Winking Back at Hercules

Hercules #125 Cover

I imagine it’s probably a futile effort to convince anyone to start picking up Hercules.

That’s probably why Marvel tricked me into subscribing to the book. But, I continue to subscribe because, damn! it’s the funniest funny book I’ve ever read.

Picking up Hercules, initially, feels a lot like getting one of those men’s bodybuilding magazines. For someone with a pre-Cap Steve Rogers frame like me, it especially feels like I’m trying to compensate for something. I mean, here’s Herc, bare-chested, hairy, and enormous. And he wears a skirt that sometimes, depending on the angle, comes a bit too close to exposing his mythic peen.

Marvel annoyingly—and perhaps wisely—transitioned The Incredible Hulk title into The Incredible Hercules, shortly after the Grecian’s appearance in “World War Hulk”. I’m not sure why, exactly; I don’t know that there was a lot of previous demand for Herc to have a solo title. All I can assume is they wanted Hulk to have a new title, with a new #1, that the character isn’t strong enough to support multiple ongoing titles, and the company wanted to milk suckers like me who didn’t realize the changeover would last quite a bit longer than temporary.

I think I won, though: I never picked up the new Hulk, which I heard was mediocre at best, and Greg Pak & Fred Van Lente continued to write some of the wittiest dialogue I’ve seen put to page. I mean, Pak’s writing is what got me into Hulk in the first place, anyway, right?

WIth Hercules, everything—from the almost-too-much “catch-up” pages to the absurd sound effects—has been given a bit of thought. Pak & Van Lente write like college buddies riffing off of each other, joking and bwa-ha-ha-ing amongst themselves. Take this bit of dialogue as Herc’s buddy, Amadeus Cho, is rescued by his new crush, the gorgon Delphyne (warning, minor spoiler for last month’s issue):

Cho: You’re alive!
Delphyne: Artume thought she shot me through the heart… Alas, she never studied gorgon physiology.
Cho: Hey, I wouldn’t mind studying gorgon—

Other moments had me literally laughing out loud, like two issues ago when Herc gave a ridiculously enthusiastic thumbs up to Cho while spying on the boy and a beautiful Amazon who was laying it on thick.

Speaking of Cho, the super-genius shares equal page-time with the titular character, and is actually my favorite between the duo. He started out as a minor character in a minor book, but under Pak’s care has really bloomed into his own. In a way, he’s the Rick Jones to Hercules’s Hulk: always keeping him out of trouble (though really the relationship has a lot of push and pull). The two characters work well together, complimenting each others personalities. Hercules is big, proud, confident, and a force to be reckoned with, while Cho is quick-witted, restrained, calcuating, and adaptable. And neither of them seems to be able to use their skills to take control of a situation with any grace—and much hilarity. The rest of the supporting cast has varied from story to story, but they’ve all been handled competently and always augment their respective threads.

Finally, on pencilling duties, we have a variety of artists who have changed frequently, but always done a solid job. In particular, most recent artist Clayton Henry, whose history I’m not familiar with, has impressed me with his output. His characterization is solid, and works with Pak’s emphasis on dynamic, yet often subtle expression. It’s just cartoony enough to fit the high-spirited, devil-may-care attitude of the writing, and just stylized enough to give the artist his own voice. Complimentarily, the inking is tight and restrained and the colors are rich and full. A good job all around. Midway through last issue, the artist changed over yet again, but I’m hoping it’s fill-in material and that Henry will return next issue.

I don’t know if Marvel ever plans to collect this material, but the back issues are surely worth seeking out. Amidst all the overblown event fever, Hercules has remained a relevant, upbeat title. The writing is clever, the art is fluid, and the characters are wonderful; it’s the best book you’re not reading.