Herc, the fun Marvel Comics Hercules-centric ongoing series by writers Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente, is ending this week with issue #10. In honor of this underrated series untimely cancellation, I present to you the Top Ten Issues of Herc, wherein I tell you all about the comic book you missed and pick apart the series' very anatomy for my own writerly, process-obsessive reasons.
Also, there are lots of fun pictures!
10. Herc #1
The inaugural issue of Herc opens on a surprising sequence wherein our hero employs his various mythological gear (the Sword of Peleus, the Shield of Perseus, etc) to dispatch some of those subway-dwelling gangs you always see in movies — a jarring, gritty image for readers used to the more wacky antics of Incredible Hercules. For example look at Hercules kicks a regular dude but hard.
Ultimately, Herc #1 is one of those first issues where the writers establish the status quo of the character (living in Brooklyn, bartending at a Greek restaurant) before we get a cliffhanger involving a supervillain (in this case, an incredibly shrill iteration of Hobgoblin). Amusing enough, but at this pace needs a few issues to really sell itself. I'm sure the $3.99 price tag (thanks to some padding from an 8-page "Hercules Saga" recap) didn't help the book's case.
Also, Herc discovers this in the room George Michael has graciously given him:
9. Herc #2
Concluding the fight with Hobgoblin, who's a really, really annoying villain (intentionally, I think), Herc #2 offers a pretty decent action scene that lets Herc's not-girlfriend Rhea in on the action, some development of the relationship between Herc's boss George Michael (seriously) and his daughter, which leads to a surprising twist as far as who our hero can trust. By the end of the book, we finally have our premise solidified: Hercules, local celebrity bartender, is the superhero defender of Brooklyn.
Put together, the first two issues of Herc form the comics equivalent of a two-hour television pilot, telling a self-contained, double-sized story that also sets up a bunch of plot points (the separate threats of the Kingpin and Kyknos, Son of Ares, for starts) in case it gets picked up as a series. Which is appropriate, because at this point Herc seems like it would make a good TV show, like Cupid meets Xena: Warrior Princess (you listening, ABC?).
Also, Herc does this to Hobgoblin, who totally has it coming.
8. Herc #3
Technically, Herc #3 is a Fear Itself-tie in. In reality, however, it happens on the fringes of Marvel's big summer 2011 event. Sure, you get some shots of Thor fighting Hulk, and the hammer-related disaster at the Raft superjail sets loose the superpowered inmates that become Herc's sidekicks and vehicle (don't ask) for the rest of the four-issue story arc, but if you weren't already aware that there was a major crossover event happening in a bunch of Marvel titles, you probably wouldn't notice. You kind of get a sense that Pak and Van Lente tweaked their original scripts for Herc #3-6 to pay lip service to the event.
For one thing, the villains of the arc are the aforementioned Kyknos, his pervasive Warhawk cult and the terror goddess Hecate — not a single hammer in sight. Mostly, however, this issue is concerned with Herc meeting and fighting the escaped inmates whose first move upon getting accidentally busted out of prison through evil Asgardian means is… robbing a bank. There's a reason these guys are in jail, after all. By the end of the issue, we get a taste of the real threat that will become the focus of the story, which thankfully gets bigger than simple public unrest.
Also, this issue has one of my favorite sequences in the series:
7. Herc #4
I have no recollection of reading the Fear Itself tie-ins of Herc when they were coming out. In my defense, it turns out that reading comprehension falters when half the books you're picking up every month have the same (kinda ugly) Fear Itself trade dress and every single book was dealing with similar threats. Someone was hoping that the book would get a boost in sales from the event, but I think the sheer number of tie-ins readers had to contend with thwarted that marketing gimmick. In retrospect, however, I kind of love this arc.
