’s funeral, and we see the first hints of melting in her ice queen facade. They also have to find a new place to live, as Ricadonna blowed their last place up real good. And who’s got money to burn and guilt to capitalize on? Iron Man!

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Hmm. This would be about the FIRST sign of good coming out of Tony’s recent actions, if ya ask me. And the enormous headquarters with it’s awesome Chinese Theatre facade is gonna be expensive. Thankfully, a kid shows up with a jar of pennies, and sets off their next case with a “To Be Continued.

This was pretty much a Kiss Kiss Bang Bang issue, wrapping up the first story arc, but it brought up some less than flattering things about “Heroes For Hire” the series to light for me. The fact that I didn’t really remember much of what happened up to this point bothers me… There have been some interesting character bits regarding Colleen and Misty (which is understandable, they’re our focal points on the team) but Orka remains mostly a cypher. Tarantula is standard issue Marvel “angry chick” and her having claws doesn’t lessen my perception of her as the team’s Wolverine analogue. Shang Chi is always wonderful when handled properly, but his moments in this book have been mostly subtle and probably require the knowledge of his history to really appreciate. Humbug is the real breakout star, pretty much a geek, who seems overjoyed to finally be useful, get paid, and hang out with utter hotties. Black Cat is just sort of… there, apparently so that Bill can draw more cleavage.

Speaking of which, the hottie factor is wavering on the edge of too much. I like the fact that the females have different bodies, but the focus on Misty’s curves and Colleen’s extra-long legs (as well as Black Cat and Tarantula’s shiny bodysuits) is on the verge of overwhelming the good parts of the story. Keep in mind, I read Femforce, I know what kinda damage unnecessary cheesecake can do to a story that could have been excellent. With a new creative team on the horizon, and a first arc that was good but not breathtaking, I’m hoping that Heroes For Hire makes a second year. To do that, they’re going to have to give us MORE characterization (especially from the secondaries), a tighter storyline core (without slighting the cute bits and one liners that have made the memorable bits of the story), and tone down the jiggle factor without completely removing the sexy. A tall order in any case, and one I hope they can step up to. Heroes For Hire is a book I like, but want to love… For now, issue #5 earns a hopeful 2 stars.

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The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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