Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente on ‘HERC’ #1: Meet The New God, Same as the Old God
With the final issue of Chaos War, writers Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente brought the three-year saga of Incredible Hercules to a close, but as it turns out, they weren't done with the character just yet.
This week, Pak and Van Lente send the Lion of Olympus on the next chapter of his three-thousand year-long story with HERC #1, in which Hercules, having lost his strength, invulnerability and immortality, sets up shop on the streets of Brooklyn, fighting evil in a way he's never had to before and taking on the Kingpin with an arsenal of mythological weaponry. It's a big step for the character, and a big departure from what we've seen before, so today, ComicsAlliance presents our talk with Pak and Van Lente about everyone's favorite Olympian Avenger, followed by a six-page preview of the first issue.
ComicsAlliance: You two have been writing Hercules in one form or another for over three years now, and in that time, you've pit him against super-heroes, super-villains, gods, aliens, and alien gods. Now, after Chaos War, it seems like you're going in a different direction that's more street level than Herc fans might be used to. Was that just a function of not being able to get any bigger with the adventures?
Fred Van Lente: To a certain degree.
Greg Pak: Fred wanted to have him marry Jean Grey and turn into Dark Phoenix Herc, but that seemed a bit much.FVL: For me, more, it was finding a hook that worked with Hercules. When Incredible Hercules ended, the Cho/Herc relationship went with it. That was the heart of that book, and we didn't want to keep doing more of the same. Going in a totally different direction, and have him marry Jean Grey seemed like the way to go.
GP: Seriously, this new direction just made perfect sense after crazy heights of Chaos War. We'd made Herc the most powerful All-Father in the Marvel Universe. Now there was a chance to turn that all on its head and make him one of the least powerful superheroes in the Marvel Universe. Always great drama in great upheavals like that, and great opportunities for charcter development.
FVL: Part of it also, was the stigma of being a "fun" book. The comics market, in general, is not a huge fan of "fun" books. We thought bringing it down to street level, having him be more of an urban vigilante -- the two-word pitch for this series is "URBAN CONAN" -- would cause folks who maybe were turned off by some of the comedic aspects of iHERC to try out this new series.
CA: I really enjoyed the first issue, but when that first preview came out, I was surprised at how violent that opening sequence is when you compare it to Incredible Hercules.
FVL: Yeah, that was wholly intentional. The next two issues are even more violent. This is what excites me about the series: bringing a Dark Ages mentality to fighting crime in modern-day Brookyln. There's still humor in the book, though -- Greg and I are writing after all -- as the inherent insanity of having a guy with a sword running around New York City's back alleys stabbing criminals and fighting the Kingpin lends itself to that kind of treatment.
GP: You should have seen how much more violent the first draft was. If you read the original myths, they're actually a hundred times MORE violent. Herc was the original Hulk. Massive anger management and impulse control issues.
CA: Was the first draft really more violent?
GP: Oh, yeah.
FVL: It was, yeah. Originally Herc's arrows had the gall of the Hydra on them (the poison with that killed him), and so they instantly killed his enemies. Unfortunately "I kill you instantly, nyah nyah" works about as well in drama as it does in the playground, so we scrapped that.
GP: The turning-people-to-stone thing was a way of toning it DOWN.
FVL: Yeah, we were arguing whether or not the Medusa-Look was temporary, or those statue-people were just screwed. Ultimately, again, for story reasons, we decided it should be temporary.
CA: Is the more brutal, Conan-style aspect of it something you're having fun with? I mean, it's always been violent, but while there were huge stakes, the violence was often slapstick, right down to the sound effects.
FVL: It is, yeah. I just didn't want to do the fourth year of Incredible Hercules. I wanted to do a completely different book, just one with many of the same characters that complemented iHerc. I don't really see myself as one of these folks (and God bless those who do) that can write years upon years of a book. I am a novelist at heart, really. I like seeing things end. Part of the product of a short attention span, really. (laughs)
GP: Herc is mortal now, so the fact that he can actually be hurt needed to be reflected in the book. Every punch and stab and fall and gunshot has a real effect. The emotional stakes end up much higher as a result.
CA: I like that you've set up this big change for Hercules, in that for the first time in a life that's lasted thousands of years, he's not super-strong and invulnerable, but he still has access to all this fantastic mythological equipment. Magic swords, a shield that can turn you to stone, arrows that go through anything...
FVL: Helm of Invisibility, 20-sided die... (Wait. One of those is wrong.)
CA: Yeah, I was going to ask if you just let him go through the DungeonMaster's Guide to pick out items.
FVL: We drew the line at the Deck of Many Things.
GP: He may end up flying a griffin at some point, though.