Herc #4 escalates the circumstances established at the end of #3, with Herc's brief public adoration already turning on him thanks to Hecate. Brooklyn's gone 28 Days Later nuts, but with a bigger vocabulary and an eye for looting, the villain Griffin has transformed into Herc's trusty winged Battlecat and not even his pal George Michael give him any shelter. Thematically similar to Fear Itself, but not bothering to tie into the event. Fine by me.
Also, a little girl stabs Herc in the back with shears.
6. Herc #5
This is the one where it gets really good. After passing out from being both shot and stabbed, Herc awakens to find that Brooklyn has been transformed into some kind of Kulan Gath-styled fantasy horror by Hecate where cops are now uniformed gremlins that ride dragons and trains are giant bugs. And, like The Warriors, he has to get to Coney Island to take on the Ares-obsessed cult that's been causing trouble since Issue #1 (what was that movie about, again?).
The escalation in each chapter in this story arc is a great move by Pak and Van Lente. While the first two issues seemed like Herc was going to be a gritty comic about a Greek demigod fighting mobsters, cultists and lower-tier Marvel supervillains, this second story arc gives the series its own mini-event, creating a serious sense of danger for our hero and his sidekicks in a scenario that not only puts our hero to the test, but also seems tied to the book's own mythos — what with dealing with Greek gods and all that crap.
Also, Griffin, my new favorite character in this series, crashes and burns. He turns out okay, but he's pretty much gone after this story. I really wish they kept him around as Herc's exotic Brooklyn pet.
5. Herc #6
The conclusion of the vague-ish Fear Itself tie-in arc doesn't try to top the phenomenal third chapter, but offers some choice moments in its climax. You know you're in for good comics when an issue opens with the villain beating the protagonist's sidekicks with their boss's own petrified body. For reals.
Besides Herc's inevitable triumph in the face of evil, the thing I appreciate most about this issue is that Pak and Van Lente didn't forget about the tumultuous relationship between George Michael and his daughter, which becomes an important plot point in this issue. I will always appreciate a superhero comic that deals with personal relationships in addition to punching and kicking. Always.
Also, I think Jay-Z would take umbrage at this proclamation.
4.1 Herc #6.1
It was with the release of this "new reader friendly" Point One issue that Marvel announced the cancellation of Herc, which is either really poor timing or an obvious sign that nobody was really taking that particular initiative very seriously. This story itself, drawn by the legendary Mike Grell (!), recounts the details of Hercules' self-exile to Brooklyn as the Greek god Hermes visits Earth to investigate the theft of all those mystical weapons from Olympus. Did I mention Mike Grell drew the thing?
Coming out directly after the Fear Itself story arc, Herc #6.1 has the feel of a more grounded, cheaper to "filler episode," if we must return to the TV show comparison that deals with character development and fleshing out the "mythology" of the world. Still, this is a comic where we walk in on Dionysus' wine-soaked, disembodied head on a pedestal after a drunken god-orgy, so don't get it twisted — this isn't exactly Herc cutting up guys on a subway ride. All in all, a solid standalone story that will turn out to be a more-than-welcome breather between event tie-ins.
Also, Herc blows up some titans with an anti-tank missile.
4. Herc #7
I'm not gonna lie: even after having read this "Spider-Island" tie-in when it came out a few months ago, by the time I get to Herc #7 I start to think, "Another crossover? Seriously?" But then Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente and replacement penciler June Brigman drop this bomb on us and I can't help but giggle:
Even though I know Pak and Van Lente's shtick (fun, often very funny superhero comics), this issue finds them in rare form with the comedy and superhero antics. Curiously, this crossover issue is also a pretty good jumping-on point, reestablishing that Herc works as a bartender in a great three-page hangout sequence. Then, there's a recap page on the third-to-last page surely meant to bring up to speed any reader who's picking this issue up just because of "Spider-Island" in the hopes that they'll stick around. This issue is heavy on the light-hearted quirkiness, and is honestly one of the more entertaining installments in the series.
