The H4H have put together a special team to investigate piracy in the South China seas, specifically near the island of Madripoor. The team consists of Iron Fist, Shang-Chi, Jessica Drew, Colleen Wing and Shen Kuei, aka Cat. Things aren’t going well. The ship they were on has exploded and the water they are in is infested with sharks. And, because this is the last issue, no one has to come back alive. Worried yet?
As a shark heads quickly towards Iron Fist, he thinks to himself that there is blood in the water and that it must be from some of the crew members caught in the explosion. The sharks are in a feeding frenzy. They can’t dodge them forever. Observing Shang-Chi punching a shark, Fist notices that he’s taking care of himself but the water softens his blows. His best chance is to concentrate his chi until his fist is as iron. When the shark charges him again, Fist punches the shark with all his strength and destroys it. He and Shang-Chi then use it to their advantage to get to the surface while the other sharks feed on their friend.
Upon reaching the surface, Fist asks Shang if he’s okay. Shang replies that he is, although he is saddened by his choice to kill the shark. Fist states that it wanted to kill him. Shang remarks perhaps, but there was no malice in it. The shark was simply being true to its nature. Perhaps in killing it, they are simply being true to theirs. Standing on a piece of wreckage nearby Colleen Wing stands with Jessica Drew and implores their teammates to hurry out of the water. Some of the fuel oil’s caught fire.
Once they get onto the wreckage, Fist asks if there has been any sign of Shen Kuei. Colleen asks “Cat?” No, although some of the crew members escaped. She then asks what he thinks caused the explosion. Jessica remarks that there is a tremor in the water. Just then, a large submarine emerges from the water and knocks over their wreckage. Shang states that it is a guess, but he thinks this caused the explosion on the ship. A further guess, but he would say that Lionmane took the bait. He tells Fist that his plan was successful, although not completely.
Standing on top of the submarine, Lionmane greets Iron Fist and states that he believes he was seeking him. Flanked by Sai, Lionmane orders his followers to take the four captives below and to guard them carefully. Do not take their eyes from them. Do not permit them to speak. They are dangerous but, perhaps, necessary to his plans. He then gives the order to kill all the other survivors. Watching the survivors of the ship being gunned down in cold-blood, Fist thinks to himself that perhaps Shang-Chi was right. Perhaps killing is being true to their nature.
And while the remnants of the H4H team are hustled into the submarine and it submerges to its new destination, back in New York, at Oracle, Inc. – headquarters for the Heroes for Hire – a different drama unfolds.
In his office, looking out the window, Jim Hammond is informed by his assistant, Mrs. Arbogast that someone is there to see him. Jim replies that the away team is late in checking in and asks if she could ask whoever it is to come back later. Arbogast informs him that is probably unwise considering it is Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner. He knows, the one who owns Oracle…
Turning around, Jim tells Namor that it is good to see him. Namor replies that he may not think so when he tells him why he has come – he’s sold Oracle, Inc. Enraged, Jim asks why. He thought he was pleased with what they’ve been doing there. Namor tells him that he has rethought. Oracle was founded to work on environmental concerns, and the Heroes for Hire operation drags it further and further away from that. He also no longer thinks it wise to channel Atlantean wealth into a surface corporation. If the world is to be saved, it will not be done by corporate executives. Jim asks what will happen to all the people who work there. Namor says no doubt most will continue to do so. There may be some cutbacks, but that is a given in any corporate restructuring.
Slamming his flaming fist onto the desk, Jim says blast it, these are people’s lives they’re talking about here. Good people who have done good work, who have mortgages and need health care and so on. They operate lean and mean as it is. They can’t treat them like chaff. Namor states that he will see that their needs are taken care of. If they are good people, they should be able to find other jobs and quickly. His first loyalty is to his own subjects. The fate of the employees, and of the Heroes for Hire, rests with Oracle’s new owners.
