Incredible Hercules #114-115
Greg Pak & Fred Van Lente, writers
Khoi Pham, artist
Marvel Comics, February & March 2008
22 pages of story each, I think?
Anyone else reading this? The Marvel fans among you must first put aside your disbelief and disgust that Marvel brass honestly believe Jeph Loeb is the best choice to take over the Hulk from Planet Hulk and World War Hulk author Greg Pak; now that Pak’s launched this spinoff title to replace Incredible Hulk (the name of the upcoming movie, in case you forgot, which apparently Marvel did), Loeb has the opportunity to inflict himself on yet another marquee character. The rest of you have no idea what I’m talking about and don’t care to find out. So I’m really speaking to the first segment of the audience: My bet is that if you enjoy superhero comics, or at least Marvel’s version thereof, you’ll really enjoy this series.
It feels a bit like Immortal Iron Fist in that it bounces between flashbacks and the present day (which I guess is Lost‘s influence on comics, now that I think about it) in a way that fleshes out its Greek god main character Hercules and his brother and nemesis Ares’ unique place in the Marvel Universe, one that retains their mythological history while still having them occasionally team-up with Hawkeye and Wonder Man. Khoi Pham’s art is impressively scratchy yet also expensive-looking, as if New Avengers artist Leinil Yu were better at drawing widescreen action. He and his sadly late colorist Stephane Peru also make the transitions between flashback and present day so distinct that I had to double-check to make sure they didn’t switch pencillers a la David Aja and his gaggle of guest stars on Iron Fist. The writing is also sharp, with the characterization of Herc, his teen-genius ally Amadeus Cho, his resentful brother and erstwhile Avenger Ares, and his former teammate and current reluctant adversary Black Widow imbued with more emotional shading than you’d think they deserve. There’s even a clever moebius-strip moment as Hercules recounts the story of his Twelve Labors, making a nice little point about both the nature of myth as primarily a chronicle of moral values rather than a history lesson, and also serving up an indictment of the self-perpetuating nature of violence among Great Men in a subtle but unmistakable way that’s rarely seen in the sort of comic that’s an oblique tie-in to World War Hulk and Secret Invasion. Like all Marvel writers at the moment, Van Lente and Pak are faced with the fact that the company’s massive Civil War event made about 50% of their intellectual property irredeemably icky; they square that circle by giving the characters implicated in Iron Man’s dickheaded dictatorship appear the same shrugged-shoulders “whaddyagonnado?” air that most of the writers themselves have. And again as with Iron Fist, there are knowing winks at Marvel’s less-than-storied ’70s material, from Hercules’ goofy old team the Champions to the fact that Godzilla was once an in-continuity target of S.H.I.E.L.D. Good stuff.