Marvel Comics’ take on Hercules has been battling monsters for thousands of years, and while the demigod harbors no villainous intentions, he’s quite capable of causing as much chaos and destruction as any of the beasts he’s slain — especially if he’s had too much to drink. With their All-New, All-Different Marvel series, writer Dan Abnett and artist Luke Ross have set Herc on a new path, one where he’s trying to become the sober, modern hero people believe will save the day and not make a worse.
If the first three issues are any indication, this is not going to be an easy journey. Hercules has already stumbled upon a mysterious conspiracy known as the Uprising Storm which is out to rid the world of the figures and monsters of ancient myths. Plus, the Lion of Olympus is trying to set an example for his fellow ancient hero Gilgamesh, who’s fallen on hard times, all while trying to convince himself that his own goals are attainable. CBR News spoke at length with Abnett about the events of the new series thus far, what drives Uprising Storm, and the place of mythological heroes in the modern day.
CBR News: Herc has uncovered a conspiracy by a group called the Uprising Storm, with figures that strike from the literal shadows, and appear to want to stay in the metaphorical ones.
Dan Abnett: They are very potent characters, and we’re trying to do something very different because you’re so used to seeing Hercules going up against monolithic creatures or classic mythological foes. That’s his forte, and we’re trying to put a spin on that throughout the series, but these villains we’re focusing on have a very modern slant. They’re different types of villains, even though their power scale, ambitions, and agendas are very mythological. They’re brand new characters. There’s a very good reason that they’re brand new threats. They are sort of newborn things.
I imagine there’s more to their motivations than just destroying the creatures and prominent figures of ancient mythological cultures.
Very much so. It’s rather more complicated than that.
In terms of physical opposition, they’re all very, very dangerous, but one of them is the heavy who does the grunt work. The other two are more intellectual in that they have ambitions, plans, and schemes and they operate in almost non physically offensive ways, which will prove to be very interesting. Especially given that Hercules is basically a warrior. That’s what he deals with. So he’s got to, not necessarily up his game, but change it slightly in order to tackle these people who are operating on levels he wouldn’t normally work on.
Is this initial mystery why when we saw the goddess Athena, she’s more spectral and enigmatic instead of directly interacting with Herc like she has in the past?
Yes. I wanted there to be a slight elevation in the level of wonder connected those elements. It’s a great thing when you’re walking down the street and Zeus appears, but it also takes away the mystery and the power of that. So I sort of put the Olympian gods that Hercules is connected to, Athena in particular, at more of an arms length. So they’re more mysterious, shadowy, and remote god like creatures rather than beings who pop up and say, “All right! This is happening.” There’s also a plot reason for that though, which again, will be revealed. Her distance is part of the story as well.
Some of the characters and creatures he’s engaging with at the street level are mythological, but they’re a lower tier like Tiresias and monsters like the Gigantes. They’re all much closer to mortal than they are to the upper edge of godhood. So Hercules is interacting with the people and beings on his level. He’s a demigod. He’s not a full on god. He’s a human champion as well. So those are sort of the mortal realm things that he’s dealing with and the more ethereal deities are at a greater distance.
This particular story feels like one where the ancient and modern collide and it seems like the Uprising Storm is a natural outgrowth of that. Are you able to talk about what inspired those characters?
They are a product of the modern age. I suppose you could say they are what mythology is like now. The things in the past have become mythology to us, but in the future this will be mythology. So they are corresponding to the levels and area in which Hercules normally operates, but they are products of this age. So he’s really got to think about modernity and the modern world; what that means and what the implications of that are.
Back in the day, he would meet a god of volcanoes and he would get that because he understood what volcanoes were and why they would have a god. It was an easy to grasp concept, but this is rather more complicated and he has to sort of really think his way into it.
I guess you could say they’re sort of like modern gods. That’s a very simple way of summing it up. In the same way that Hercules and sort of the other creatures of myth are being erased because they are obsolete and no longer relevant in the modern age the same thing is sort of happening for the gods and pantheons as well. Modern moralities, technologies, customs, fashions and all that that kind of stuff are sort of creating their own pantheons, which obviously works in a very, very different way.
Hercules’ friend Gil allows you to comment on the complex nature of modernity in a different way, especially since ancient heroes were people you wanted around during times of conflict, but during peacetime they were more chaotic figures.
