"Shirt of Nessus"
Editor's Note: Incredible Hercules #113 arrives in stores tomorrow, January 16.
Luke Handley: 4 Bullets
Paul Brian McCoy: 4 Bullets
Spoiler-free Summary: Herc and Amadeus are each following their own plans and pursuing their own agendas regarding what to do next when Ares and Wonder Man arrive to arrest them.
Paul: Well, that doesnít sound like a lot goes on in this issue, but believe me, thereís plenty of action and character development to go around. I want to say this right off the bat and just get it out there. This title is much better without The Hulk. Thatís right. I said it. In fact, if it keeps this up, it will definitely be joining the ranks of Thunderbolts, Immortal Iron Fist, and Captain America in the ranks of best books Marvel publish. Iíd already put it in the top 10.
Luke: Iím probably not the most qualified person to say this, Iíve never had much interest in The Hulk as a character nor have I followed his title, but I agree with you. The very reason that Iíve stuck with this title post-World War Hulk is the change in lead; though it might initially have seemed an odd choice to replace Bruce Banner, Hercules and Amadeus Cho work remarkably well together, and itís the dynamic between them that really drives the book.
Paul: I donít know if itís the combination of characters or if itís the combination of writers Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente, but the quality of storytelling on this title is much more solid and all-around impressive since Hulk was shunted off to his naptime underground.
Luke: As I said, I didnít follow the title pre-WWH, but this issue is as good, if not better, than the crossover tie-ins. Though Herc already enjoyed a starring role in those issues, he was still the same old slightly one-dimensional character from back in his early Avengers days: strong, heroic, but of limited thought capability and rather slow on the uptake.
Paul: I agree, and if youíre a reader who just wants goofy, drunk Hercules, then youíre out of luck. If youíre a reader who wants to read about a character who has experienced the worst of tragedies along with the greatest of adventures, then this is the book for you. Pak and Van Lente do a very nice job of incorporating the mythological elements of Herculesí character, particularly the tragic, in a way that broadens and expands the range of his dramatic possibilities.
Luke: And Hercules isnít the only character who shines. While I do miss Namora and Angel, who both, for the first time in years, finally had a purpose in the Marvel Universe, their absence is more than compensated by the new supporting cast.
Paul: I find myself missing them, too. Hopefully theyíll turn up somewhere along the line.
Luke: The writers also do an excellent job of incorporating the modern militaristic nature of the plight our hero faces with his mythological roots.
Paul: Yes, the inclusion of other mythological characters, particularly Ares, from the very beginning of this run, is a strong component in the way the story is constructed. Another relative of Hercís appears this issue (I wonít mention who) but they serve to not only ground his character as part of a larger family of characters, they provide a fairly threatening glimpse into the possible future of Amadeus.
Luke: After the way Pak handled Herc and Amadeus during World War Hulk I had no doubt that they would be in capable hands here, but Ares really is the surprise of the issue.
Paul: Too true. Aresí singleminded pursuit of Hercules provides not only a huge amount of the old ultra-violence (along with the funniest use of the Registration Act Iíve seen in any Marvel comic since Civil War), but provides our link to the mythological source of this monthís title: ďShirt of Nessus.Ē If you google that, youíll get a good idea of where Ares is going with this conflict. However, even he didnít count on some good old Hulk-style smashing taking place.
Luke: Yeah, I almost felt sorry for the guy. Over in Mighty Avengers, Iron Man and Ms. Marvel are far too obsessed by the fact that they have someone who is ďa Wolverine and a ThorĒ to notice that they have an ultra-aggressive ultra-violent sociopath on their team. Hell, heís the God of War, what do you expect? Just as with Hercules, Pak and Van Lente succeed in capturing the ancient mythological element of the character whilst showing how he adapts to modern times and wars. Thereís something incredibly satisfying about seeing Ares blazing away with a gun loaded with bullets filled with Hydra blood whilst quoting subsections of the Superhuman Registration Act. His teaming with Wonder Man, the most morally unambiguous of Starkís Avengers, further serves to highlight what a maniac he is.
Paul: Amadeus, in the meantime, is up to something no less maniacal, really, and no matter how many times Herc tells him "No," he still wants to, and plans to, destroy S.H.I.E.L.D. I have no idea where heís going with this plan, but it looks like he and Herc may end up with their own mode of transport very soon.
Luke: Amadeus certainly is starting to toe the line. Over the last couple of months, heís gone from naive child who sees things as black and white, right or wrong, and acts accordingly, to slightly morally ambiguous, manipulative genius. As foreshadowed this issue, he has the capacity for "unlimited good" or "unspeakable evil," and it looks like Herc will be the one responsible for steering him one way or the other.
Paul: Artistically, I had a couple of problems with the last issue Ė nothing major, just little perspective glitches that took me out of the moment. This time around thereís none of that. I donít know if itís the arrival of Ultimates inker Paul Neary or what, but the look of the title has gotten a bit more consistent and distinctive. The backgrounds and distance shots are a little simplified, but they look good and provide a nice stylistic touch. This looks as though it were inked by hand instead of digitally (whether it was or not), with line work that feels organic (if that means anything). The line widths vary, usually in the same stroke, and are almost never overdone. If just a dot or a dash is all thatís necessary, thatís all thatís on the page. Neary and Pham arenít going for ultra realism, nor are they using animation techniques. This is just good old fashioned comic book art. And I love the look of the S.H.I.E.L.D. soldiers and the helicarriers. If they reminded me of anything it would be Heavy Metal or 2000AD.
Luke: Indeed, were it nothing else, this issue would still be visually attractive. I think youíve just about summed it up, Paul, and I donít have much to add. I will say though that I was particularly impressed by the smooth transitions from present day storytelling to the ca. 1270 B.C. flashbacks. The latter sequences really drag you into the story being told and the slightly faded colouring is a simple but effective way of marking the difference.
Paul: So to sum up, this is well worth the time and money. Itís a step up in quality from the already high quality Incredible Hulk run Pak has been responsible for and the art is very nice. The mythological elements of Hercules character are playing a central part and are serving to make him a much more nuanced and interesting character than heís ever been. Amadeus Cho continues to be entertaining with his determination and grit. And even Ares is being utilized much more effectively than he has been over in Mighty Avengers. I recommend this highly. It is, without a doubt, one of the best books Marvel is putting out at the moment.
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