A eulogy for Heroes for Hire

The Heroes for Hire have disbanded. Issue 15 seems to have rung the death knell for this team of mercenaries. And Craig is gutted.

Heroes for Hire

With Civil War bringing back pretty much every vacuous villian and half-wit hero to ever grace a single panel of a Marvel comic (largely to surprising comic effect), the market’s been rife for reinvention of the lesser-knowns. Good! There’s only so much that can be done with Spider-Man or Daredevil nowadays and it takes a writer of great calibre to truly reinvent the classics but what about some of the less loved, slightly silly characters? There’s mileage in those. For example, who’d’ve thought, in his daft 70s hey-day, that one of the best titles on the market would be Iron Fist?

One of my personal favourite reinventions of recent years has been the Daughters of the Dragon. Misty Knight and Colleen Wing, token sexy sidekicks for Luke Cage and Iron Fist, really came into their own in 2005 with the Samurai Bullets mini-series. Written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, and with eye-popping art from Khari Evans, the book looked awesome and kicked ass. A whirlwind combination of comedy action, old school martial arts and gritty blaxploitation, it was sharp, bitchy and utterly cool. Knight and Wing became bail bondswomen and the introduction of backup characters like Otis (a Weapon X experiment gone wrong who has now become an indestructable Super Secretary) and arch-villain Ricadonna (a fashionista crime lord with demonic powers and occasional wings) made certain that the Daughters of the Dragon were now being given a fully-developed world in which to begin a host of exciting new stories.

Thank God then that Marvel commissioned Palmiotti and Gray to resurrect the Heroes For Hire title. It was disappointing that Khari Evans wasn’t invited back, as the art took a bit of a tumble, but the writing was still strong and the story was great. To cut it short, Knight and Wing were asked – in the wake of Civil War – to act as agents for Tony Stark, pulling in rogue heroes and villains in the name of S.H.I.E.L.D.. They both had reservations, to say the least, about the morality of the War, but in the end, they realised that it gave them a chance to assemble a kick-ass hero team and get paid. Double win. And boy, what a team. The Black Cat (my favourite anti-heroine), Shang-Chi (to beef up the kung-fu value of the book), Humbug (seriously creepy little guy who can talk to bugs and isn’t entirely to be trusted), Tarantula (mysterious sexy Latina whose murky past remains an intriguing blank) and Orka (whaley muscle with a heart of gold).

You’ve got a genius setup there for a zillion and one instant storylines. The first arc mostly tackled the Heroes’ part in the Civil War but brought Ricadonna back into the picture for another face-off. It kept the cool, witty vibe of Samurai Bullets and showed great promise for what was sure to be one of the most enjoyable titles on the racks.

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However, 15 issues down the line and it’s just been cancelled. Why?

Well, because something went drastically wrong. I’ve no idea what the politics of the situation were or why Palmiotti and Gray jumped ship half way through the second story arc (a foray into the Savage Land in search of Moon Boy and Devil Dinosaur) but wow, the quality went down quicker than a perp in the Punisher’s pantry. Drafting in Zeb Wells on writing duties didn’t help because – let’s face it – he sucks balls. He demonstrated no grasp of nor affection for the characters as they became a series of one-dimensional talking heads in his talent-barren hands. The Savage Land arc petered out, came to an unsatisfying “end” and led to the final insult.

Enter World War Hulk, a disappointing cross-over but one that’s yielded occasionally interesting results from other titles (see Matt Fraction’s stunning World War Frank in Punisher War Journal #12 for how it should be done). The Heroes For Hire somehow get caught up with the whole Warbound nonsense, Humbug finally betrays them when he turns into a giant alien insect and the whole thing descends into an absolute incoherent mess that neither maintains the continuity of the crossover (hello? since when can the Warbound reproduce?) nor retains anything of what made this title fun.

All the martial arts, the blaxploitation, the action, the jokes; gone. Replaced with generic, cardboard characters going through motions in a standard sci-fi bug horror story that becomes such an overwrought, clumsy mess by the end, I just can’t help but feel that they abandoned the last issue without even finishing it. Couple this with the fact that the art just became worse and worse (they eventually had about four pencillers on the book, all of whom seemed to just rush it out in the style of a six year old with a broken hand) and you’ve got something that’s essentially unreadable.

Let’s not even mention the massive controversy stirred up amongst fans with the downright wrong Heroes For Hentai cover of #13. The book didn’t stand a chance after that.

I feel I’m going nowhere with this rant other than to express my genuine, heartfelt disappointment that what was rapidly becoming the book I looked forward to the most each month was desecrated and discarded so carelessly. If a title gets cancelled and bows out gracefully, that’s one thing (although, yeah, it hurts, if it’s one you like) but this just seemed cold and callous by any standards. It was like no one who contributed to the last five issues could care less. It was seriously some of the worst writing and art I’ve ever seen in my decades of collecting comics. I’m struggling to think of a more merciless termination of a series and, considering the vast potential it showed in the early days, it’s a tragedy.

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The only silver lining on this Galactus-sized cloud is that Matt Fraction has promised there’ll be more Misty and Colleen in Immortal Iron Fist shortly, and that the new, awesome House of M Avengers mini seems to be delivering on H4H‘s early stylistic promise of grindhouse thrills. It’s only small consolation and begs questions like “what becomes of the Black Cat? Shang Chi? Tarantula!? OTIS!?!” but it’s a start. I just hope that they resurrect this title one day with the respect (and creative team) that it deserves.