Hercules: Four Incredible Years with the Mythical Marvel Hero Come to a Close
Most heroes of the stories we tell each other are slowly forgotten over time, or if they’re lucky, enter into myth, their details slowly blurred by decades. Every so often, though, this process goes in reverse, and legends are pulled forwards through time to inspire great new stories about old heroes. Such is the case with Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente’s four-year run with the legendary Marvel Comics character Hercules, which ended this week in Herc #10.While it’s sad that Hercules won’t be making appearances on comics shelves as frequently in the months to come, it’s also a time to reflect on how Pak and Van Lente have made the Marvel Universe a richer place by elevating the character to where he is today. Although Hercules had been part of Marvel’s cast of heroes for over forty years, the characters rarely reached the heroic stature of the original Greek myths that inspired him. Instead, he was most often seen as a friendly rival to Thor or a swaggering strong man in a superhero team book. Moments in the spotlight were few, far between and brief when they came.
Then in the aftermath of the World War Hulk event, Incredible Hulk was retitled Incredible Hercules and Pak and Van Lente debuted their first issue co-writing the adventures of the Greek demigod. Herc got a new sidekick, the young supergenius Amadeus Cho, whose brilliant but cautious approach was the perfect foil for the millenia-old but still impulsive demigod. Pak and Van Lente didn’t play down the bragging, partying qualities that had previously defined Hercules, but helped transform him into someone more multi-dimensional by giving him responsibilities and a sidekick to mentor.
Since then they’ve taken a character who existed for decades as a second or third-string Marvel hero a supporting comic relief role and fleshed him out into a more well-rounded character who took center stage in his own series and even starred as the main protagonist of a crossover event.
The Incredible Hercules series ended its run with the Assault on New Olympus, an event where Hercules leads a team of heroes to stop Hera from destroying all of humanity. Hercules was believed killed in the victorious battle to save the world, only to return later in the Chaos War crossover event, where once more, he won the battle at a great cost, sacrificing his god-like powers to save the universe.
No longer just someone along for the ride to heads to knock together or drink beer, Hercules had become a champion who rallied others to his cause. By showing Hercules through the eyes of other heroes, both at his funeral and during his finest moments in Chaos War, Pak and Van Lente cemented his place as someone worthy of standing shoulder to shoulder with the greatest heroes of the Marvel Universe.
Hercules then spun off into the series Herc, also by Pak and Van Lente, where Amadeus had struck out as a hero on his own, while a de-powered Hercules used an array of mythical weapons and armor to defend the people of his new home of Brooklyn. It’s a little unfortunate that the series began with two event tie-in arcs connected to Fear Itself and then Spider Island, because it meant that the book only started to tell stories on its own terms in what turned out to be its final arc.
While I’ll miss the lack of Hercules in the months to come, Pak and Van Lente have produced several other great books writing for Marvel, and will hopefully continue to do so (although the recent cancellation of Van Lente’s Destroyers miniseries before it even began is another let down). And whoever the next writer is to tell Hercules’ stories in the Marvel Universe will benefit from the pair’s four years of amazing work that kept what was already good about the character and then built more upon it. Marvel’s Hercules is now a deeper, more awe-inspiring, and even more fun character now than he was before.
If you haven’t read any of Pak and Van Lente’s Incredible Hercules run, or you’re feeling like rereading it, the first 13 issues are available digitally.