I was a little worried when I first started reading “Herc” #1 this week. I was a big fan of “Incredible Hercules,” and separating Hercules from Amadeus Cho seemed like… well, a way to separate half of the fun out of a book and then relaunch it with that critical element missing. So, the bad news: I do miss reading about Amadeus Cho hanging out with Hercules. The good news: that didn’t stop me from enjoying “Herc” #1.
If you didn’t read the “Chaos War” mini-series, Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente quickly bring you up to speed; Hercules died, but then came back but at the cost of his godhood. So now he’s a mere mortal, but one with all the power and skills and tools that he possessed as a demi-god. And as it turns out, that’s more than enough for Hercules to get by.
In “Incredible Hercules,” we were given a slightly silly (almost buffoonish at times) version of Hercules, with Amadeus as the straight man. In “Herc,” Pak and Van Lente go for a more serious rendition of the character. From defending a woman on the subway to stopping a gang picking on a restaurateur, Herc here is coldly efficient and focusing on the goal. Sure, he’s still a ladies man and he wears his heart on his sleeve. But “Herc” is a more straight-forward superhero book, not a buddy comedy. We’re getting a Hercules who dismembers and kills gang members on the subway. Before, it would have been played for laughs; here, it’s down-to-business time. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; Pak and Van Lente are writing a good, standard superhero title here. So while it lacks the spark of the old series, this (probably more commercial) take on the character is enjoyable in its own right.
There’s still a small vein of humor in the title, although it’s minimal at best. We get it here in the form of Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou, the good-natured and slightly affable owner of Athena restaurant, as well as Herc’s new employer and landlord. He only gets a few pages this issue, but he does make enough of an impression to make one hope he’ll stick around. And while I enjoyed “Herc” #1 a great deal, Georgios’ continuing presence is one that you can’t help but think will be critical to keep the comic from getting too dark.
Neil Edwards provides the pencils for “Herc,” and he’s good. As a muscular former demi-god turned superhero, Hercules looks the part. (He’s one of the few characters that you can get away with overly muscled, after all.) There is some awkward staging in places (like the tough threatening Georgios when we first meet him), but he makes up for it in part by paying attention to the smaller details. I like the Greek frieze depictions of each of Hercules’ weapons as they’re first used, for example, and Edwards takes time to make the locations feel real, such as the interior of the Athena. It’s touches like that (we’re talking not just tables and chairs, but a wall design, pieces of art, potted plants, a bar) which make me want to see more from Edwards. It’s that thoughtful approach that makes me feel like he’s a good choice for the title.
“Herc” #1 wasn’t what I was expecting, but it was still a fun read. If you don’t mind a more superhero-friendly take on the character (rather than the strangeness-and I say that with great affection and admiration-of “Incredible Hercules”), give it a whirl. If giving up the humor and co-star is too much for you, though? Well, you’ve been warned.