CBR News: Let’s kick things off by talking about the chief antagonist of “Assault on New Olympus,” Hera. Do you guys see her as evil, or is she more of a tragic figure?
Fred Van Lente: She is a tragic figure. She’s definitely someone who’s had a rough life in terms of being cheated on by her husband and having his illegitimate children, like Hercules, be more popular than her children.
Greg Pak: Not to mention, her first experience – and the first experience of all the gods of her generation – was being swallowed by their father.
FVL: That can mess you up pretty good [Laughs].
GP: At the same time though, she is frickin evil. I think you can have a character that is both tragic and evil. I wouldn’t say it’s one or the other. People faced with similar experiences will make different choices. So Hera is making certain choices over the course of the story, and it’s up to readers to decide just how evil she is.
Hera’s weapon in “Assault on New Olympus” is called Continuum and it’s designed to wipe out a large portion of humanity. What’s most interesting about Continuum though is it’s being marketed as the Olympus Group’s new product line. Where did you guys get the idea to use corporate culture as the delivery mechanism for a doom’s day device?
FVL: “Incredible Hercules” was originally sold to me and Greg as just this four issue arc in “Incredible Hulk.” After we did the first arc, they offered us five more issues and we worked up a story that involved a trip to Hell and The Pantheon, an old team of Hulk villains. A lot of that storyline got set aside when our editors offered us a chance to to tie-in with “Secret Invasion.”
Now a lot of it is coming back. Continuum and the Pythagoras Dupree elements from the recent Amadeus Cho solo storyline were from the story we set aside, and they probably would have bore no resemblance to what they ended up becoming.
GP: As soon as we realized “Incredible Hercules” would keep going, we plotted out our big, gigantic story arc. We’ve got this massive arc about what it means to be a hero, what it means to be a god, and the kinds of responsibilities attached to those things. It’s also about what it means for Herc and Amadeus, these two great friends, to be friends with each other.
Since we know what the huge emotional beats and giant moments of our story are going to be, we’ve got a lot of flexibility in the way we tell stories in “Incredible Hercules.” We know where we’re going, so we can take a few different routes to get there. We’ve got elements of our larger story that we can slot in various different ways. So it’s been a fun journey.
FVL: And we would be remiss without a shout out to Frank Tieri, who came up with the idea of the Olympus Group. It was part of his “Hercules” mini-series that hit stores right around the same time as “Avengers: Disassembled” did.
In the “Assault on New Olympus Prologue,” it appeared that Hercules had finally reconciled with his estranged wife, the goddess Hebe. What do you think these two see in each other?
FVL: I think, as we saw in the Prologue, they both have a lust for life and are kind of immature [Laughs]. So they’re perfect for each other in the sense that Hebe, as the goddess of Youth, isn’t one to adhere too much to tradition or convention. And Hercules hates being a traditional god. He wants to be in on the action, and Hebe wants to be right there next to him.
GP: Think about what they represent. In a way, they could become the eternal newlyweds. She’s the goddess of Youth and he’s one of the most incorrigible and least reflective guys around. It takes Hercules a very long time to learn certain things. So they both have this kind of brash passion, a penchant to make big mistakes, and the ability to embrace new things in a big way. So if they maintain that, they have this chance to have this eternal, very crazy, kind of young love.
From what you’ve told us, it sounds like when things are good with Herc and Hebe they’re great, but when things are bad they’re terrible?
FVL: Yes. More than plates will be thrown.
Herc and Hebe’s relationship isn’t the only strained relationship you guys are examining in “Assault on New Olympus.” Amadeus Cho and Herc’s friendship went a bit sour when Cho recently left Herc behind to go on a mission of his own. In the “Assault” prologue, we saw Amadeus try to talk to Hercules about what happened, but the Greek Goliath just sort of rebuffed him. How would you describe the current dynamic between the pair?
FVL: I think Herc is still hurt. Amadeus hasn’t had a chance to explain himself, yet, and I think from Herc’s point of view, even if Amadeus didn’t want to leave and left to protect Herc, he still left. And Herc was hurt by that.
GP: Over the years, Herc has been betrayed by, or had big problems with, a lot of different characters. He’s usually the first guy to shrug it off. He doesn’t hold grudges. But I think the closer your friend is, the harder it is to forgive [them] when something goes really wrong. So this may be new territory for Herc in terms of how he actually feels.
FVL: Repairing the Amadeus-Hercules friendship is one of the major through lines of the whole “Assault on New Olympus” arc.
