Or – “You Don’t Know What You’ve Got, Blah Blah Blah…”

reviewbubble.jpgH4H2.jpgThe Heroes for Hire have, so far, been very much on a rocket bus, with the first couple of issues racing through a Civil War tie-in (with Misty and Colleen taking a stand against Iron Man, and NOT getting beaten within an inch of their lives in the middle of a street, proving that if you want to get anything past Tony Stark, it’s best to have mammaries), then a second arc of high speed mayhem featuring Ricadonna, several supervillains who should be dead (a recurring them for this book), and overtones of Skrull Kill Krew.  This issue features the same writing team with completely different art, and the effect is…  not what I expected…

H4H1.jpgLast month, I remarked that the Cheesecake Factor was threatening to overwhelm the story, and the character bits were memorable, but I wasn’t feelin’ the plot.  This month, Billy Tucci and his oh-so-slick pencil line are gone, replaced by Al Rio (who I think is the new regular artist for the title).  Rio’s work isn’t by any means bad, and maintains the prettiness of previous issues, but there are subtle differences to the look and body language of the characters that may take some time getting used to.  The personalities, however, are still very much in evidence and some of what I was attributing to the purty pick-a-chures is still present in the dialogue and clever scripting.  With a change of writers in the offing, it will be interesting to see if this book survives, and how many of the characters will maintain in their current states.  At the end of last issue, the H4H were approached by a young boy with a jar of change, who wanted to hire them for a special search-and-rescue mission.  Once the team is gathered, he explains why he’s come…


When I first read this, I thought this was the kid from “Sentinel,” but it occurs to me now that he’s a little too young.  He explains that he was upgrading his robot (and that the robot’s name was “Victor…”  Suddenly, I have a bad feeling about this), and then some weirdos showed up, one with a gumball for a head, one with wrinkles, one who was fuzzy except for his head…  Oh my word, I know EXACTLY who he’s describing!  I’m so old…  Humbug, oddly, is responding badly to the child, even as the rest of the Heroes (including Orka) take pity on the kid.  Misty orders Humbug to go with the kid and find out what’s going on, which makes sense, since the robot was last seen in a sewer.  Humbug’s cockaroach network would allow him to track him much faster than any of the other team members, but Mr. Mitty is still angry and unhappy with the decision.  Humbug and the kid take his car, as we all headbang to Bohemian Rhapsody…


Hee.  That kid sounds like my daughter on every car ride we’ve ever taken.  The art change is most noticeable on Humbug, actually, having gone from a slightly weedy pot-bellied guy to a more square-jawed typically heroic type.  The kid drives him absolutely nuts with questions (“Do you hate Christmas?” being the best), and leads him to where his pet robot has last been seen.  Meanwhile, another visitor has arrived at Hero Headquarters with an another problem.  Louis Kravitz, enforcer for the 47th Street Mafia, has information on the location of the exoskeletoned bankrobbers who’ve been running amok in recent weeks.  Ironically, his outward appearance is that of an elderly rabbi, which makes for some interesting contrast in what he says vs. how he appears. 


Rio does good work, but hasn’t quite gotten Shang’s hair (or Misty’s, for that matter) to look organic.  His work also has a more traditional Marvel styling than the previous pencillers on this book, which also leads to Colleen being several degrees more buxom than in previous issues.  It’s a minor change that I’ll get used to, but one that was a little bit difficult to reconcile while reading this issue.  Meanwhile, back in the sewers, Humbug and his new kid sidekick continue the search for “Vic,” but the boy won’t shut up for a second so ‘Bugger can hear his roach pals trying to warn him.  Of what, you say?  How about an impending plasma burst?


Turns out I’m right on both counts, here, as Vic is exactly what I thought he was, and the villains are those wondrous fruits of Steve Gerber’s imagination (culled from a pile of classic horror comics), The Headmen, at least one of whom is supposed to be dead.  (I’m uncertain because the last time I saw them was in the Erik Larsen version of The Defenders, and I’m pretty sure that series has been stricken from the continuity…  or at least it SHOULD have been).  As for the rest of the team, they’ve followed Kravitz’ tip to find the super-ruffians in question, but start with an elaborate sting attempt led by Otis, the unkillable receptionist, posing as a pizza boy.  He triggers the gas dispenser in the fake pizza boxes, which leads to step two of the plan:  Swift And Blinding Violence.