FVL: I think we were going to put the impenetrable skin of the Nemean Lion on him, but it clashed with Carlo Pagulayan's new design for him. Part of the challenge of choosing Greek weapons and armor is that they're all impenentrable this, unbreakable that... Need more variety! The full story of how and why Herc left Olympus will be told in HERC #6.1 by... (Drum roll, please) Mr. Mike Grell. Couldn't be more psyched.
CA: Was there a challenge in balancing out his new status as a guy who can be hurt with his mythological status as a guy who rolled with the Argonauts and has a couple thousand years of magic treasure to back him up?
FVL: It's kind of an easy balancing act, because Herc has always been the most mortal of gods. He was raised to be a mortal, and thought he was one until he was a young adult. The analogies between him and, say, Clark Kent, are pretty apt -- and obvious, I guess. I hesitate to say we're "returning Herc to his roots" because it's such a comics cliche, but... uh... We're returning him to his roots. Except we've swapped ancient Greece for Brooklyn.
CA: Please tell me we're going to get a six-issue miniseries called THEBES about Herc as a teenager with how Ares is his best friend and he can't decide if he wants to go fight the Nemean lion or not.
FVL: That would be awesome. And Herc ends up strung up in an olive grove with "H" painted on his chest in green and gold paint.
CA: You mentioned that Herc's relationships are different at the end of Chaos War, and for fans who are following from Incredible Herc, the absence of Amadeus Cho is giong to be another really noticeable change.
FVL: Right. I am using Amadeus in a Fear Itself tie-in that will be announced laterish.
GP: Yes. Amadeus and Herc kind of completed the big story arc they had together during the course of Incredible Hercules. And in this new story, Herc is depowered. To have him paired with Amadeus would make things a little too easy for him at this point. It's time for Herc to sweat it on his own for a while.
FVL: And, I would argue, ditto for Amadeus, too.
CA: What's the status of their relationship at the start of Herc? Cho went through a long way to bring Hercules back from the dead and fight off the destruction of everything. Are they still pals?
GP: You bet!
FVL: Sure, for the most part. They bonded a lot during Chaos War too. But Cho is the student who has graduated. He no longer needs Herc's tutelage (or thinks he doesn't).
GP: BFF 2GOOD2B4GOTTEN!
FVL: (Greg how many times have I told you stop texting me that)
GP: And they each have solo issues to work out. Amadeus is showing up next in Incredible Hulks #626 in a week or two.
FVL: But Herc may be more lost and vulnerable on the mortal plane without having the distraction and responsibility of watching out for young Cho.
GP: A big part of the Herc book is setting up ENORMOUS challenges for our hero. Herc is a mere mortal with the responsbilities of a God. So depriving him of Amadeus's big brain helps amp up the stakes.
FVL: Exactly. And we want him to be alone, vulnerable, etc.
CA: While we're on the subject of Herc's old supporting cast, what about Hebe? Is her marriage to Herc over now that he's no longer a god?
FVL: For Hebe's fate (and the rest of Olympus -- now in Long Island Sound), see HERC #6.1.
CA: Wait, so Asgard's in Oklahoma and Olympus is in Long Island Sound?
FVL: Right. Zeus had to top Odin. Greg spelled that out in Incredible Hulks.
GP: Incredible Hulks #621 and #622. That's when we first see the gods in their new digs.
CA: Despite the fact that Herc seems to have mostly moved to fighting the Kingpin, the gods still have a presence in the book -- specifically a street gang that seems based around Ares. Is this part of the theme you guys are working with of bringing the gods down to a more approachable level?
FVL: There are two gods in particular who play a huge part in the HERC story. They take center stage when our Fear Itself arc begins in #3.
GP: They are indeed quite... FEARSOME! (Seriously, they're awesome.)
FVL: They are both Olympians. Both have appeared in Marvel Comics before. One got killed during Dark Reign, and has returned, somewhat by accident, by the same Herc-mechanizations that resurrected Alpha Flight. So Herc feels exceptionally honor-bound to bring this rogue divinity down. But he has no powers... HOW CAN HE DO IT?!
GP: The other hasn't been seen for a long time, but is an amazing character with a special niche that I think could have some real staying power in the Marvel U.
FVL: The other will stroke your well-developed Obscure Character muscles, Chris. (Sorry, I phrased that weirdly. Wait, no. I'm not sorry.)
CA: The least you can do after that comment is tell me, Fred.
FVL: She hasn't appeared since the '70s, and is a Chris Claremont creation. And she's pretty weird even by his standards.
GP: In the actual mythological record, she's also one of the most mysterious of the gods.
FVL: Apart, they can put a hurting on our mortal Herc. Together... I believe the only apt phrase is "Woo Baby."
CA: So does the gang with the Ares tattoos ever get into a turf war with the gang with the Green Goblin tattoos from Amazing Spider-Man and Osborn? Fred, do you find yourself caught in the middle?
