ComicsAlliance reviews the biggest, best, and most interesting comics that hit the shelves this week.

GOD-BYE - Incredible Hercules 141

For almost thirty issues Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente have been breathing new life into the Greek pantheon's role in the Marvel Universe in "Incredible Hercules," and in that time it's been one of the best ongoing books in the core Marvel Universe. And now, with Incredible Hercules 141, the "Assault on New Olympus" arc concludes and gods will fight and die, and things will change forever. Or at least until someone decides to change it back in a few years. But let's not worry about that now. Let's focus on the final chapter as it unfolded here.

And I speak in the plural because I find myself of two minds on this one. Like the duo of Cho and Herc, I'm split between approaching this book in a brainy way and in a straightforward, simple way, and depending on how I view it my entertainment value significantly differs. To better explain it, I'll let both halves debate it out themselves.

Pak and Van Lente have been carefully crafting an epic tale of heroism, friendship, betrayal and sacrifice throughout this series, and seeds planted long ago finally bear fruit and pay off spectacularly, a fitting end for the story that sets the stage for what could be an even more impressive tale to follow. The narrative of the series has been shifting more and more towards Amadeus Cho, the young hero finding his way by the side of an experienced mentor.

And here's a handy bit of advice. If you ever find yourself to be a hero who's fought and won many battles over a long and storied life, and you come across a young adventurer on a journey who is maturing into a man, you may want to be aware that advising him in any way is roughly as beneficial to your life expectancy as running blindfolded through a minefield whilst juggling chainsaws. So if you've grown tired of life, by all means aid the boy. Just don't be surprised on the day when, in order to show how he's able to set off on his own, the next step on his journey happens to be taken over your nobly sacrificed corpse.
All that being said, Pak and Van Lente don't stumble when given the difficult task of revealing a major plot development that every reader knew was coming. The specific events leading to Herc's fate weren't something I honestly could say I was expecting, at least not in quite the way they happened, and creates an obvious hook into Cho's upcoming "Prince of Power" series, which is centered around Amadeus Cho.

I'm a human being and therefore change frightens and confuses me. I liked Hercules. He was a charming character, there was great comic chemistry between his brash, self-centered smash things first approach to solving problems and Cho's thoughtful, self-centered let's think about this strategy. Pak and Van Lente have proved they're good at telling solo stories about Cho, so it's not that I'm worried the series will lose its charm. But it'll be different, and therefore I am scared.

Also? The best part about "Incredible" Hercules so far has been the sense of humor it was able to combine with superheroics. It's the difference maker that, for me, has set this book above much of the rest of what Marvel's been doing. And I've got to say that due to the somber tone that the events of this issue required, it's noticeably absent here. Even in the previous issue of the book, when characters were being killed off and the world was on the verge of destruction, the jokes were there and they were a joy to read. I'd come to count on them showing up in every issue of the title, and not finding them here was honestly a little bit of a letdown.

MY BRAINY HALF RESPONDS: All right, that's actually a good point. I've loved the comedy in "Incredible Hercules" too, because it's often smart humor. Having to go into such a pivotal issue and not being able to bring one of their best and most trusted tools does hamper Pak and Van Lente's efforts a little, and I certainly can't say that I enjoyed this one in exactly this same way that I've enjoyed almost every other issue of the series. But simply because it's different and tragic doesn't meant it's bad. It's good in a way I'm not used to seeing in a story with these characters.

I guess you got more out of it than I did. Although I liked the "Agents of Atlas" backup written by Jeff Parker with art by Gabriel Hartman. I mean, it's got two hot chicks making out. And they're both redheads, which multiplies how awesome it is by a factor I'm not going to bother calculating because math is boring and I'm too distracted anyway because all I'm thinking right now is "Mmmm, redheads."

MY BRAINY HALF SIGHS AND RETORTS: Do you have any idea how egotistically vain we sound when we talk about redheads like that? Although I will admit that the backup story's good and the scene's well justified within the framework of the story.


MY BRAINY HALF, PICKING UP THE SLACK: Well, I think I'm going to have to wrap up on behalf of the both of us. "Incredible Hercules 141" is good, if perhaps not in the way you might expect if you're a devout fan of the series. On paper it's a conclusion, but in reality is more of a transition point for a corner of the Marvel Universe that's been steeped in traditional mythology and now appears headed in a direction where it will honor those mythological roots while finding its own, new path.

