Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

16 March 2012

Heroes for Hire, v. 1: Civil War

Collects: Heroes for Hire #1-5 (2006-7)

Released: April 2007 (Marvel)

Format: 120 pages / color / $13.99 / ISBN: 9780785123620

What is this?: Misty Knight resurrects the Heroes for Hire concept (with a new team) to track down non-registered superhumans for the government.

The culprits: Writers Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti and artists Francis Portela and William Tucci

I hate books like Heroes for Hire, v. 1: Civil War. Hate, hate, hate.

It’s an extreme reaction, I know — too extreme. There’s no reason for a book like Heroes for Hire to draw such ire from anyone — or to draw much attention, positive or negative, really. It’s a mediocre story, filled with characters best described as uninteresting. It’s not saying anything interesting about the Civil War crossover, but neither is it dropping a murderous, malfunctioning Thor clone into an already stupid storyline. This book is just … there. If you wanted to read more about the world created by Civil War or were already a fan of Misty Knight or Colleen Wing, then you might read this book. I just can’t see it getting much attention, even from its base.

Heroes for Hire, v. 1: Civil War coverBut for me, this exemplifies just about the worst mainstream comic books can offer without devolving into outright incompetence from its creators. First, just look at that cover: look at it. (Click to ... uh, enlarge.) Three of those women have breasts that are so powerful they overwhelm 21st century zipper technology. (And remember, these women probably have access to super-zippers, the kind designed by Reed Richards and Tony Stark.) Truly, this is the Mighty Marvel Age of Mammaries!

There is T-and-A throughout Heroes for Hire, but my animosity springs from more than that. Lots of comic books draw pictures of pretty women in scanty clothes, pictures that have no purpose but to titillate. It’s common; I accept it, even if I don’t care for it. But there’s usually something else to recommend the book. Compare Heroes to Birds of Prey; despite some gratuitous shots of women’s erogenous zones, the art did not get in the way of the story, and I found I actually cared about the characters in the story. I didn’t care about anyone in Heroes, even though I was more familiar with its characters than I was with Oracle, Black Canary, or Huntress before I started reading Birds.

Perhaps that’s part of the problem. I have a conception of who Misty Knight and Colleen Wing should be. They were supporting characters through the initial run of Power Man & Iron Fist; Misty was Iron Fist’s girlfriend and Colleen’s business partner in Nightwing Restorations, a private detective agency. Misty and Colleen were competent characters, intellectually the equals of the heroes although slightly less impressive in combat. But in Heroes, writers Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti write Misty as a combat-oriented sexpot whose planning skills begin and end with choosing team members. She does employ her milkshake to bring all the boys to the prison yard. Colleen barely has a speaking part, her partner role usurped by the large ensemble cast. There is no investigation, no thinking — only reaction: Misty’s reactions to criminals, and the male reaction to the female drawings. Chris Claremont, who wrote several issues featuring the pair, is spinning in his grave — and to give you an idea of how bad that is, Claremont is still alive, and would have to buy a gravesite, dig the grave, and jump into it before he could start his spinning.

The only character with even a whiff of a personality is Humbug, a former criminal who can communicate with insects. He’s earnest and trying to reform, a little confused by the moral boundaries Civil War has set in the formerly black-and-white Marvel Universe. The docile aquatic strongman Orca is also intriguing — he seems to be working with Heroes for Hire willingly, but why? — but he gets little screen time. The rest of the large supporting cast is bland. Shang Chi, master of kung fu, is prone to gnomic utterances and has a strong moral core, but no passion. Black Cat is sneaky. Tarantula is mysterious in a way that was played out in comics by the end of the last century. She has two settings — angry and spouting scientific knowledge — and I don’t care for either of them. Tying her family to the Stamford incident that started Civil War (and killing her father in this book) are cheap ploys for interest that don’t pan out.

So the art and characters actively repel me. The plot … the plot is nothing special. The first two issues revolve around the title’s ostensible hook — bringing in superhumans who won’t register with the government — but after that, Gray and Palmiotti decide to have the team investigate a Skrull organ-transplanting plot orchestrated by one of Misty’s old enemies. Even if I buy that a Skrull kidney gives someone powers, I’m unconvinced by Ricadonna as a villain of significance, when she’s so clearly eye candy. There’s just so little seeming significance to a villain who was supposed to have a history with Misty. (Was their battle, in which Ricadonna cut off part of Misty’s bionic arm, made up for these issues? Or was it published previously? There’s no footnote to help.) There’s no resonance, no symbolic importance to Ricadonna, and since she’s there to display cleavage, the character falls (ironically) flat.

The book fails on the Civil War front as well. There is a lot a title like Heroes could do with the Civil War crossover. Support it if you must or say something about how stupid it is, but say something. But Misty and Colleen (and therefore the title) vacillate on their position; they’ll take the government’s money to haul in the people they think should be captured, but they won’t support registration enough to bring in Captain America. There is a lot that Misty and Colleen, as non-powered people who have worked with superhumans, could say about it. Gray and Palmiotti tease readers by suggesting someone will say something interesting when the team chats and argues with Reed Richards and Tony Stark, whose support of the registration laws is based on accountability and training. Reed and Tony say the law will stop tragedies like the explosion in Stamford that started Civil War, but in Heroes, Reed and Tony admit to colossal mistakes — Tony created a clone of Thor that killed another hero, and Reed convinced Skrulls to transform into cows, which killed dozens, if not hundreds — without apologizing or accepting that all their training hasn’t stopped them from making stupid, tragic mistakes. I was screaming at the page for someone to make a point about pots and kettles and their relative hues, but surprisingly, no matter how I shouted, none of the characters seemed to hear me.

Misty Knight’s ridiculous costumeAs for the art, you can probably guess how I feel about it. As for how others might feel — well, do you like looking at ladies in contorted poses? Standing on their tiptoes for no reason? Always walking with a sway, with one foot placed in front of the other, even when running? Then Billy Tucci and Francis Portela have a book for you. I will admit they can put a lot of action on the page, but they seem preoccupied with drawing the pretty ladies. I was amused and appalled at how Misty switched between costumes within issues and frequently between panels. One artist had her in a red, low-zipped jumpsuit, as on the cover. The other had her in a gray midriff-baring top with red piping on the front ending in arrow points on her nipples. Why arrows? I don’t know. Showing readers where to look for points of interest?

Look: I’m not saying you shouldn’t buy and read comics whose purpose is to have attractive women for men (and some women) to look at. That’s your choice to make, and may Jeebus bless you, if you do make it. Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose has to have some sort of purpose, what with its barely clothed babes and haunted women’s reproductive systems. There are many other titles that fulfill this need, too: Empowered is generally accepted as a good one. Just don’t drag previously created characters from an established comics universe into it. But if you must do that, at least attach a good story to it.

Otherwise, it’s just a waste of everyone’s time.

Rating: Half Marvel symbol (0.5 of 5)

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