Patching things up with Hercules isn’t the only thing on Amadeus’ mind. He recently discovered that he’s one of the prophesied champions of Herc’s sister, the goddess Athena. How does Amadeus feel about his new destiny?
FVL: Very uncomfortable.
GP: Yeah. Amadeus is just a teenager from suburban Arizona, who got thrust into this whole insane scenario. He’s ridiculously smart and hangs out with a god, but he’s still just a normal kid. He’s got all the emotional responses of an everyday kid; so to be told that he’s the fulfillment of some grand prophecy is a bit heavy for someone who was riding his bike to the internet cafe just a few years ago.
When you revealed Amadeus’ destiny, you mentioned that Hercules was the champion of an age that required great physical strength. And now, Amadeus is the champion of a new age that requires something not traditionally associated with mythological heroes: great intellect. Where did you get the idea to have a champion that needed brains instead of brawn?
FVL: Part of the idea was that Hercules was created to kill all these mythological monsters, and he won. He killed all the monsters. The problems that the world is facing now, though, are, as Athena keeps saying, going to requite a little something more.
You’ll also learn shortly that you can’t have two “Princes of Power,” like Hercules and Amadeus, alive at the same time. That’s deeply problematic.
Over the course of the “Assault on New Olympus Prologue,” we see Hercules recruit members from both the Mighty and New Avengers to help him fight against Hera’s mad scheme. Will we see just the characters he recruited during the rest of the story, or will the full line-ups of both teams be appearing in “Assault on New Olympus?”
FVL:It’s all the members of the Mighty and New Avengers that show up in the prologue. Herc and Amadeus are already on the Mighty Avengers, and you’ll see their teammates: The Wasp, U.S. Agent, and Quicksilver. And from the New Avengers, we’ve got Spider-Man, Spider-Woman, and Wolverine.
GP: We basically picked the funniest characters.
FVL: One of the running gags is that U.S. Agent doesn’t believe any of the people in the story are gods. He’s a one-God man. He doesn’t buy the whole gods walking the Earth scenario. He thinks they’re just superhumans in togas.
Speaking of gods and Avengers, does Hercules’ half brother Ares play a role in “Assault on New Olympus?”
FVL: Yes but it won’t be the role you’d expect. The role he plays in this also plays out in the “Agents of Atlas” back-up stories that are currently appearing in “Incredible Hercules.”
What else can you tell us about the plot of “Assault on New Olympus?” Just how big is this story in terms of the grander tale that you’re telling with “Incredible Hercules?”
GP: It’s kind of like the end of Act II.
FVL: Yes it’s the end of Act II of “Incredible Hercules,” so expect big changes, and big announcements about Hercules and the Marvel Universe by the time this arc is over. By the end of this arc, the Marvel Universe will literally never be the same again. I know everyone says that all the time, but this time we’re serious. “Assault on New Olympus” definitely has the most shocking ending of any story arc or issue that we’ve done.
GP: It’s also worth noting that we’re going to have a big payoff on a number of scenes that we’ve been setting up for some time. For both longtime fans and new readers, “Assault on New Olympus” isn’t just an action packed tale. It’s also full of major revelations, which represent massive changes for these characters.
When you guys say things like “Act II,” and talk about the overall story you want to tell, it makes fans wonder if “Incredible Hercules” is a finite series. Do you have a planned ending for “Incredible Hercules?”
FVL: It’s not finite in the sense of say a 40 issue mini-series or anything like that. There is a definite payoff, though where the last of what we’ve been setting up since “Sacred Invasion,” our “Secret Invasion” tie-in arc, will be rolled out. That won’t be for a year or so though.
2010 sees the kickoff of the Avengers family event story, “Siege,” and a two-part Hulk family event, “Fall of the Hulks” and “World War Hulks.” Since Hercules is an Avenger, and his series is technically part of the Hulk family of books, it’s possible he could play a role in both story lines. Is there anything you can say about Herc’s involvement in “Siege” and the Hulk events?
FVL: We know whether or not he’ll be involved in “Siege,” and that’s all we’re allowed to say.
GP: And with the Hulk events, lets just say one of the major characters of “Incredible Hercules” will play a major role. You’ll see the character get involved in those events in early 2010.
FVL: Did we mention [“Assault on New Olympus”] will change the Marvel Universe forever! Seriously, it will.
GP: I think we’ve used all our extreme hype terms in describing “Assault on New Olympus,” and all of them are true.