February 8, 2009

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Heroes for Hire Volume 1

Written by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti
Illustrated by Billy Tucci, Francis Portella, Tom Palmer, and Terry Pallot
Marvel

Heroes for Hire is an odd duck. On the one hand, it knows that comics tend to over-sexualize its female characters, because we get lines like this:

"Well, look who's in my part of the crib. The overtly sexual, scantily-clad, adolescent-male fantasy team of Misty Knight and Colleen Wing."

On the other hand, Misty's one costume, used over and over in the series, has arrows pointing at her nipples.

Sigh.

I guess you could make the case that, like Civil War itself, this book at is at war with itself. On the one hand, it's a playful romp, winking and nodding at old comic tropes. Misty and Colleen quip about keeping gadget-makers in business, the main villain of the piece is an old foe out for revenge, and someone even survives a building blowing up. That's fun in the old Mighty Marvel Manner.

On the other hand, one team member, Tarantula, tries to kill every foe she faces. Deep concepts like the Civil War and registration issues frame most of the subplots. There's quite a bit of gore in the battle sequences, too, and the artists never seem to miss a chance to do a butt shot or a cleavage catch for the all-busty female protagonists. (The shot I used above is pretty typical.)

The stories themselves do a good job of winding their way through the Marvel Universe. Like a good tie-in, the stories mesh with the overall story but still tell us why we're reading about these characters and not just the main arc. Heroes for Hire starts up again in light of the Civil War and goes after unregistered folks, including at one point Captain America. They also get entangled in what I am sure was designed as a pre-Secret Invasion story, as Skrull organs are being used to enhance folks, either superpowered or not.

Unfortunately, where the book bogs down a bit is in the size of its staff--there's simply too many people running around. Black Cat is useless window dressing who does next to nothing for the entire trade, except a few hip quips that seem out of place in her mouth. Shang Chi seems to fall in and out of the plot. I wasn't even really aware that Orka was part of the cast until he shows up at the end, though I guess I may have missed something. And hell, Tarantula III(?) is tossed off with Mr. Fantastic for a portion of the book, a fate even she bemoans.

However, I should mention that the dialog, as a rule, was pretty good. Our pair of writers keep the characters bantering well, and Orka's role as the straightman-strongman works well. Misty comes off as being hip without being stereotypical, a trick I wish they'd teach Azzarello.

All in all, Heroes for Hire isn't perfect, but I had fun with it. And you know, that's really not a bad thing to say about a comic, is it?