Heroes for Hire has always been a cult favorite of Marvel and kung fu fans. The series was originally launched in 1978. The original founders, Luke Cage and Iron Fist, were popular archetypes of blaxploitation and kung fu movies respectively. Cage had a street-tough personality along with his trademark phrase "Sweet Christmas!" Iron Fist's origin combined Eastern religious mysticism with martial arts. By putting the two superheroes in Heroes for Hire, Marvel looked to gain new readers from non-traditional youth demographic markets.
The first incarnation of Heroes for Hire ended in cancellation after 125 issues but was briefly revived in 1996 as part of the Onslaught Reborn events. Iron Fist and Luke Cage have gone on to bigger and better things. Luke Cage is now a member of the New Avengers while Iron Fist is currently filling in as Daredevil and will be appearing in a new ongoing series of his own starting in November.
As part of the Civil War shakeup, Marvel has decided to revive the Heroes for Hire team by using some of the more cult characters that populate the Marvel Universe. These include Misty Knight, Colleen Wing, Black Cat, Paladin, Shang Chi, Tarantula, Humbug, and Orka. The re-launch of this title still has a sense of fun and slam-bang action that is largely missing from the melodrama surrounding the rest of the Civil War phenomena.
The issue starts out with Misty leading the new Heroes for Hire in a battle against the Mandarin's Avatars. The Heroes for Hire team is now being paid directly by the U.S. federal government. Each of the heroes is introduced by Misty via captions. Colleen Wing is an expert swordswoman hailing from a samurai family. Humbug is meek fellow who uses his costume to communicate and control insects. Shang Chi is described as the ultimate martial arts combatant. Tarantula is shrouded in mystery with Misty only identifying her Latin heritage. Misty introduces herself last. She briefly expounds upon her past as a cop and her bionic arm.
A flashback scene immediately follows the introductions. A week before the battle, Misty and Colleen meet with the major Pro-Registration players (including Spider-Man). Misty has decided that she supports the Registration Act but has some qualms about going after heroes she considers friends. Misty demands she be given total carte blanche in constructing her team. Iron Man readily agrees, citing his complete faith in Misty.
The scene then shifts to headquarters of Heroes for Hire in Chinatown. Black Cat arrives on the scene and mentions that an old nemesis of Misty's, Vienna, is running a black market I.D. ring for criminals who refuse to register. Humbug is able to trace Vienna's locations by controlling the city's cockroaches.
Vienna's meeting with some supervillains is cut short by the arrival of Heroes for Hire. Some robots enter the fray and a battle ensues. It quickly becomes apparent that Heroes for Hire were set-up. Misty radios for a "bait and switch." Colleen, Misty, Tarantula, Black Cat and Humbug are defeated in succession by the robots and supervillains. However, Paladin, Orka, and Shang Chi arrive as backup and are able to defeat Vienna's forces. Misty then causes confusion amongst the team by thanking Vienna for a sting operation. The supervillains are led away as victims of the actual set- up. Humbug and Tarantula were kept in the dark about the sting in order to gauge their trustworthiness. Orka reassures Humbug and Tarantula. Misty ends the issue by reaffirming that trust will help guide Heroes for Hire throughout the Civil War.
Writers Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti bring an old-school Marvel sensibility which is evident in the exchanges between the heroes. This book gives you tough, independent female heroes combined with helter-skelter fights. Misty Knight is written as sassy as ever. I really liked how Knight is able to both support but question the Superhuman Registration Act. Her debate with the Pro-Registration forces really highlights the utter ambiguity of the Act's implications for Marvel's superhero community.
In any team book, camaraderie needs to be developed in order to make the reader believe in the team's cohesion. The writers did a nice job of this with several characters. Black Cat, Shang Chi, and Humbug fit well onto the team. They provide a necessary infusion of humor and spirit. Additionally, it is refreshing to see that some of powers of Heroes for Hire do not fit typical superhero conventions (Humbug and Orka comes to mind). There is a lot of potential to flesh out these characters unlike an established icon such as Spider-Man.
Billy Tucci's pencils go a long way in contributing to the book's fun outlook. Tucci can definitely draw sexy women and the action scenes are all kept to a tasteful simplicity which fits the outlook of the book's characters.
However, there are some minor quibbles I had with the story elements. At times, the story is almost too fast-paced. Everything seems to be happening all at once and the reader can never get their bearings straight. We are given a simple reason for the formation of the team but it is never really gone into much depth except for a brief flashback sequence. The opening fight is somewhat jarring in that the captions describe and introduce each of the heroes. I frequently found myself trying to juggle the information overload that's presented in the first few pages. Finally, we are obviously meant to believe that Colleen Wing is an important component of the team. However, in this first issue, Wing is vastly underdeveloped and is quite boring in all honesty.
If you're looking for a comic book that conjures up memories of summer popcorn blockbusters than Heroes for Hire is right up your alley. Kung Fu fans should be pleased with the well-drawn fight scenes. The series has some pacing issues to work through but Gray and Palmiotti have definitely laid the groundwork for further character development.
Spider-Man's appearance is entirely superficial. He is part of the Pro- Registration contingent that tries to debate with Misty about the reasons why the law is needed. Peter basically echoes the talking points of Iron Man and sounds like a relative fool in comparison to Misty's well-reasoned arguments. On the plus side, the Pro-Registration side actually makes a lot of sense (unlike some of other tie-in titles) thanks to the portrayal by Gray and Palmiotti.