GP: Waaaarriors! Come out an' plaaaayayy!
FVL: There is a mastermind behind the Warhawks, and he is revealed in the final moments of #2. He's a villain with a hatred for Herc nursed since mythological times, who appeared briefly in iHerc but is taking center stage now.
GP: We're having a ton of fun with a bunch of villains in this book. One of my favorite moments thus far involves the reveal of a villain you would NEVER expect to see in a Hercules story, but who makes perfect sense in this new milieu.
CA: Will we be seeing any new villains? I know Fred's been on a spree of creating new bad guys in books like Taskmaster and Power Man & Iron Fist.
GP: One or two new creations. But mostly we're bringing in classic villains in fun, new ways.
FVL: We're doing some fun stuff with the villains in this book, including a couple well-known B-listers who are science-based but whose abilities emulate effects found in mythology. They play a major part of the Fear Itself arc, in which the Warhawks, whose philosophy is "All Versus All," (my Action Philosophers background creeping in again there) are able to take advantage of the chaos caused by Fear Itself to enact that philosophy on Brooklyn in a deeply frightening way. And guess who is the only man who can stop it? Hint: His name begins in "H" and ends in "Erc".
GP: Helicopter Merc! Marvel's actioniest new action hero!
CA: What about allies? Being a street-level hero in Marvel New York pretty much guarantees you'll bump into Moon Knight or Spider-Man at some point.
FVL: I can pretty much guarantee he's going to meet one of them. And perhaps be involved in a special summer crossover involving them...
CA: Please say it's FEAR ITSELF: HELICOPTER MERC.
GP: Helicopter Merc steals the Mooncopter. (Do they call it a Mooncopter?)
CA: I believe it actually is called a Mooncopter, but to be honest, I'm no Moonknightologist.
FVL: Who has the AIRWOLF license? There's one franchise that's due for a revival.
GP: BLUE THUNDER, baby!
FVL: There are two types of people in this world, Greg. AirWolf people. And Blue Thunder people. AND I SIR AM AN AIRWOLF PERSON.
GP: Then when the helicopters become sentient and choose their human slave-warriors... When the helicopters hunt down humans for their succulent white meat... you and I shall join in battle for the glory of our respective copter franchise's honor!
CA: Say what you want about "fun" comics, but I think readers would definitely jump on a Hercules/Airwolf ongoing series.
FVL: I love fun comics. I just wish the market loved them as much as I did.
GP: "Fun" is a weird word, because ALL comics are fun, or we wouldn't be reading them. And like all great action movies, even the grittiest comics tend to have a lotta laffs.
FVL: Right. I think it has to do with the fact fans want series that "matter," that impact the fictive universe. I think there's a perception that titles that don't take themselves too seriously don't "count". Unless you're Deadpool. But I am very much enjoying this new tone with Herc -- I wanted to do something different, or I didn't want to do the series.
CA: Do you think you'll be able to find a balance that'll appeal to fans of Incredible Hercules and still draw new readers?
GP: I think it's a pretty subtle variation in tone we're talking about here. The book retains a great deal of humor that Incredible Hercules fans will hopefully respond to. Herc remains Herc. He gets a job as a barkeeper. But there's a level of grit and realism to the environment and an elevated sense of danger because of Herc's mortality that give the book much higher stakes.
FVL: There's enough of the humor to bring along our iHerc fans, I think, with a new, more deadly edge, thanks to Herc's mortality, to broaden our audience a bit.
GP: Or, what Fred just said. Can we just sing the praises of our artist for a second?
CA: By all means.
GP: We've been talking about the grit and realism of the book... and a HUGE amount of that is due to the incredible art team.
FVL: Neil Edwards, Scott Hanna, and Jesus Aburto have just been drawing the hell out of this title, and really giving a perfect, unique feel. And as we move into the even more darker realm of the FEAR ITSELF storyline, where Herc will find his newfound family horribly threatened, they're shining even more.
GP: It borders on the photorealistic style, which is just gorgeous and makes the book feel amazingly vital and real... but at the same time, these artists know how to push the images into that big Mighty Marvel action that a Herc book really wants.
CA: And you also have the pages that go from the super-hero action to the Grecian Urn style panels that explain where Herc gets his gear.
FVL: Yes! They really kicked ass on that. That'll be a motif used throughout the series.
GP: One final tease: In issue #4, Herc gets a pet.
FVL: That's true! He becomes sort of an Amadeus surrogate.... (Though it's not a coyote pup.)
GP: AND NOTHING WILL EVER BE THE SAME.
HERC #1 Six-Page Preview
HERC #1 is in stores today by Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente, Neil Edwards, Scott Hanna and Jesus Abertov with a cover price of $3.99.