Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Incredible Hercules: Against the World

By Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente
Art by Khoi Pham

Can you keep Lycus and Laeomedom straight? Do you remember what a Hydra is? Who really liked the Birds of Stymphalis? Well, if Greek mythology is Greek to you, then you might want to pick up, The Incredible Hercules: Against the World. All these questions and more are answered in this extremely entertaining graphic novel.

It collects the first four issues of the ongoing monthly comic Incredible Hercules, which deals with the Greek demi-god’s adventures in the present -- of the fictional Marvel Universe, that is. In this arc, Hercules and a boy genius sidekick named Amadeus Cho find themselves on the wrong side of the law. They are relentlessly pursued by S.H.I.E.L.D. (think C.I.A. and F.B.I. combined with more toys) and Herc’s half-brother Ares, the Greek god of war, who has somehow joined the ranks of the Marvel Universe’s super-hero team, the Avengers.

Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente, the writers, weave the present story of the fugitives’ with past tales of Hercules legendary labors to illustrate the human condition of our heroes. Hercules struggles not to make the same mistakes, even as his enemies from the past, namely Ares, are out to make him pay for them. And even more endearing, Hercules attempts to dissuade his young comrade, Amadeus, from emulating his bad decisions. The rest of the supporting cast of characters is fully realized, different and entertaining. From Wonder Man playing the straight man to a blatantly fratricidal Ares, to a frustrated S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Gabe Jones watching his carefully ordered world being destroyed by a teenager, to a lethally competent Black Widow admitting to an earlier crush on Hercules – all play their parts, and yet reveal hidden depths. Especially Ares, who so easily could have been a cardboard, melodramatic villain, but instead is portrayed with all too understandable human desires.

Khoi Pham handles the art chores perfectly, with a detailed style that has an etching quality suitable for the heroic tales of the past, but is still loose and dynamic enough to convey the frenetic plight of the present story line. Pham, Pak and Van Lente have created a rare thing these days: A comic book that is fun AND literate; that indulges in its epic superhero tropes AND deftly comments on everyday human concerns; that girls AND boys, children AND adults will enjoy. I highly recommend giving this graphic novel a try.

Reserve your copy of The Incredible Hercules: Against the World here.

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