Also, if you needed another indication that Pak and Van Lente were having fun with this story:
Also-also, this issue has a blind dog in it:
3. Herc #8
Thankfully, the "Spider-Island" tie-in is only a two-parters. Any more issues devoted to Hercules dressing up as Spider-Man and doing evil deeds at the behest of the "Queen of Spider-Island" and you kind of get away from the premise of the book for a little too long. Once again, Pak and Van Lente bring mythology to the crossover, thanks to the presence of Arachne and Anansi. In fact, all the "Spider-Island" tie-ins I've read have done an amazing job of staying relevant to their respective protagonists and not being total slaves to the crossover.
Plot-wise, the "Spider-Story" arc is a bit slight compared to "Fear Itself" but it seems like the writers were being a little more playful with the scripts this time around. I'd debate the necessity of the X-Men in the story, but they at least give something for the reader to identify with while Herc's acting all mildly villainous. Not to mention all the Emma Frost quips we get as a result.
Also, this episode ends with Hercules having sex with Arachne, a giant spider lady. As the X-Men watch, captured in a giant web. Genius.
2. Herc #9
First of all, I think Herc #9 would have sold a few more copies if Elektra were on the cover, considering she's in the damn thing. Instead, cover artist Tom Grummett chose to focus on the Zeus-part of the issue as the book's eye-catching image. That's cool too, I guess. Not as cool as a bunch of ninjas exploding into green smoke, but to each his own. I suppose addressing the fact that Hera turns Zeus mortal, forcing the ex-god to seek his own son Hercules for solace is a bit more "thematically appropriate."
What starts out as a knowing sitcom trope (as Herc's very own will they/won't they squeeze Rhea points out) gets a kick in the ass as the fat, drunken Zeus tags along as Herc fights the shit out of some ninjas alongside Elektra, who rides off from battle in the mythical hut of Baba Yaga. Not even Elektra, a Frank Miller creation, can be entirely gritty in the world of Herc.
In addition to returning to that dangling subplot of the mysterious Hercules worshippers (who have become our hero's Oracle-like support), Herc #9 has the best joke-to-comic ratio of the book, making for the most entertaining issue of the entire series, thanks to the chemistry between the oafish Herc and his horndog father, who gets some of the best lines of the issue. This is seriously the funniest Herc gets since the Taste my steel!" sequence in Issue #3.
To sweeten the deal, the art gets an upgrade from pretty good to pretty great as David Hahn has taken over for the last couple issues of the series. Not to slight the previous artists, but Hahn is definitely the best storyteller of the series so far (save Mike Grell).
Also, the title of this issue makes me giggle every time:
1. Herc #10
You got me: this one isn't out yet. It comes out on November 30, 2011 But logically, since every issue of Herc has actually gotten better than the last, #10 should be the best issue of Herc ever, mostly because there won't be any more. I expect some jokes (most likely involving Zeus' lechery and general drunken inappropriateness), more Elektra action and some incredulousness from Rhea, if they can fit her in.
(By the way: looks like they saved the Elektra cover for #10. Hm)
Surely Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente will conclude the Kingpin subplot (as much as you can end a plot involving the resilient crime boss) and the Zeus subplot, but I can't imagine it won't feel rushed, considering the boys only have 20 pages to tie up any loose ends they think they need to tie up. Hope for a pretty decent ending, but a bittersweet one as you imagine all the gags and stories the pair couldn't get around to.
We'll find out tomorrow, I suppose, as comics loses another fun, quirky, under-the-radar series.
Also, dig this Michel Avon Oeming variant cover for #10. So we end on a happy note.
Danny Djeljosevic is a comic book creator, award-winning filmmaker (assuming you have absolutely no follow-up questions), film/music critic for Spectrum Culture and Co-Managing Editor of Comics Bulletin. Follow him on Twitter at @djeljosevic or find him somewhere in San Diego, often wearing a hat. Read his comic, "Sgt. Death and his Metachromatic Men," over at Champion City Comics and check out his other comics at his Tumblr, Sequential Fuckery.