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Nothing is Bad: Chaos War #1 [Review]

“Chaos War” has had me both excited and worried since it was first announced. On the one hand it’s another story in Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente’s saga of Hercules and Amadeus Cho. On the other hand, it’s a crossover mini-event, complete with the massive cast and numerous tie-ins that involves. Pak and Van Lente’s Hercules series and the follow up Prince of Power mini-series have been some of the best stories the Marvel Universe has seen in recent years, reinventing a lesser known character while at the same time shaping Amadeus Cho into one of the best new superheroes to hit a continuity heavy superhero universe in the past decade. They’ve created a perfect mix of laughs, drama, and action flavored with both high tech gadgets and heavily researched mythology. But event comics, even minor ones like this, present a lot of potential pitfalls. Characters often get pushed into the background, being shoved around by the weight of the massive dilemmas rather than driving the story themselves. Huge ensemble casts can cut into everyone’s opportunities to appear. And big battle scenes can reduce full issues to stock battle cries repeated ad nauseam. And while so far I’ve only got one issue to judge, I can happily report that I’m breathing a huge sigh of relief because “Chaos War” #1 is a fantastic comic that captures everything I love about its main characters and moves them onto a big stage in the midst of fittingly epic events where the fate of all existence hangs in the balance.

When “Prince of Power” concluded, Amadeus had successfully rescued Hercules from the alternate dimension where he’d been trapped, and in the process had upgraded Herc from demigod to a near omnipotent god in his own right. But the reunion was less than happy, as Hercules brought with him the somewhat troubling news that Amatsu-Mikaboshi, the Lord of Darkness and Chaos of the Japanese pantheon, was planning on destroying all of existence and replacing it with nothingness. Which has been what villains do in Japanese folklore ever since every Final Fantasy game ever. So Hercules must gather together the world’s heroes to fight back.

And while that should be easy, considering most heroes are going to be in favor of continuing to exist, there’s a bit of a snag in that Herc doesn’t quite have control of his newfound god-powers yet. He has trouble managing his anger, which doesn’t combine well with the fact that he also has trouble not causing massive property damage with every step he takes. In order to convince the other heroes that he’s not some all-powerful shirtless super-hobo impersonating their dead friend while leaving a path of devastation in Manhattan, Hercules needs the help of his friend Amadeus. And once again it’s the relationship between the two characters, the thousands-of-years-old boisterous strong man and the young genius, that makes this comic work so well.

“Chaos War” #1 isn’t even so much an event comic as it is the continuing storyline that Pak and Van Lente started way back when Hercules first took over the “Incredible Hulk” book. Yes, many other heroes appear from all corners of the Marvel Universe. But they’re more like guest stars in Herc and Amadeus’ book. And each of the two stars are given chances to take the spotlight in new ways that see them further grow as characters. Hercules must come to grips with his new powers, but also must find a way to deal with the responsibility of being a leader. Amadeus, meanwhile, continues to emerge from Hercules’ shadow to become a hero in the eyes of the rest of the Marvel Universe.

The first issue of “Chaos War” finds the right combination of telling a story that is epic in scope while at the same time keeping the sense of humor so important to these characters. Pak, Van Lente and the art team of Khoi Pham, Tom Palmer and Sunny Gho succeed equally well in scenes of stirring inspirational speeches, touching moments of friendship and wise-cracking and are able to flow from one mood to another without ever feeling disjointed. There are even a few tongue in cheek moments of that don’t quite break the fourth wall but do walk up to it and give it a good smack. Particularly fun are a few lines from ordinary New Yorkers who witness Hercules’ return and provide an interesting peek into what it must be like to try to life as a regular Manhattanite in the Marvel Universe.

“Chaos War” #1 is the best event book I can remember reading for a long, long time and I can’t wait to see how it unfolds from here.

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