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Herculian #1

Posted: Tuesday, March 1, 2011
By: Danny Djeljosevic

Erik Larsen
Erik Larsen
Image
NOTE: Herculian #1 comes out on Wednesday, March 2, 2011.

The cover to Herculian is so incredibly misleading -- a pair of brightly colored superpeople duking it out amidst a sea of retro block lettering and equally retro classic Marvel Comics cover layout. A casual observer, recognizing the artist's style, may think that Erik Larsen is just releasing a one-shot featuring a character from Savage Dragon that he suddenly took a fancy to. But the interiors, man -- holy shit.

Herculian is actually a one-shot collecting his 24-Hour Comic “Guy Talk” as well as short stories and other rarities that simply wouldn't make sense to include in the average issue of Savage Dragon. Which is fine by me, because I prefer short story collections, especially ones full of artistic departures.

The main attraction here is “Guy Talk,” in which two guys in a diner talk about marriage -- one, walking on air, is about to take the plunge while the other, bitter and realistic, has been through one marriage already -- while, outside, the eponymous Superman flyalike Herculian battles the magenta-clad, bulldog-wielding Punchin' Judy, both of whose actions occasionally parallel the conversation in delicious Alan Moore dramatic irony.

Larsen's pencils in this story are looser than his usual style (though he gives the superheroes full Erik Larsen treatment), with lots of imperfect lines and exciting hurriedness, which is underscored by the messy, handwritten lettering. This feels like an indie comic, the story of story made by the kind of artist who doesn't have anybody to please but himself.

I especially love “Guy Talk” because Larsen -- whether unconsciously or consciously -- highlights the initial problem of Erik Larsen trying something different -- people come in expecting superheroes punching one another. So, he gives those people exactly that, which is striking and visually entertaining, but it doesn't mean anything. All the real important stuff in the story happens between the two non-super people who don't even notice this fight going on outside the diner window.

The coloring in this story is the masterstroke. Often the superpeople in the story are distinctly colored, which is easy because their costumes are brightly colored. Everything else is blanketed in varying hues -- maroons, ceruleans, purples, lots of pale yellows -- except for, occasionally, our regular main characters, who get the distinct color treatment in a couple of panels. The colors have a very classic feel, as if rendered in a more simplistic, analog colored '90s style as opposed to the flashy Photoshop effects of the 21st Century. It's like if Erik Larsen made a Vertigo book during the imprint's mid-'90s heyday.

The (abrupt) ending of the story is a touch weak for how good the rest of the story is, more LOL clever than anything satisfying or meaningful, but it doesn't sink the 23 pages that proceed it. Maybe it's the parallel image of the superheroes battling that makes me wish the diner conversation had a much “bigger” ending. It'd certainly be making more of a statement about what comic books can be versus what they have to include for financial success. Regardless, even if Larsen had forgone the superhero element entirely it'd still be a pretty good alt-comix kind of story about the quotidian concerns of regular dudes.

Everything that follows is shorter, but equally amusing. There are a couple of stories about guys with curious heads (one a cheeseburger, the other the head of a duck) that are vaguely reminiscent of the work of Michael Kupperman (which includes the mummy made of bacon) and are hilarious by virtue of image alone; there's some superhero lampooning, some parodies of wholesome, inoffensive newspaper strips, and a particularly great one-pager about a guy who invents a robot to be his wingman at parties.

On the tail end of the book, we have six one-pagers featuring “Reggie the Veggie,” all predicated on an unchanging drawing of a vegetative amputee as things happen around him. That there are six of these in succession makes it feel a bit like filler if you don't cotton to the joke, but if the image is right, infinite repetition is never not hilarious (see: Hyacinth Duck, by our own Maxwell Yezpitelok).

Oh, and there's a story called “Mickey Maus,” and it's exactly what you think. It once again mashes up mainstream and alternative comics, albeit for a hilarious (and possibly offensive, depending on what your humor is) joke. Wonderful.

Erik Larsen has been one of the more consistently creative Image founders (read: he actually continues to make comics), so it's great to see him venture out into adventurous, weirder territory. I wish more established creators did this, and I especially hope that we see more of this from Larsen in particular.



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