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Incredible Hercules #120
posted September 18, 2008


Creators: Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente, Rafa Sandoval, Roger Bonet, Greg Adams
Publishing Information: Marvel, comic book, 32 pages, August 2008, $2.99
Ordering Numbers:

While shopping in Chicago, I was told by several store owners and their designates that The Incredible Hercules was the second-rung book of the moment. Not in so many words, mind you, but I'm certain you know the kind of superhero comic I'm talking about: the one that isn't a best-seller, features some rising talent or three, and will one day pop up in a message board threads of "underrated runs." It might appeal to an older fan over the current fan, or feature an outmoded or little-used art style. The plots tend to be looser because as was the case with almost every comic 30 years ago, no one in editorial or at a movie studio is invested enough in the character to keep enterprising talent from having their way with the property in question. The result may even be the forerunner for a company-wide hit at some point in the future, although more likely it's the creators that will have one on their next title or the title after that. It's not exactly a sleeper hit, but the blockbuster-wannabe that gets released in March or August. Think Sleeper, think Alias, think Chase, think Gotham Central, and most recently think Immortal Iron Fist. Fastballs with movement from the heart of the line, they're the only kind of superhero comic I care to read.

In Incredible Hercules, the son of Zeus is leading (temporarily) a group of Marvel Universe "gods" on their way to fight the shape-changing alien Skrull equivalent as part of the big Secret Invasion crossover. It's an idea I probably would have been pretty worked up about when I was a kid, and it's a clever way for the title to be involved in its own special way in the latest line-spanning tomfoolery while mining Marvel's rich, crazy soil for various nuggets of characters to be re-used. It's also a chance for the Kirby-inspired idea of the Marvel Universe as a fallen world fought over by three races to garner a measure of cosmic significance by repeating the pattern elsewhere -- a classic trick of written fantasy. All that said, and for as much as the art and script evince a core competence in terms of providing a superhero slugfest that holds one's interest and captures the eye, I found the story kind of slow going, and the battle scenes little more than the leads getting to use their superpowers once or twice in escalating fashion while yelling at each other. The best part in terms of writing comes in a brief exploration of Hercules' relationship with kid-genius Amadeus Cho and the insinuation that Cho may represent a psychological crutch for an emotionally wobbly warrior-god. Unfortunately, it's more of an idea floated than one developed.

Punching, posing, pontificating... if all comics enjoyed this level of competence when I was a teen, I would never have had money for beer. I certainly see the appeal. There's a scene where Hercules at long last flexes his muscles that makes you realize just how great a candidate the character for the modern Marvel art treatment and its stylized musculature. The story manages to bring out the disheartened upsetting elements of modern myth and lean them right up against the youthful and vibrant present that tends to make for the best re-telling of older myths in all media and any era. It's only as a reading experience for an adult, even one that wants to revisit a certain kind of cheap thrill, that one may find oneself a bit underwhelmed.