Four hot girls, and one gentleman in pajama bottoms come through the skylight, and I realize that, in most contexts, this might be a little bit odd.  The combat contingent goes “Enter The Dragon” all over the wretched hive of scum and villainy, and I realize how unnecessary The Black Cat is to this book.  She really adds nothing that the other three leather-clad hotties can’t provide (except maybe first-hand reports on Spider-Man’s makeout abilities) and has had, in six issues, one scene of dialogue that illuminates her character.  Maybe there’s something secret in the cards, I dunno, but I’d rather see more Daughters, or Shang-Chi, or even new-school Tarantula than her “fuzzy little sausage casing” costume and domino mask.  Back in the sewers, Doombot and The Headmen (who I think had a top ten hit in 1997, with a thrash metal cover of “Wreck of The Edmund Fitzgerald”) find the not-so-small problem with fighting a man who control bugs in a filth-encrusted underground tunnel.  Unfortunately, our Faux Doom has a few hidden tricks of his own.


That second word balloon is such a lie.  This is the man who fired an entire office building into space because he was irritated at his college roommate…  I may have had some problems with my college roomies, but stealing their beer and donuts was punishment enough.   The real Doom also made armor out of the skin of an ex-girlfriend, took over the world by sticking Purple Man in a giant diamond, and took over the mind of the estranged father of his greatest enemy’s wife in order to do…  something, which by itself should put the lie to the “no complicated plans” statement.  ‘Bugger and the kid almost get away, but Ruby catches them with her incredibly freakish plastic head and it’s Green Lantern-type powers.  Dr. Nagan, the Gorilla-Man (though not the one from Agents of Atlas) leads them all down the sewer to some sort of impending doom as the boy babbles on and on, telling “Vic” that he’s his best friend in all the world.


Oooh, snap.  Ruby just got served by a guy who calls himself Shrunken Bones!  Having a bowling ball for a head garners her less respect than Rodney Dangerfield in a Kenny G t-shirt.  Also amusing to me is the fact that Chondu had his head surgically removed waaay back in 1973, and the poor guy still ain’t got no body…  NOOOO body cares for him… NOOOO body, noooo BODY!  Bo Zhe Bo Zhe BOP!  Diddy BOP!  (This David Lee Roth moment brought to you by the letters L, S, and D!)  As creepy as that is, it’s not quite as scary as the state of the remaining Heroes For Hire, collectively traipsing around the docks in Red Hook in the dead of night, one of the best ways ever to get mugged & killed, even if you are a superhero.  In the hold of an abandoned freighter, they find a strange silver sphere, which they can’t identify.  A voice from above calls out “It’s a bomb…”


Oooh, The Grim Reaper and Man-Ape!  Proof that while Marvel does have some stellar characters, they can’t all be gems.  These two have worked together in the past,as the core of a team called “The Lethal Legion,” one of the best villain team names out there.  The disco-jungle-bondage-cyborg-showgirl is The Saboteur, an Iron Man foe from the late 90’s, (like that eyepiece could have come from any other decade) and the three of them intend to blow up something.  They mention a monument, and it is a boat, so I’m bettin’ that they aim to take out the Statue of Liberty…

…but that’s all next time, because this is the cliffhanger.  The new art actually achieves two things that I didn’t expect.  It makes the less-obviously superheroic characters (like Humbug, Otis the Unkillable, and, to a lesser degree, Colleen Wing) more conventional in appearance, which I view as a negative.  But it also makes the supervillains and the heroic situations more intimidating, which may actually offset the first problem.  F’rinstance, I can’t imagine Tucci’s smooth and liquidy art making Man-Ape and Gorilla Nagan as imposing as they are here.  I’ll reserve judgment until we see the new art with the new writing in a couple issues…

The one big problem with Heroes For Hire has been their general lack of a reason for being.  The whole “hunting down unregistered superhumans” thing didn’t really work out for them, and would step on the toes of New Thunderbolts.   It’s nice to see character-driven writing, and seeing Shang-Chi & The Daughters in action is always fun, but there’s no motivation to have a team of eight or ten mercenaries working together like this.  In a way, it reminds me of the old Champions series, in that the character lineup doesn’t feel organic, and bears the obvious thumbprints of the writer.  This question of “why” isn’t the only fuzzy bit, but this issue at least ramps up the plot and action quotient with two, count ’em, TWO super-villain teams (assuming the two plots aren’t intertwined somehow.)  It’s not a bad issue, and my complaints with the art are all actually complaints about change.    I’m on the fence with this book, onboard for at least this storyline, but I suspect the writing change will make my decision for me.  Right now, I’m hanging in, as Heroes For Hire #6 ranks above your average comic, with a not-bad-at-all 2.5 stars out of five.


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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