Back aboard the submarine, Iron Fist, Shang-Chi, Colleen Wing and Jessica Drew are shackled to a pole while they are watched by a nearby guard. Jessica whispers to Danny that she assumes there is some reason he hasn’t used his Iron Fist to free them from this yet. Danny replies two reasons. First, he used it a little while ago and need to rest. Second, it seems the best idea is to let Lionmane take them back to his base. He wants them alive for some reason, and they can better figure out their next move from there. Colleen tells him that if he tries and pretends this was all part of some plan, he’ll haul off and hit him herself.
The nearby guard yells at them not to talk. Shang then asks his fellow teammates if they noticed that the guard speaks only Chinese. Fist agrees and says that pretty much tells them who Lionmane really is. What they don’t know is that they have an ace up their sleeve. He doesn’t think Cat was drowned. Shang states that he agrees, but for different reasons and he doesn’t know that it is a good thing. Just then, the guard comes up behind Shang, punches him in the back of the head, and tells him no talk! Fist calls him a dirty… and remarks that maybe it is time for the iron fist. Shang tells him to bide his time, he is not hurt. Wait for the proper moment.
Hours pass, although the prisoners cannot tell how many. The submarine finally docks and the prisoners are brought out to get their first glimpse of the pirate’s lair.
After exiting the submarine, Fist says to Lionmane that it is impressive. Few governments could afford such a base as this, which makes him think that this is a government base. Which would make him the Chinese General Lo Chien, is he right? Removing his mask, Lo Chien replies that is more comfortable. He then admits that he is and remarks that it is time they are all honest with each other. In that spirit, let him introduce them his latest associate, Shen Kuei, also called Cat. Shocked, Fist asks but…?
Shang replies that he had thought as much. Still, it saddens him. He, Shen Kuei was once a man of honor. Cat informs him that he is what he has always been – a mercenary – for hire. He tells Rand that he does not pose or pretend to be a hero, as he does, although he also claims to be for hire. A hero for hire is an ethical contradiction in terms. Lo Chien says that he hopes that he is for hire. He may actually live if it is so. He then invites them to his study; they will be more comfortable there. Above, Wolverine smokes a cigar and thinks to himself all the trouble, sniffin’ out the truth, makin’ his own way there, and what does he see – flamin’ amateurs.
Inside Lo Chien’s private study, he informs the shackled H4H that he has dismissed all the guards but Sai and their redoubtable Cat. This talk is better done in privacy. He proceeds to tell them that they need to understand what he is doing and why. China’s communist leaders are old. At some point, the government will break down. The most powerful generals in China will make themselves warlords and China will again slip back into anarchy. He intends to make himself the most powerful of the new warlords and, eventually, ruler of China. Their piracy has been to raise money toward that end. Also toward that end, he has a proposition to them, and thus to the west. He wants them to take his message to their masters, to the clandestine lords of power. Tell them what he has told them; tell them Lo Chien will someday rule China. Those who are his friends now, he will treat as friends later. They will thank them for this intelligence.
When Jessica asks why he is framing Madripoor, Lo Chien informs her that the wealth he plunders there will underwrite his efforts. Besides, that haven of cutthroats and criminals deserves to be destroyed. Shang-Chi asks how much the Chinese government knows of what he does. Lo Chien replies that they turn a blind eye to his piracy and his plans for Madripoor. Of the rest, Beijing knows nothing. The only question left is – will they serve him? Iron Fist defiantly says no. The world does not need another like him. And they were heroes long before they were for hire.
At that moment, the chi that Iron Fist has secretly been gathering explodes through the manacles and then arcing form of Iron Fist darts all over the room, freeing his companions. Lo Chien says to the freed heroes that freedom is an illusion. They are still caught within his base and there is no escape. Just then, the sounds of an alarm permeate the air. Startled, Lo Chien asks the alarm klaxon? Who would be mad enough to attack this base? As he goes to leave, Lo Chien tells Cat and Sai to finish the fools, he is going to see what is happening outside.
