Hercules would never rank among my personal top 10 Avengers faves, but I have to award his series from late 2008, by Greg Pak and and Fred Van Lente, a treasured spot of comics from that era. That might be no surprise for long-time readers of this site who might notice a bias when it comes to my pet character, Amadeus Cho, who basically came into his own among those Hercules/Prince of Power/Incredible Herc titles. Will the latest series from Dan Abnett have a hard act to follow, even if it was about five years ago? This is, after all, it’s own comic to be reviewed in its own right.
Abnett and Luke Ross, artist, take the wise step in re-introducing Hercules in a new (but not entirely unfamiliar) environment. He’s got a new set-up, a new set of supporting cast that includes a layabout Forgotton One/Gilgamesh, and a new sense of purpose. He’s more or less a “hero for hire,” claiming “Labors Undertaken” on his business card, and accepting gifts from his supplicants that are less cash and more keepsake. Unless the Secretary General calls for help with giant sea monsters.
In fact, the story both sets and wraps itself in a very straightforward manner, almost like the pilot episode for any potential TV series or something. Cue some canned laughter in the last few panels as “Gil” bids Hercules to “Command some [take-out ramen] on your tablet!” Cheesiness aside, it’s a strong showing, as it’s nice to have all this world-building laid out in a single issue. But, I must admit, it is also a bit “done-in-one” and does nothing to really intrigue me to keep exploring Hercules’ world.
There aren’t really any subplots here, per se, although Abnett does a great job at creating a sense of a larger narrative through subtext. The characters hint at a huge battle between the forces of god and man and monsters, which in turn helps create a strong theme that comments on the ever-changing world and how humanity grows to change and adapt to it. That’s a rich area for storytelling with great thematic resonance. Too often, we get, at best, either one or the other, if at all.
One of the nicest touches is the way Hercules switches to the Olde English speech patterns that often characterized Marvel’s godly characters. Here, it’s used to distinguish the ancient dialects as if they are otherworldly languages, part of that whole modern-versus-archaic theme that permeates the book.
It’s a strong enough book to make a good story, but it doesn’t feel like it’s really part of the Marvel universe at all. Hercules doesn’t even mention his time as an Avenger, nor does Gilgamesh, which seems odd in such an Avengers-heavy publishing enviornment these days. The story name-drops more of Hercules’ other names from old myths but doesn’t mention any of his friends. His classic costume does appear on a manikin in his spare room full of spears and swords, though, so there’s something.
His new costume tries to be modern as befitting the thematic through-line, but it’s not really iconic nor effective. Hey, Hercules, if you’re so concerned to be modern, why are you wearing pouches and a metallic codpiece like it’s a 90s’-era comicbook? I know you got the man bun goin’ on, but still…
I was disappointed in the art, as Luke Ross’ lines are too thin and scratchy, often giving the suggestion of shape and form but without a sense of underlining structure or roundness. By contrast, the monster Umlaut, I mean Urmut, is free from any need for structure so it works for his design and it feels free, like Ross is cutting loose. It’s only a problem for the figures and expressions, though. The architexture and cars that fill the streets are really nicely delineated. Some of the paneling is a bit off, as Hercules just appears in room of the sister’s house, and the layouts shift in perspectives too quickly to feel smooth. The splash page as Hercules is running toward the reader to fight a monster is highly detailed and has a great pose— if only there wasn’t a caricature of a turbaned taxi driver that yet feels out of place.
So, Hercules is a mythical hero for our modern times. If this were an independent publisher taking advantage of a public domain character, I would probably nod approvingly, but ultimately pass it by, as it’s not necessarily what I’m looking for. As it was one of Marvel’s relaunched issues, I picked it up to see if it would intrigue me. Seems like it will be going in some pretty obvious places, all told. I mean, if ever there were a hero attempting to make good while connecting with the common man, it’d be Marvel’s Hercules. Hmm. I’ll give it points for the attempt at some interesting themes, but all in all it’s just “nicely average.”