SCIENCE WILL MAKE SURE EVERYTHING TURNS OUT OK - Atomic Robo: Revenge of the Vampire Dimension #1

I've always held that one of the most useful traits a person can have is the ability to remain calm under extreme pressure. It's a skill often displayed by the heroic title character of the "Atomic Robo" series, but one that's particularly on display in the first issue of the series' fourth volume, "Revenge of the Vampire Dimension."

On what would seem to be a normal day in Tesladyne Industries' offices in the Empire State Building, Robo's busy interviewing candidates for his team of action scientists, until an experiment gone awry opens a portal to a parallel dimension populated entirely by super-strong bloodthirsty vampire-like creatures. Robo keeps a cool head -- not surprising, considering that this is far from the most dangerous situation he's faced. But unfortunately for him, the man he was interviewing when the attack occurs, mild-mannered paleontologist Bernard Fischer, does not react quite so well, thus burdening Robo with a weak, fleshy human being to shepherd through a full-scale inter-universal monster invasion.

The story kicks off Volume 4 with a shining example of all that's fun about this book. First off there's Robo himself and his nonchalant attitude toward the swarm of monsters that threaten the continued existence of the entire planet. (But to be fair, it's not as if the vampires are all that much of a threat to him.) At most they're a nuisance, jumping on him and gnawing and his metal body while he protests "Stop that. Stop biting me!" But Robo is concerned on behalf the Earth as a whole and his human co-workers in particular. Well, with the possible exception of Jenkins, who's more than capable of handling the situation.

Jenkins is a character who's played a supporting role in previous issues of Robo, an ordinary human who's still capable
of holding his own against any opponent in a way that's reminiscent of equal parts Clint Eastwood and Brock Samson. In this issue he's finally given an opportunity to shine, and boy oh boy does he take it. Jenkins makes his way through the Tesladyne Offices rescuing survivors and beating vampires to death with his bare hands. His facial expression never changes, and while Jenkins never gets so much as a scratch, his body gradually becomes more and more covered by the blood of his enemies. And the one thing more impressive than what Jenkins is shown to be doing in the book is what he's implied to be doing in between the panels.

Even with Jenkins stealing the spotlight at times, Robo's exasperated, impatient professionalism in the face of a vampire apocalypse provides some great laughs. And Bernard's path from in-over-his-head new guy to enthusiastic overconfidence is quite enjoyable, too. This is an issue that's enormous fun, whether or not you've ever read any issue of the series before.


I was hesitant to give complete approval to the premiere issue of Grant Morrison and Sean Murphy's new Vertigo miniseries. It was visually stunning, but I needed more of a sense of where the story was going before I could start to be confident I'd enjoy it. And now I can happily report that it only took until the second issue for me to be convinced that my excitement about this series is justified.

Murphy is given free rein with the fantasy world inside Joe's mind as he hallucinates from a diabetic episode and it's beautiful, frightening and amusing all at once. My favorite example is the splash scene in which the ghostly armored antagonists are dismembering a Lego woman in front of her anguished Lego husband, while elsewhere a Care Bear-like creature valiantly climbs into a construction mech similar to Ripley's from "Aliens." But the entire book is astounding to behold as Morrison begins to carefully weave the real world and the fantasy together, adeptly switching from one to another as Joe makes his way from his attic bedroom to the kitchen in order to correct his blood sugar before he dies.

Issue 2 also introduces Chakk, the fantasy-world equivalent of Joe's pet rat Jack. Chakk is a noble warrior who's more than capable of taking down foes, even when outnumbered, and he hesitantly agrees to help Joe to safety after he's rescued from imprisonment. At the same time as all this happens, Joe frees Jack from his cage in the real world, and then tumbles down the ladder to the attic as, in the fantasy world, Joe falls off a floating island to the world below. The parallels between the mundane house and the wonderfully rendered fantasy world are numerous and fun to pick out. And what's more, links between events that occurred in previous issues start to surface.

Most obvious is the fact that the Deathcoats, the villainous armored spirits out to kill Joe, look exactly like the figure he sketched when visiting his father's grave back in issue one, and I'm sure a closer examination would turn up even more. "Joe the Barbarian" is starting to live up to its promise of being a series that rewards a careful reader and builds on what has come before.

Honestly, if you'd told me from the start that this issue had a new heroic character who wielded a claymore in one hand and a katana in the other, and that there was a scene with airships, I would have probably predicted to you that I was going to like this book even though it was clearly pandering directly to me. More than that, though, the story, which was only minimally present in issue 1, is quickly taking shape and it's looking as though it could be very good. Whereas I'd been cautiously looking forward to issue 2, still a little worried I might be let down by the book, I'm now excitedly waiting to get a look at issue 3.

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