Absolutely, but to me, Gil is very sweet natured and more gentle. He sort of represents what Hercules would be if he had just given up. Hercules obviously got this new mindset where he said, “No, I’m going to be proactive. I’m going to keep going. I’m going to be relevant.” Gil is, “No, I’m just going to sit on the couch.” Their personalities are a bit different. If Hercules had given up and flopped down on the couch, within a few days he would be causing chaos in New York just because he’s looking for something to do, whereas Gilgamesh is very sort of tranquil and zen. He’s quite happy to sit there with his bowl of cereal and watch a TV program.
It also has to do with confidence. Gilgamesh knows he’s out of his depth. He knows he’s living in an age that he’s not part of, and he’s not quite sure how to deal with that. So obviously, with him, we’re seeing a reflection of how Hercules could have ended up. However, Gilgamesh is still one of the immortal heroes. He’s every bit the match of Hercules. He’s an extraordinary figure — he’s just in a slump. He needs to be encouraged out of it.
Does Hercules see himself in Gil?
I think he does, but there are all sorts of reasons for getting Gil up and back out there. The most basic and prosaic reason is he annoys Hercules’ landlady. He’s got this guy living on his couch, and it’s not very convenient, but he also cares about his friends. They are ancient friends and comrades. He wants to see him doing something with his very, very long life; not only for the benefit of the world, but for the benefit of him.
Gil’s story has been made even more interesting by the fantastic and expressive character acting in Luke Ross’ art.
Yes! Luke is a tremendous talent. I think because he makes it look so effortless he’s not really given his due. He’s such a terrific all-around artist that there’s a marvelous consistency to his work. As you said, he can do both the emotion for character interactions and the great action. I think he’s brilliant.
I’m so grateful to my editor Katie Kubert for suggesting Luke. She knew he’d do a fantastic Hercules and he’d have no problem with big scenes of Herc battling dragons and other monsters, but he could also do the quieter stuff without it becoming boring. He can do quieter scenes of people talking and walking down the street with great facial expressions and that sort of stuff.
To me, that’s sort of what makes the book. I’ve come to the conclusion, and I could be completely wrong, that fantasy-based heroes like Hercules work best and they entertain the most in comic form, and I’m guessing this is true in movies and television, if you place them slightly out of context; if you kind of have them as a fish out of water in a real world-style setting. Because it contrasts with them so well. We very much wanted the book to have that real world grounding. It would be so easy to tell an eight issue story where he goes off to the Savage Land and then to Olympus and then to Asgard. I’m sure it would be a wonderful story and look amazing, but at no point would there be that sense of grounding because the environment would be as fantastical as Hercules.
You do look at some of the more mythical aspects of Hercules by pitting him against his ancient foes, the centaurs.
Yes! I love the way they’ve been visualized in this. They are absolutely centaurs, but they have a slightly different look that makes them very sinister and not in any way comedy, pantomime man-horses. They are really quite deadly. If you know your mythology, Hercules and centaurs do not get along at all. There is literally bad blood there.
And again, to me, Hercules meeting them in Central Park has more power than if he met them on the Plains of Elysium or something like the Fifth Level of Hell. Because from both of their points of view, the question is, “What are you doing here in Central Park?” That’s part of the effect we’re going for, and I hope it sustains the reader’s interest and makes them feel like these are incredible, but credible characters. What do I know though? I don’t get out. I write for a living! [Laughs]
I understand that things are going to escalate rather quickly with the Uprising Storm.
Issue #3 is a real turning point. There’s a big moment which affects pretty much everybody in the story, that will propel Hercules on in a very determined way. I’m losing count of the issues I’m writing, but I believe in issue #5 there’s a really stupendous set piece battle, which is great because it’s both ancient and modern. I’m trying to temper that because the stuff which follows on from that scales down the loudness of the story, but I think in a really strong, character-driven way.
We’ve got a couple of really good guest stars appearing, I believe in issues #6 and #7, that make kind of obvious sense because Hercules has been around a long time. He knows everybody in the Marvel Universe and there are certain characters where you kind of know they’re old friends, and if there’s action in New York, these people would turn up. I think I found interesting and slightly unconventional ways of putting them in and deploying them in the story. They’re there for a reason other than, “Oh it’s about time we met Angel, or Black Widow, or someone from the Champions days. Maybe they’ll turn up and we’ll have a fight.” It’s not that at all.
