When sifting through bargain bins you run into the same issues over and over again. Sometimes you just break down and finally buy that complete run of Micronauts that you’ve been ignoring for years. Other times you go with the unfamiliar, and anything with a funny cover gets tossed into a stack of potential purchases. I find myself drawn to independent comics from the 80′s and early 90′s, where the staff are trying to strike out on their own, but the content doesn’t stray far from established mainstream comic book subject matter. The issues are produced on a budget, the writing and art can be a bit unpolished. But each one is a tiny mystery! You’ll rarely see repeats of the same issue, and you’ll be lucky to find more than one comic from the same series. What you hold in your hands is all the information you have. I like to wonder about whatever became of the writers, editors, and artists of these books. The joy they must have felt seeing stacks of their creations coming back from the printer. The struggle they likely experienced trying to get shop owners to take a chance on an untested comic from an unknown imprint. How long did the series last? At what point did they have to shut everything down? Did they find other work in the industry? Do they spend their time in some lousy job secretly stashing away sketches and story ideas?
At first glance there isn’t anything remarkable about Gods for Hire; on the cover characters leap into action, flip through the pages and you’ll see some fight sequences, pretty standard stuff. The foreword outlines the ambitions of the creative staff for their new comic imprint.
…in these days when every fan is putting out a fanzine and calling it an amazing, high quality piece of art. These things make producing actual quality work very difficult. The glut of garbage has made retailers very conservative. It’s very expensive to produce quality. But we believe there are enough of you out there who need a breath of fresh air. We believe that if you take a fantastic comic, created by the greatest talents in comics, then give it equal care in the printing and production– that the majority of people out there will taste the difference. We believe that there are people who are willing to take a chance at being entertained and excited by fresh, vibrant, intelligent comics. And what do you know, we got ‘em. And we’ll keep producing them month after month for years to come. Everyone says they are the best, we know we are. Read on, I think you’ll agree. –Joe Judt, Editor in Chief (Hot Comics)
Alright, that sounds like some pretty good intentions. Let’s see how they fare.
The story opens with friends Kent and Melanie meeting up and exchanging some puzzling dialogue. “I’m dead! Just kidding, they never found my body.” Then we’re transported to a world of gargoyle statues and looping yellow patterns.
The story continues at a rapid pace. Kent meets other characters who have been summoned to this strange place, we are told it is called Avalon. The characters debate whether or not they are dead, they never get a precise answer.
The mysterious Ambrosia appears and exclaims…
He gives a rundown of each character and their abilities. As seen in the panel below, he doesn’t offer up more than “here’s your name, you’ll understand why later.”
Ambrosia concludes the introductions with this statement, “In time you will perceive the things you have always dreamed of!” He goes on to reveal that Avalon is at war with Mu and that the Knights are here to protect the dreams of man. Ambrosia fails to explain how dreams are protected by Avalon or what will happen if the Knights fail. Are dreams stored somewhere in the city? What does Mu want with them? Kent is reluctant to take the job and lashes out at Ambrosia. He responds by breaking down Kent into molecular form.
Another clumsy transition, and we’re back in the restaurant with Melanie.
There’s a lot of nonsense crammed into this page. I won’t even bother trying to unpack the “theory” presented in the upper right corner. Thankfully Kent is here to explain everything in a no-nonsense manner, “I suddenly realized what knowing something meant!” What a wonderfully terrible way to have a conversation with someone you haven’t seen in a while, “I might be dead, also I can see your panties.” I will say that the art here is the best in the book. Jim Nelson (colorist) manages to tone down his use of orange and yellow, which overwhelms the rest of the issue.
Next we get a glimpse of the world of Mu, which appears to consist of purple caverns and lots of fire. The leader, a nameless green monster, decides that he in no longer interested in dreams and plans to launch an attack on the real world.
Avalon is besieged by flying green monsters; Clark, Kent, and Jill hatch a plan to escape the city and return home.
During their escape they become separated.
Kent, hearing “Szrot!”, knows Clark and Jill must be in trouble and rushes off to their aid. Back at the battle, the others are overwhelmed by the evil forces of Mu.
Meanwhile, Tao (a character we’ve barely been introduced to), sensing that perhaps things aren’t what they seem, confronts Ambrosia.
Ambrosia responds to Tao’s accusations, “Stolen? That’s a funny term for people”, which doesn’t actually make any sense. We return to Jill and Clark, their search for Kent is interrupted by a new villain from Mu.
The above three panels conclude the first issue of Gods for Hire. Here we have yet another instance of perplexing dialogue, where a slight rewrite could help clarify the story. When Jill shouts “No!” in reply to the villain asking “Remember me?”, well that’s just confusing. With a little adjustment, having Jill yell out “Not you!” instead of “No!”, the reader would know that this is someone from her past. This might seem like a minor flaw, but it shows (along with the other examples noted above) the creative staff’s failure to write even the most basic dialogue in a coherent manner. This is clearly a book with ambitions that were far outside of the staff’s abilities. The other issue here is that the comic doesn’t need to force more into the story. In one issue we meet a bunch of characters who inherit a vague assignment to “protect dreams”, visit the warring cities of Mu and Avalon, and learn of Ambrosia’s deceitfulness. The whole narrative is pretty disorienting, and then the creators throw in a last minute monster-from-the-past. This just further clutters what should be a simple set-up for a tale of good vs. evil. As it stands this issue is amusing, but a complete mess.
The back pages list two more future issues, though I’m not sure I’ll seek them out. A quick internet search didn’t yield any information on what became of Hot Comics or its creative staff.