No, not those Heroes for Hire. This story came three years before the first issue of Luke Cage, Hero For Hire, nine years before Luke and Iron Fist formed the company Heroes for Hire, and 28 years before Marvel published the first issue of Heroes for Hire. (The original Power Man / Iron First team was the real basis for the Netflix series, The Defenders, which has nothing to do with the original Bronze Age comic of the same name. Netflix is rumored to have gone with “The Defenders” because, as illustrated here, audiences get squeamish about the idea of heroes getting money for their services. They prefer that rich, powerful people or corporations fund their super heroes, an idea older than King Arthur and my 97-greats Uncle Charlemagne.
That, children, is what feudalism is all about, and we do love us some feudalism in these United States.
Which is why this story bothered me, the first time I read it, a dozen or so years ago. Yes, the Legionnaires are acting like Bastard People (for a reason, this time!), putting their desire to earn money apparently ahead of their concern for life and public safety. But a lot of the public outrage toward them seemed to me to be directed at the very idea that they would make money. Which is silly, because the Legionnaires are underwritten by the richest man in the universe and his corporation, and by the United Planets government. If either of those entities were to order the Legion to deny service to a person or a world, what would happen? That idea wasn’t explored in the Silver Age.
But, honestly, I liked this story better on a second reading. It really doesn’t focus that much on public outrage. It focuses more on a sense of “What the hell is the Legion doing?” which is classic in Silver Age stories, if maybe a bit outdated by 1969, especially in what had been one of the most forward-looking books in all of DC Comics. Probably the most.
So criminals are escaping the Science Police and hiding out on the planet Modo, a world protected by an entity called Modulus, and apparently welcoming to all evil. The Legion gets involved when criminals steal mind-altering drugs from a UP research facility. We get to see Brainy have a psychedelic trip, and Win Mortimer and Jack Abel show off some pretty 1960s graphics. One of the criminals is caught, and then we get to see a truly chilling psychic interrogation, in which the thief is told that “Anything you think may be held against you.”