One of the things I’ve tried to do so far, and I don’t know if it’s apparent, is that Hercules himself has got a huge internal struggle about dealing with his new outlook on life. He really wants to get it right. He doesn’t want to fall back into his old ways, and it’s pretty tough. We’re going to see more of that as we go along. His huge power, strength, confidence, sunny disposition and bravery are in some respects a front for somebody who is as insecure and helpless as Gilgamesh on the couch. That’s when he needs his friends. It’s not necessarily going to go entirely well, but there will be friends gathering together to assist each other and him.
It does seem like he is doing all right with his sobriety, but there has been a sense that it is sort of a struggle.
I think there has, and it’s sobriety in almost every sense. That is the big thing, because he did like a drink, but it’s also that kind of mentality of the party animal who achieves some great feat of heroism and just wants to go off and have fun for a few… years as sort of their reward.
He has another struggle comparable to his sobriety, and that’s dealing with the modern world and making sure that he fits into it appropriately. He doesn’t want to dismiss it or get it wrong. I think that’s as difficult a path to follow for him because he knows in the past when he’s just blustered in and been exactly the same Hercules he was 3,000 years ago people go, “What an asshole! He doesn’t understand how the world works! Why is he being like that?” [Laughs]
I hope readers will see that he’s working very hard. There’s a lot of paddling under the water level that you can’t see. He wants to make sure things are going well, so he’s taking it day by day and one step at time, not just with his sobriety, but with everything. He wants to think about what he’s doing and make sure that this time he gets it right because God knows he’s got it wrong so many times before.
The Totally Awesome Hulk, AKA Herc’s friend and former adventuring companion Amadeus Cho, would be an especially fitting guest star since he’s now super strong and a monster hunter just like Herc.
Yes! I think those are some extremely interesting developments. When I was first developing ideas for Hercules, I was very aware of his past relationship with Amadeus, but I wasn’t aware of what Marvel was about to do with him. In fact, I was just catching up on my reading. [Laughs, holds up a copy of “Totally Awesome Hulk” #2]
I think there’s enormous potential there, and I would love for their paths to cross. It’s appropriate because if he’s got a best friend anywhere, it’s Amadeus. In some respects, Amadeus was sort of his sidekick, but I’m not really sure it’s clear who was who’s sidekick when they were together. [Laughs] It would certainly be a crying shame if they didn’t meet, particularly when they’ve both changed so much.
The really obvious thing would be to have Hercules meet the Hulk and, since they’re both big guys who can punch very, very hard, they have an enormous fight. Were not going there. I’m devising what I hope is a more interesting way of presenting connections particularly to Cho and to any of the other classic characters he has deep rooted connections with.
I’m talking vaguely, because I don’t want to spoil anything, but it would make perfect sense for him to encounter Thor. It would make perfect sense for him to encounter Ghost Rider, Black Widow, and Angel. Also to encounter any of the Avengers who were sort of principles on the team in that era where he was a regular member.
I think that’s quite interesting, because when any of them meet him they are going to assume it’s good old Hercules. [Laughs] It’s going to be laughter, flagon waving, and dancing girls and then it’s tears before bedtime when everything goes quite wrong. So I think that’s going to be quite interesting, because they’re going to prejudge him.
I imagine a lot of readers would love to see Herc interact with the current Thor, Jane Foster.
I honestly think that would be fantastic. I cannot promise anything. I may be subtly telling you that’s definitely going to happen, or I may be subtly saying to you that we’re still in negotiations, but that would be fantastic.
Unless I’m completely wrong, and it would not be the first time, Marvel’s Hercules first appeared in the pages of “Thor.” So he has that incredibly strong connective tissue in terms of comic history. Obviously, mythologically speaking, they have such amazing parallels. In some respects, if Gilgamesh represents what Hercules might have ended up as Thor represents would he could be. Generally speaking Thor, despite his thees and thous and these days her thees and thous, is an ancient hero who’s connected to the modern world and functions perfectly.
There’s no question of their validity or relevance to the world. They are a key member of the Avengers. No one sniggers behind their backs in a way they might with Hercules. Thanks to his reputation there’s something innately funny about being Hercules. I think in some respects Hercules would look at Thor and go, “Why didn’t I have his career? Why does he, and now she, have all this respect? And what do I need to do to achieve that?”
With any luck what Hercules is doing now is achieving that, but in a completely different way. He’s not just being the best ancient hero that he can be. He’s being a modern hero.
“Hercules” #3 is on sale now; “Hercules” #4 is scheduled for release February 24 from Marvel Comics.