"Heroes For Hire" still can't capture that same magic that it had for the first three issues. Is Brad Walker's art really that important to this book? While it's not the only reason this book is suddenly stumbling, the answer is "mostly, yes."
After being one of my favorite books, and certainly my favorite new book for the first three issues, "Heroes For Hire" stumbled suddenly with issue #4 last month, and I fervently hoped it could recover in issue #5. Unfortunately, with artist Brad Walker still painfully absent and writing team Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning struggling to deliver the same strong writing and plotting they exhibited for the first three issues, we're not yet back on track.
In this issue, Misty Knight battles with The Punisher, who is under the control of Puppet Master but fighting it with all he's got. Misty holds her own pretty nicely despite some serious disadvantages, and it's to Abnett and Lanning's credit that they're giving Knight the agency she deserves as a hero in her own right, and not subjecting her to any damsel in distress nonsense. However, it's one of the only things that works well in this issue.
While Knight fights The Punisher (and The Punisher fights the voice in his head), Paladin and Iron Fist search for Knight and end up having one of the strangest and most unrealistic dude conversations I've read in recent memory. Fortunately, they're interrupted by Falcon, Moon Knight, and Black Widow, who try to kill them. That saves us all from the rest of the conversation, at least. The biggest failing of this issue is the same as the last issue in that we spend way too much time listening to Puppet Master narrate his own evil exploits. It feels like the least interesting way to roll the story out. While Abnett and Lanning continue to have an interesting handle on some fantastic characters and clearly have intriguing plans for Paladin and Knight, unless they can get back to the formula that was working so well for the first half of this series, I fear for the book.
The art by Robert Atkins is wildly inconsistent. A scene with Paladin and Iron Fist on the roof is great; it's well rendered and fluid and makes for some solid storytelling, even though it's mostly just conversational panels. The action on the roof leaves a bit to be desired, but it still works. However, pages of Knight versus The Punisher and later, Knight and Iron Fist, are awkward and ugly, so much so that they look like the work of an entirely different artist. Additionally, the hair on Knight continues to be a ridiculous interpretation of something that should look straight-up badass. A reader can follow the story easily, and it's by no means the worst art in a book this month or even this week, but it lacks all the nuance we've been treated to in previous issues. The inconsistencies are frustrating. Brad Walker is a massive part of the equation for getting this book back on track and I hope the powers that be recognize that.
This issue, like the previous issue, ended on a bright note that seemed to herald a return to what worked so well in the first three books. However, once burned...twice shy. I'll be giving this book another chance for sure, but I'm not sure how many more chances I have left in me.