BTFT: When Women Are Written Right

A column article, Bin There Found That by: Chris Wunderlich

Marvel, Heroes for Hire #4,5,6,8,9,10,13, written by Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray and Zeb Wells, drawn by Francis Portela, Billy Tucci, Al Rio and Clay Mann, 2007

 

Heroes for Hire have always been tricky comics. Often I find myself intrigued by the cast of characters, usually Iron Fist, Luke Cage and other B-listers. Add someone like Moon Knight in there and I’m truly tempted. My biggest problem has always been the core concept. They’re “heroes” but they’re at it to get paid. Of course, half the time money isn’t even an issue and saving the day is most important, but a book based on selling heroic deeds? Just isn’t my thing.

Finding 2007’s Heroes for Hire in the cheap bins finally gave me a chance to dive in and see what could be made of the concept. I must say, while I wasn’t blown away, this series is a solid read.

Let’s start with the cast. With this volume we get an almost all-female team consisting of Misty Knight, Colleen Wing, Black Cat, Tarantula, Shang-Chi, Humbug, Orka and (for a very brief stint) Paladin. That’s 50/50 at the start, but Paladin quickly becomes a side character, coming in and out of the team’s escapades, Orka doesn’t last very long in these pages and … well I won’t spoil anything else. Either way, the majority of this book is female-focused and it works. The characterizations are great here with everyone getting their moment. I wasn’t familiar with Humbug before this book and I was never a big Shang-Chi fan, but they’ve quickly become favourites.

Considering the amount of issues I’m covering (essentially #4-13) there’s a lot of plot here. Yes, a lot of plot. This isn’t your slow-as-molasses Hickman book or go-nowhere Bendis vehicle—things happen! There’s an old arch-nemesis out for revenge, a tussle with the Grim Reaper, a plan to catch Devil Dinosaur and Moon Boy and … oh yes, the return of THE HEADMEN! If you’re unfamiliar with The Headmen you need to read Steve Gerber’s run on The Defenders from the 70s. Trust me, it’s worth it, and seeing these villains return simply warms my heart.

The writing is great and even when it changes hands from Palmiotti and Gray to Zeb Wells, it stays consistent. Each character is properly voiced, there’s a perfect dialogue:picture ratio and like I said before—things happen! You can expect cliffhangers, 2-3 issue arcs, sub-plot and character development. When a series is as perfectly paced as this, you can’t help but want to jump into the next issue. I think I read the entire stack in one sitting—it’s that good!

The art remains consistent as well. Remember how much I liked Francis Portela? Well here we get a chance to appreciate his work in a book that doesn’t suck. His lines are clean, his detail abundant and his sense of storytelling spot on. Billy Tucci’s brief segment is beautifully rendered as well (no surprise) and later artists Al Rio and Clay Mann carry the torch with pride. The styles are all relatively similar, expertly accomplished and always easy on the eyes. If there’s one art “oops” it’s the cover to issue 13. I’m sure that’s an homage or reference or something, but it shouldn’t be. It’s awful for numerous reasons.

If you, like me, ever find this series nice and cheap I highly recommend giving it a shot. It’s fun, exciting, features excellent characters and always looks great.

DC, Manhunter #8,10,13, written by Marc Andreyko, drawn by Javier Pina and Brad Walker, 2005

 

Switching over to DC’s side of the fence we find more great female leads! It took me awhile to track down cheap issues of this series but I’m glad I did. I now understand why fans were clamouring for Manhunter’s return.

If there’s one thing I’m a sucker for, it’s legacy characters. More specifically, it’s when characters explore their legacy, respecting past heroes that have donned the mask, writers honouring writers before them—it’s just great. James Robinson based much of his Starman run on this concept, Geoff John’s used it to great effect on JSA (and his Justice Society of America run afterwards) and Marc Andreyko does it wonderfully here in the pages of Manhunter. I loved the Archie Goodwin/Walt Simonson version of Manhunter from back in the day and even got into (to an extent) the 80s iteration. Manhunter is a name that comes with a lot of history and it’s one of the best things about these Manhunter issues.

Of course there’s a whole pile of other great things about these books. The dialogue, for example, is nicely crafted by Andreyko. His Kate Spencer seems realisitic, relatable and down-to-earth despite being a costumed crusader. She’s a lawyer by day as well which adds nice little bits to the story and gives her sense of justice that much more weight. The side characters come off as real people as well, never becoming caricatures or overly clich├ęd. Even when the villain (and I won’t spoil him here) seems to be a tad too dramatic, we come to realize why and it’s quite satisfying.

The art also excels. Javier Pina (and later Brad Walker) does a great job giving us standard superhero fare in without exaggerating or glamourizing. At times the book can be violent, even disturbing, but never excessive or gratuitous. The action is swift, the layouts creative and the detail always ample. It’s great stuff from two artists that deserve much more attention.

Should you find yourself pining for another great title with a strong female lead, go grab some Manhunter. If you can find it cheap, bonus!

Marvel, Ms. Marvel #7,8,9,10,13,14, written by Brian Reed, drawn by Roberto De La Torre, Mike Wieringo and Aaron Lopresti, 2006-2007

 

I’ve already mentioned the basics about Ms. Marvel. It was a great, under the radar series about a character you’ve probably heard about, written by a guy you might not have heard about, drawn by a bunch of artists you should definitely hear about. It’s super fun to collect in the cheap bins too, due in part to short story arcs, consistent writing and art and the large amount of issues (I do believe this series made it to 50—not bad for Ms. Marvel).

Here Carol (that’s our Ms. Marvel for the uninitiated) gets involved with Marvel’s Civil War, controversially choosing Tony Stark’s pro-registration side. She makes some hard decisions, tries to keep her personal life on track and strives to stay morally afloat. Capturing Spider-Woman in front of her family, tearing her away from her child and later hunting her down cross-country for being an unregistered hero—it’s something that adds depth to Ms. Marvel as a character. These aren’t heroic actions, but she’s trying to do what she believes in. Is it right? It’s an interesting conundrum, I can say that much.

We are also treated to some nice team building as Operation Lighting Storm comes together—Ms. Marvel’s attempt to catch the criminals before they commit the crime. Wonder Man joins in on the fun, a few seemingly random SHIELD agents are given compelling roles and injected with great character, and a nice little time travelling/clone type story rounds out the plot.

The art remains great as De La Torre and Lopresti draw Ms. Marvel the way we know and love. Wieringo’s two issue tale is the real winner here, though, as Carol’s past history with Rogue comes to the forefront. It’s classic cartoony comic fun and yet again I’m reminded how sad it is that we’ll never see more ‘Ringo art.

I keep reading so, so I’ll keep saying it—this series is great fun, easy to find cheap and perfect if you’re looking for another strong female lead.

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