Marvel's been playing variations on the heroes for hire theme ever since Avengers #77, back in the Silver Age. My favourite was the Misty Knight/Colleen Wing version of a couple of years back, which demonstrated that 'street level' books needn't be mundane.
I'm glad to see this latest relaunch is in part a continuation, with Misty heavily involved and Colleen likely to show up soon. The Daughters of the Dragon are two of my favourite Marvel heroes, unlike most of the line-up we were told to expect - Moon Knight, Elektra, the Punisher, the Falcon, Ghost Rider and Paladin. Oh, and my old mate Iron Fist, though we're barely speaking since he changed his pyjamas and threw away his slippers - two tiny tweaks that ruin a unique look.
Basically, the membership is mostly people whose stories I avoid - but I'll try anything by Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning, who have produced some stunning work over the years, from DC's Legion of Super-Heroes and Resurrection Man to the recent Cosmic Marvel line.
The title of the story is 'Are you for hire?', a cheeky phrase that evokes the idea of heroes prostituting themselves. The notion comes into the tale later, at a most suitable moment. With luck, next issue will be entitled 'Want business?'
The first hero we meet this issue is the Falcon, asked if he's available by a mysterious figure. It's pretty obvious that it's Misty, a suspicion confirmed by the Falcon starting to call her 'Miss Knight', but the issue keeps her in close-up, in the shadows. Calling herself 'Control', she brings Black Widow in to help Falcon foil a spot of drug-running, Marvel Universe style. That means a surface-dwelling Atlantean drug baron doing some terrible things, which necessitate the intervention of Control's next agent, Moon Knight and, finally, Elektra.
The issue ends with a fine cliffhanger, one beyond the bounds of fair-play spoilerage. All I'll say is that it guarantees I'll be around for awhile.
Abnett & Lanning shake off the space dust and remind us that they can cut the mustard in any corner of the universe. The interaction between Misty and her colleagues is a joy. The lads give their characters distinctive voices, with Black Widow especially benefiting, gaining speech patterns straight out of James Bond.
Despite Control's antics reminding us of a certain redhead's operation over at DC, her handling a bird-themed hero, and having links to a corporation named Oracle, this won't be Marvel's Birds of Prey - Lanning and Abnett are too good to go the copycat route. For one thing, while this looks set to be a down-to-earth book, I wouldn't put it past the writers to bring in the odd cosmic-level threat, for the sake of surprise.
Brad Walker's pencils are excellent. Superbly drawn characters move fluidly through action packed scenes, with plenty of variety in compositions. He tells a story very well, and inker Andrew Hennessy makes the most of Walker's layouts, resulting in some sharp storytelling. Colourist Jay David Ramos and letterer Joe Caramagna also turn in sterling work, helping to give Heroes For Hire an all-round accomlished debut.
There's a smashing wee bonus, too - a recap of the Heroes For Hire concept since Luke Cage came up with it as an ongoing business. Telling the tale is old Power Man/Iron Fist supporting character DW Griffith, who I was wondering about only the other day (not here though, in my bathroom; please take my word for it!). I hope that means he'll be showing up in the stories.
So, issue #1 of a book that didn't sound like my cup of tea, and I'm in for the duration. Methinks Marvel has good hires in Abnett, Lanning, Walker and co.