When last we left the Heroes for Hire, Shroud and Elektra were squaring off against the Purple Man, Paladin and Gargoyle were dealing with a possessed Ben Grimm, and some low-rent chemical jockey had his lab destroyed and, in true comic book fashion, was transformed into some kind of monster as a result. Who would've thought that monster would turn out to be one of the only ways we actually see characters experiencing fear during the whole Fear Itself madness?
Fear Itself: Spider-Man, perhaps the best tie-in of them all, really brought home the fact that there's supposed to be a tremendously powerful aura of fear permeating the city, but apparently only Spider-Man is able to feel it. Almost everywhere else, including the main book itself, there's no sense of anything other than a lot of stuff is being broken by hugely-powerful possessed jerks and it's a mad scramble to stop it. There's a sense of urgency and the occasional sense of awe in the face of the power levels of the enemy, but not a real sense of fear. Even here, in Heroes for Hire #10 by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, Shroud and Elektra are forced to contend with a swarm of violent convicts bent to the whim of the Purple Man, and they seem completely level-headed about it - hell, Elektra even seems to be enjoying it. It's not until Gargoyle and Paladin face the beast that was once Brady Briedel that we see that fear - and it's not even from the Serpent's aura. It's the fact that Briedel was radically transformed by the massive destruction dousing his broken body with chemicals he was making for Mr. Fear, thus he appears to everyone as their deepest psychological terrors.
That's when this book is most effective - when Gargoyle comes across him, views the beast as an angelic figure come to reap his soul, he immediately cowers in fear, pleading for his life and begging for forgiveness in an absolutely craven manner, an instant and drastic difference from how bravely he'd comported himself when dealing with the Thing. Then Paladin sees him as something entirely different, a version of himself as a vastly superior physical specimen who immediately beats the living crap out of him without mercy. That's when we realize how much fear itself is truly missing from Fear Itself. Why hasn't this been the focus, rather than the rampant destruction? It could have been so much more involving that way.
Kyle Hotz's artwork is improved here from the last issue, and his stylization has a lot more impact here, with Gargoyle's terror, Paladin's beatdown and the general creepiness of the Purple Man's manipulated goons being almost zombie-like, although I'm still not entirely sold on his beefy yet bony cattle-skull design for the Brady monster. There's also a nice panel that you'll probably breeze right over if you're moving through the book too fast, but nonetheless quietly underscores the definition of 'hero.' When Misty Knight leaves the control room and heads out to what's left of Yancy Street to help with the rescue efforts, she steels herself and walks toward the destruction while everyone else is running in the opposite direction. It's a good moment which adds some depth to the story.
Comic-Con revealed to us that this book is eventually going away - or rather, going to be retitled Villains for Hire soon, which leads us naturally to some speculation. Is there too much call for heroes in the wake of this colossal devastation that they won't be available for hire? Will Misty decide it's a better idea to pay villains to do good work and keep them from doing bad stuff? How's it going to shake out? We don't know yet, but hopefully someone is going to kick the living hell out of the Purple Man. That guy's a creep.
CRAVE ONLINE RATING: 8/10