By: Greg Pak & Fred Van Lente (writers), Neil Edwards (penciller), Scott Hanna (inker), Jesus Aburtov (colorist)

The Story: What?  No pitchforks and torches?

The Review: When it comes to solo heroics, writers usually take the trend of letting their hero baby-step his way long steadily bigger and greater trials before pitting him against the conflict of his life.  It makes sense; no point in tossing the rookie into the deep end of the ocean before he learns to doggy-paddle.  But Hercules is already a pro at this biz (a former god of it, in fact), so it doesn’t seem out of the question to throw a major challenge right off the get-go.

But experienced as he is, his new mortality has set him back to square one.  In his glory days, a few Raft escapees and Kyknos, son of Ares, would have been a walk in the park; now, he can literally be felled by a little girl (granted, she stabbed him in the back with a pair of clipping shears).  It doesn’t stop there, though.  Pak-Van Lente also drop in Hecate, witch goddess, and a whole NYC borough of mobbing civilians, a challenge worthy of a god he now faces as a mortal.

As you can tell, this issue has a lot of problems going against our favorite mensch, so such so to the point you’re left just as bewildered as he is.  Remarkably, Pak-Van Lente manage to give each set of conflicts some time to develop, especially where it concerns the growing disarray of Brooklyn.  We get some humorous scenes of neighborly confrontations gone out of control (“I know you’ve been laughing at us.  Ever since the bedbugs!”), but also some moments of genuine horror, like a pack of mauling dogs threatening children after ravaging their elderly owner.

Even though the descent into chaos seems universal, Rhea remains the only one seemingly unaffected aside from Helene and the Warhawks, devotees of Ares.  Her apparent immunity to the growing paranoia warrants investigating, especially since she’s so quickly become Herc’s lady-friend and loyal supporter, yet remains largely a mysterious, if well-read, figure.  But now that she’s a captive of the Warhawks, there’s plenty of incentive to dive deeper into her history.

In the meantime, Herc gets left largely on his own, one vulnerable man with some fancy weapons against an entire city gone to heck.  His only ally: Griffin, the Raft prisoner gone feral, thanks to a magical twist that probably should’ve been shown to us, since I, for one, already forgot about that character since last issue.

He’ll need all the help he can get, as Hecate has a (admittedly justified) grudge against Zeus and she has no qualms about taking it out on his son.  Perhaps she doesn’t know Herc and Zeus aren’t exactly on the best terms at the moment, but at least her anger gets put to good use as she transforms the city into a twisted labyrinth worthy of Herc’s steel.

Edwards gives the many mythic characters a classical design, while still making them look current and formidable.  His clean, detailed art is a great sample of the Marvel standard, but for some reason he still has these occasional, obvious snafus: when Helene confronts Rhea, she turns her body in a completely different direction in the most awkward positioning I’ve seen.

Conclusion: Jam-packed with action, yet still laced with generous amounts of humor and moments of sincere pathos for the struggling Herc.  It’s a plot that could’ve worked with or without the Fear Itself stamp, which is a great achievement indeed.

Grade: A-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – A hottie who keeps a copy of Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan in her apartment—and not ironically?  I don’t know about Herc, but I may be a little in love here.  Is that weird?

– “It’s not like I’ve never eaten dog before.”  Yet another thing Herc and I have in common, besides a scintillating wit, I mean.