He was the first hero. Not just the first super-hero, mind you, but the first hero. His praises were sung when humanity had barely discovered music. His adventures were among the first things to be written down for posterity. He was, in short, a legend.
The thing about heroes is that while they do what is necessary and do help people, they were rarely what one might call “good” by modern standards. Yes, he slayed monsters. But as a mortal man many years later would remark, battling monsters could make a man into a monster himself. And while this first hero still protected humanity with the same passion he had before, that same passion drove him to drinking and debauchery as he enjoyed his fame and glory. Perhaps too much.
Such is the state Hercules finds himself in these modern times. Now, fame and glory are heaped upon men who speak loudly while accomplishing little and women who manage little more than being born into the right family and looking lovely. And he is spoken of more as a figure of scandal than the savior he was.
Yet for all this, Hercules is still a hero. And when two young boys in need of a hero seek him out to do something about their older sister’s abusive boyfriend, Hercules is ill-inclined to refuse them. It isn’t slaying sea-monsters but men can be monsters as well – a fact Hercules knows all too well. But what Hercules does not yet know is that the monsters of old are returning to the modern world. And the first hero is needed once more to fight that which humanity has forgotten.
Those expecting a book like The Incredible Hercules may be disappointed. While there is comedy to be found in Hercules #1, it is not the slap-stick that has dominated his appearances in the past. Most of the humor comes in the book’s opening and closing scenes, as we see Hercules at rest in his apartment.
It is here we learn that The Son of Zeus is letting his buddy Gil (aka The Immortal Gilgamesh) crash on his couch until he can get back on his feet and that they are “feasting” on ramen and breakfast cereal. Because while Hercules may be on speaking terms with the Secretary General of the United Nations, heroism doesn’t pay particularly well. Particularly when you’re the softhearted sort of man who accepts children’s game cards as tribute.
While Hercules may not be as overtly funny as the previous Hercules comics or such Marvel titles as Unbeatable Squirrel Girl or Howard The Duck, it has more heart. Dan Abnett immediately establishes Herc as a likable lug. We don’t get any details about Herc’s wild past and previous mistakes – merely that he is trying to restore his good name after many set-backs. This makes the book amazingly accessible to new readers.
A novel touch that Abnett introduces to the action of the book is the idea of Hercules using modern weaponry and tools in his battles. While Hercules rightly has a reputation – in the comics and the myths – for trying to solve most of his problems with pure brawn, he did also show amazing creativity in dealing with various threats. So too has the Marvel Comics’ version of Hercules begun using tasers and guns for those times when a mountain-shattering punch would be overkill.
Luke Ross does an able job of illustrating this action. The fight-scenes in this issue are well choreographed. And Ross has an amazing aptitude for fitting fine details into small panels without cluttering up the page. His one weakness is facial expressions, most of which are not very expressive. You’d expect two pre-teens to be excited or amazed about walking alongside a living legend, but their expressions are always muted – even when Hercules is pulling out a big gun while the monster that threatened them is a short distance away!
Despite that, there is much to like about Hercules. The story has a great opening hook and sufficient humor for those who like that in a Hercules story. And there’s a heaping helping of high-adventure and mythic action for those who don’t care much about a drunken Herc booty-calling Black Widow. Much like its titular hero, Hercules is not perfect but you can’t help but like it despite the flaws.