Heroes For Hire #13

by

Or – “The Cover That Launched A Thousand Blogs…”

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The irony of the entire Hentai Controversy is that Heroes for Hire probably needed the press. The adventures of Jean Grey’s ex-roommate, her samurai sidekick, two Spider-Man villains, (one of whom talks to bugs) a new mysterious-tough-girl-in-spandex, and perhaps the greatest character of Marvel’s Bronze Age aren’t exactly burning up the charts, sales-wise. Indeed, orders at the store (Gatekeeper Hobbies, Huntoon & Gage, Topeka! Ask us about our chock-full 3 For A Dollar Bin!) have more than tripled due to the World War Hulk crossover, and there’s a pretty good chance that most of those readers aren’t coming back afterwards. Here’s hoping, though… In any case, our H4H friends are in quite the pickle, without even Tenzil Kem to help get them out.

H4H1.jpgPreviously, on Heroes For Hire: During the Civil War, Paladin sold out his Heroes For Hire partners for a big payday from Tony Stark. Some time later, he returned to offer the team a sort-of apology: retrieve the last living Homo Habilus from the Savage Land, and net 1 million dollars each. The gist of that mission was this: everything went tits up, (appropriately, for this book) the Homo Habilus turned out to be Jack Kirby’s very own Moon Boy, Humbug was possessed by an insect consciousness, and the entire team headed to New York to stop the Hulk. The bug-brains wanted to stop Miek The Unhived and his Brood Queen mate from colonizing Earth with their unholy exoskeletoned spawn, but Humbug was once again manipulated, this time by the Brood Queen. Throwing his teammates under the proverbial bus, Humbug has found happiness alongside the future destroyer of mankind…

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Um… Do I even WANT to know what that stuff is? I suppose it’s best not to ask. The H4Hers are separated and chucked into cells in pairs, and the Brood Queen compliments Humbug on his ability to control the hivelings. “I wonder if you’d be able to influence me, if given enough practice,” she said significantly. Humbug humbly tells her he’d never even try, and she seems to buy it, but I suspect that is exactly his goal. Misty and Black Cat are put in a cell together, and told that even now Miek is hatching the ‘nerve-maggots’ that will comprise their ‘pain-skin.’ That sounds… ominous. Misty tries to punch her way out, to no avail, and realized that Humbug has betrayed them.

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“What the #&@$ are we doing on a spaceship?” While she gives in to fear, Shang-Chi and Tarantula sit in silence, until she finally breaks out with $&@$, Shang, you should be dead! He replies that he was barely able to focus his concentration and distribute the trauma across his whole body by force of will. She marvels that he could do it, and wonders how he knew he would survive. “I didn’t,” he replies calmly, and she asks if he’s trying to get himself killed. Shang tries to evade her questioning, but she implores him to be honest, if only for his own sake…

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And there it is. The elephant in the middle of the living room. Shang fears that his passions are intertwined, that by giving in to the carnal urge, that he’ll give in to the fatal ones, as well. “Games of deceit and death,” indeed. I have to say, I love me some Shang-Chi, and I double dare you to try and tell me that BATMAN could have taken a blow from the Hulk… Meanwhile, in another chamber, Colleen and Moon Boy are both, in their own ways, climbing the walls. She finally calms the fuzzy guy down, cooing that it’ll be okay. “Humbugs still out there, don’t worry… He’ll come for us. He wouldn’t let anything happen to me. He’s got a bigger crush on me than you do.” Humbug, watching her from a distance, is stunned to realize that she knew of his secret love for her, but the Brood Queen tells him to forget about her. “Are you having second thoughts?” she asks…

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“Yes… more of a part than you can imagine. You alone hold the key to our plan… You alone…” Suddenly, Miek arrives, and mistakes Humbug for an intruder, preparing to kill him for approaching his queen. The nameless Brood stops him from splattering the Hummer, but Miek still isn’t convinced whose side he’s on. Humbug seems to be thrown by this, and stammers, “One… one of our number… overreacted. Acted without the consent of the rest. There is not need to punish all.” Miek asks how they know which one to hurt, and Humbug offers to pick the malefactor out of a lineup (though it was HE who pulled the legs of Miek’s kid.)

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The hivelings grab Maria and prepare to drag her away (and I am very impressed with how fearful her expression is, kudos to artist Clay Mann) but Shang and Misty protest. They can’t break their chains, but suddenly, Colleen’s voice breaks through the chaos. “WAIT! It was me! *I* killed the hiveling!” Putting all her chips on the table, Ms. Wing looks Humbug in his big red eye, and says, “If you’re going to sell someone out… Have the rocks to do it to ME, Buck.” The former Buck Mitty is obviously torn, but whatever is going on here is stronger than his former life’s associations.

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That’s what I want to know, too, Colleen. I’m seriously hoping that he’s playing possum, the better to kill the Brood on his own time… I’m hoping that’s it. That’s gotta be it… Doesn’t it? The main story ends there, but we once again check in on H4H prodigal son, Paladin, currently holding a gun to the head of the nasty piece of work called the Scorpion, perfectly described by Amadeus Cho as a “ninja belly dancer.” She’s looking for a certain item for SHIELD, in the hopes of using it to take down the Hulk, but Pally got the drop on her while trying to scavenge the same weapons depot.

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His only answer is a venom blast right in the face, and the voice-over calls out “Scorpion Wins!” Silently regarding the corpse of the purple persuader, Scorpion’s face turns hard, and she breaks radio silence. “What was the target item number again?”

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So, wait… Does this take place before the events in Incredible Hulk, or after? She quickly finds the poison, and silently stalks away, but her SHIELD handler tries to get into her head. “Are you okay?” Scorpion coldly responds, “What? You’re using ONE monster to take out ANOTHER. I feel $*@*ing great. It’s all we’re good for anyway.” She walks away, preparing to kill the Gamma Goliath, but as soon as she’s out of earshot, Paladin… moves. He gets up, radioing SHIELD agent Sareva (the very same handler that has been trying to manipulate Scorpion) and reminding her that his payment is due. Sareva assures him he’ll get his blood money, and laments that they’ve really created a monster today. When her fellow agent tells her that Scorpion still has potential, she replies, “I wasn’t talking about HER.” Interesting…

This issue was more focused than the last, but I’m still not entirely sure of the overall effect of this crossover. Sure, it’s boosted sales (something that couldn’t hurt) but we’re also looking at some changes to the team. Still, Shang-Chi’s return to prominence, as well as the Daughters of the Dragon being back in the spotlight, incline me to forgive any growing pains we’re seeing here. I figure that writer Zeb Wells will use the board-clearing properties to give us his own take on the membership, and I’m looking forward to seeing which H4Hers are left when the Gamma-smoke clears… Overall, though, this issue feels more organic a crossover issue than the last couple, giving us a look into the minds of three of the regulars, and holding out hope that Humbug isn’t forever lost. Either way, it’s worthy of a strong 2.5 stars out of 5, regardless of what anyone may have to say about the cover (I still believe the image was intentionally referential to hentai tentacle porn, but since the book is technically age-rated for Teens and Up, I suppose there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with a bit of fan-service. But, I still think it’s sexist as all heck…)

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