As they attack, Sai tells Cat that she has the woman with swords. Cat replies have her; he will finish the job he started months ago and kill the Iron Fist. Preparing themselves for battle, Fist mentions that guards are also coming. Shang-Chi tells him they are his and for Fist to focus on Cat. With that, Sai attacks Colleen Wing while Cat delivers a kick to Fist. As he does, Cat tells him that he defeated him before in Symkaria, and he will do so again. At the same time, Jessica Drew and Shang-Chi work on taking out the guards. When Jessica warns Shang to watch his feet, Shang asks why, is there something wrong with his technique?
In the base outside, Lo Chien sees a number of people surrounding his base. Upon seeing them, he exclaims this is madness and asks who all the people are. Wolverine informs him that they’re the uptight and angry citizens of Madripoor. They came with him and they’re about to shut him down.
Inside Lo Chien’s study, Iron Fist takes the fight to Cat. While he does, he tells him that he defeated him before because he became distracted. Today, he is focused. Across the room, Colleen deftly dodges all of Sai’s sword attacks. She mentions to her that her swords are not her usual weapons and she uses them clumsily. So she will have to take them back and show her how they are used properly.
Outside, Lo Chien and Wolverine do battle. In using his claws against Lo Chien, Wolverine notices that the rumors are true. He’s also a flamin’ mutant, just like him. Lo Chien tells him yes. His claws cannot penetrate his skin, while he can grind his bones into paste. At that moment, Wolverine thinks to himself that this is a problem. His old adamantium claws might’ve gotten through, but now that his claws are bone… Lo Chien, determined, proceeds to continue to beat on Wolverine unmercifully.
Inside the study, Fist takes Cat out and asks the rest of his team how they are doing. Colleen, now with her swords in tow, has knocked Sai to the ground and tells Danny that things are under control and to go find Lo Chien. Outside, Lo Chien holds Wolverine up by the throat and says to him that he has heard of him and his healing factor. Can he heal with his throat ripped out?
Just then, Lo Chien is knocked to the ground with a punch from behind delivered by Iron Fist. Standing over Lo Chien, Fist remarks to Wolverine that he knows he’s only a “flamin’ amateur” but he thought he could use a hand, especially if the hand was the iron fist. Picking himself up off the ground, Wolverine tells him that he coulda taken him; still, not bad… for an “amateur.” Fist states that it looks like the base is almost secured, time to think about getting home.
Forty-eight hours later, at Oracle, Inc., the core members of Heroes for Hire are gathered in an office. Iron Fist angrily asks that Namor did what? Jim Hammond informs him he sold them out – lock, stock, and logo – to Stark-Fujikawa. And Mr. Honeybunch there is about to tell them their fate. The man sitting behind the desk corrects Jim that his name is Honeywell. He then tells them that while Stark-Fujikawa sees the benefits of having super heroes on the payroll, there are some changes necessary. Ex-cons projects the wrong image. Scott Lang (Ant-Man) and Luke Cage (Power Man) must go. The others may stay but they will select their missions from now on. Are there any questions?
Jim states that they’ve bought the company and they own the name, but they don’t own the people, and they certainly don’t own him. There’s no need to fire him, he quits and he’s betting the rest of them go with him. Jennifer Walters, the She-Hulk, tells Honeywell to keep in mind that all of them have severance packages. She is a lawyer and Stark-Fujikawa will make good on these packages or she will kick their butts, both legally and literally. They’re leaving now.
Outside the office, Cage tells the others that was fun while it lasted but he guesses nothing lasts forever. He then tells Fist that the team may be breakin’ up, but friendships don’t – remember that. Fist replies that he’ll remember. As they all go their separate ways, Fist says that he’s proud to know all of them and thankful they have shared this path together. Perhaps their paths will come together again some day. Until then, stay well, but, for now, good-bye.