Pipeline #1075: Heroes For Hire: Not As Good As I Remembered

Have you ever gone back to read a book you remember enjoying at the time, only to find that it wasn't as great as you thought?

Maybe your tastes have shifted. Maybe years of reading experience gives you greater tools to judge comics work with. Maybe modern work by the same artist or writer is so much better that you're embarrassed for them that this early work saw print.

I read the first four issues of "Heroes for Hire" this weekend.

It didn't go well, which is why I didn't read issues #5 and later.

The Set Up

Heroes for Hire (1997) front cover
(Photo: Pasqual Ferry, Jaime Mendoza, Marvel Entertainment)

I'm talking about the 1997 edition here. Written by John Ostrander with art by Pasqual Ferry, it's the Heroes appearing at a very precarious point in Marvel history. Onslaught has wreaked havoc and The Avengers and the Fantastic Four are gone, shoved off into a deal with Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld for a year.

Er, I mean, "shoved off into a pocket universe."

Into that void steps Danny Rand, filled with bits of Marvel continuity to fit a story into a new series as best he can. He's working with Jim Hammond, the original Human Torch, for Oracle, the company Namor ran in his John Byrne-penned series from a few years earlier. (I loved that run at the time, and a re-read of it a few years back still held up.)

I should note here that Roger Stern, a king of Marvel continuity, actually started this series, before (as editorial has it) he left due to being over-committed. John Ostrander scripted the first issue from Stern's plot and then wrote the series from there on out.

The series starts with a breakout at The Vault, one in a series of superpowered prisons in the Marvel Universe. This is the one in the Rocky Mountains. It's the same start Brian Bendis used a few years later in "New Avengers," though Marvel was about three prisons further down the line by then, I think.

The U-Foes are the escaped villains who star here. Most everyone of my generation will remember them from the "Incredible Hulk" issues that Dale Keown drew. But they're working for someone else called The Master, who's also got The Controller (Mark Gruenwald's "Captain America" run, anyone?) under his, er, control.

A smoke detector is Photoshopped into the background of this Heroes For Hire page
(Photo: Pasqual Ferry, Jaime Mendoza, Marvel Entertainment)

You can see some of the U-Foes here. You can also see what appears to be a low-res picture of a smoke detector Photoshopped onto the wall behind them. Weird.

We also meet Hercules, who is full of himself, quick to engage the enemy, and drunk. That's only because he feels guilty that the Avengers are gone and he wasn't there to help. (Sorry, that's a spoiler...)

Then there's a new White Tiger. I never really knew the old White Tiger, but I remember the White Tiger after this White Tiger who appeared in "Daredevil" in the Bendis days. This one has the ability to fight in a kung fu kind of style, I think, and can turn into a tiger if she gets too angry. She's aloof and mysterious, too, like every character is in this book for one reason or another.

Hulk shows up, first as an enemy lost in his own continuity and storylines which were always shifting during Peter David's reign on the book. Then he becomes a friend. Then he disappears.

The nephew of the Black Knight shows up and is quickly given an amulet with the powers of the Black Knight by the Lady of the Lake in Central park.

Heroes for Hire, the Black Knight gets his powers
(Photo: Pasqual Ferry, Jaime Mendoza)

He's holding that amulet so tight that it requires speedlines! We'll get back to those soon...

Honestly, I have a headache just recounting all of this stuff. Reading it turned out to be a lot less exciting than I remembered.

The highlight of the book was Ostrander's narrative voice, which was just starting to show up in issue #4, but didn't take hold entirely until after that. His obnoxious over-the-top wannabe Stan Lee narration broke the fourth wall and gave the book a real personality. I enjoyed it greatly at the time, and loved the precious few moments it had in issues #2 - #4. ("Where have you been? We had to start without you!" It's that fun friend who can't wait to tell you a great story, and will interlace his own sense of humor throughout.)

Unfortunately, I couldn't gather the energy or desire to keep going to read more of it. It's all plot mechanics and small gaps between fight sequences that get tiring fast. Deadpool showed up a couple issues later. I might need to read that one out of order just to see how it worked out. Deadpool was Joe Kelly's baby by then, and hadn't yet turned into the over-exploited wacky franchise Marvel has him as today.

A New Artist with All The Pitfalls

I like Pasqual Ferry's art a lot. He has a fun style. In this book, though, he's a much younger and less experienced artist. The book has all the classic hallmarks of a new artist learning his chops.

He can draw backgrounds and often squeezes some stylish ones in, but they're all too rare. There are, instead, an awful lot of speedlines masquerading as backgrounds. I think every punch is thrown in these issues in front of a speedline. As is every kick, every jump, every character entrance, and every turn of the head. WHOOSH!

What better time to draw a background full of speedlines than an action-packed scene of two characters sitting in a movie theater talking:

Heroes for Hire with Pasqual Ferry speedlines
(Photo: Pasqual Ferry, Jaime Mendoza)

Characters fill frames as often as possible to avoid having to draw anything else. It's claustrophobic. The team-on-team fight scenes are kind of boring, as characters get paired off, have separate fights in backgroundless or speedlined panels, and then come back together when they're done.

There are obviously hints of Ferry's later stylings in this book. I like his faces a lot, and the body constructions are dynamic and interesting, but it doesn't all gel together just yet.

Jon Babcock's lettering is too large on the page. I like the Tom Orzechowski-like font and the general style, but it feels a point or two in font size too large. It fits the art, which is a bunch of large figure work hiding a lack of storytelling skill. The story is easy enough to follow, but that's mostly because everyone describes what they're doing as they do it. Nobody is doing anything too complicated, either.

The coloring from Joe Rosas is good, though I've always been a fan of his work in the 90s. When everyone else went dark, he was finding ways to make brighter colors work. His work fits the mood here, though it does have the occasional computer touch that goes over the top. There's a blurred background or two, the kind that ruined the otherwise amazing Ron Garney art in the "Captain America" series around the same time.

They Did Better Work

This is some of Ferry's first comics work. He moved to DC shortly after this, and did a great "Adam Strange" mini-series before moving back to Marvel, where he's been ever since on a variety of books, but mostly covers lately, it seems...

Ostrander did some terrific work in the 90s on books like "Spectre" and "The Kents," before having a long run on "Star Wars" titles at Dark Horse. And let's not forget his legendary run on "Suicide Squad" in the late 80s to the early 90s, amongst lots of other great books. (Hello, "Grimjack.")

Look, he's written a lot of great stuff, and this book is more a paint by numbers superhero thing whose one redeeming quality was a storytelling style that took a bit to ramp up, and then (as I recall) got shut down pretty quickly, too. Ah, well.

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We'll always have "Suicide Squad." There's no denying that book's genius.

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