When this “Incredible Hercules” series began, out of the ashes of “World War Hulk,” I was completely uninterested. It seemed like a strange marketing ploy at best, and a completely pointless waste of time at worst. Changing the name and focus of the series after over a hundred issues? That’s like something out of Marvel’s Silver Age, not the Marvel of today, when series get new number one issues every few years. I wasn’t overly impressed with what Pak had been doing on “Hulk” anyway, so why would I be interested in what he did with Hercules? But Fred Van Lente’s involvement made me take a closer look, and after the first two issues of “Incredible Hercules,” I was hooked. This is an excellent Marvel comic, full of wit and action, mythology and personality. I don’t know what the sales figures on this comic look like, but I know that not enough people are reading it. But, really, it’s more than worth your time.
“Incredible Hercules” #117 focuses on how the various pantheons plan to deal with the events of “Secret Invasion.” Unlike other “Secret Invasion” crossovers published so far, the events of this issue don’t repeat what we’ve already seen elsewhere. It seems like the philosophy of the other crossover issues have been, “here’s a scene you just saw in ‘Secret Invasion,” and here’s the slightly expanded version.” Not here. Here we get a side of the Skrull invasion that we haven’t seen at all, from the perspective of the most powerful beings in the Marvel Universe. The reason they’re concerned, these gods, is because a Skrull takeover will radically change the methods of worship on Earth. If Skrulls replace humans, what will happen to the human gods? That’s the concern. Now, that doesn’t necessarily make a whole lot of sense, since many of these ancient pantheons are no longer widely worshipped, but the connection to humanity runs deep and Hodiak, Tezcatlipoca, and the other elder gods would prefer not to see everyone replaced by green, ugly-chinned aliens. So each pantheon elects a representative to join the resistance.
What I like about Pak and Van Lente’s approach here is that they have seamlessly intertwined various mythologies into Marvel mythology. There’s a precedent, of course, going back to Lee and Kirby’s “Thor” and continuing through Bendis’ use of Ares in “The Mighty Avengers,” but Pak and Van Lente fit all of it together into a tapestry that makes sense. The story of the Greek gods and Anansi the Spider and Snowbird from Alpha Flight and Ajak from the Eternals — it’s all one gigantic story. And, of course, these characters should be concerned about the massive force of invading Skrulls.
Pak and Van Lente also further develop Hercules’ character. He’s not simply the oft-drunken pugilist he pretends to be, as this issue shows him wrestling with his own concerns about leadership. It’s not a touching moment of self-revelation, but rather an appropriate bit of self-doubt before assuming the role he knows he has to take. And all of this is undercut by Amadeus Cho, who half-sarcastically, half enthusiastically refers to the chosen group of heroes as “The God Squad.”
Rafa Sandoval’s art is majestic and detailed. Pak and Van Lente’s script is tight and inventive. This issue may be set-up for the showdown between the gods and the Skrulls, or it may all be a misdirect, a way to weaken the pantheons so the Skrulls can destroy from within. Would the Skrulls be audacious enough to take on the gods on their home turf? Maybe. With this series, it seems as if anything can happen, and that’s something I look forward to each month.