Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 249: <i>The Incredible Hercules</i> #132

Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. Today's page is from The Incredible Hercules #132, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated October 2009. Enjoy!

The Incredible Hercules was a fine, fine comic book series that apparently didn't sell enough to keep it going, so Marvel rebooted it with a more serious Hercules, and that series didn't last either. So sad. But for a time, Greg Pak and Fred van Lente, along with a host of artists (Reilly Brown on this one, with Nelson DeCastro inking, Guillem Mari coloring, and Simon Bowland lettering), made this comic one of Marvel's best. And while this first page might not be the best example of that, it's not bad.

Hercules does some recapping on this page, as Zeus has been transformed into a young boy and had his memory wiped so that he doesn't remember his son. That allows van Lente and Pak to get us up to speed, as we discover that Zeus was killed by the Japanese god of evil and then forced to drink from the river Lethe, which causes memory loss. Of course, a few panels later Hercules claims Zeus drank the water of his own free will, but let's not worry about that right now! Pak and van Lente also let us know that Athena is driving the car, and that she looks askance on Herc's claim that he is Zeus' favorite son. What's a little white lie among family?

Brown's cartoony style works well for this book, which is often very exciting but doesn't take itself too seriously, either. Either Mari didn't get the memo that Modern Marvel coloring needs to obliterate the lines or Brown is a strong enough artist that the characters still have plenty of definition, which helps when you're trying to express emotions through the way people adjust their faces. So in Panel 1, we get Zeus unsure who he is and who Herc is, and Brown does a nice job with his expression (this was a few years early, but if that look is not forevermore called "the McKayla", I will be disappointed). It's not a bad way to begin the book, because it's so close in that Brown almost forces us into the comic. It's a funny face, too, so we immediately understand that we're not to take this all too seriously. In Panel 2, Brown pulls back to show us the main character cheerfully explaining who he is, and Brown again nails Zeus' and Athena's skepticism. It's interesting that they have different expressions but they're both thinking Herc is full of shit - Zeus because he can spot a con man a while away even if he has no memory, and Athena because she actually knows the back story. Panel 3 is another nice drawing, as Herc tousles Zeus' hair and Zeus gives him a look that says "If I only had total power like I used to, you'd be a cinder right now." Brown's close-up of Herc in Panel 4 is nice, too, as he shifts from the joshing Herc to one who, in a rare moment of real emotion, shows how proud he is that his father didn't think he was a "buffoon." Zeus reacts to this statement like a petulant child, which, of course, he is. Athena hears the scratch on the roof and looks upward, leading us onto the next page, which is when the harpies attack.

It's not a radically designed page, but Brown does a good job with the characterization. Herc shows up in three panels and is always smiling, even as the smile changes from a clowning one to a proud one. Zeus is skeptical of this goofball who calls him "dad," and while Athena isn't a big part of the conversation, Brown does a nice job showing that she thinks Herc is full of it, from her arched eyebrows in Panel 2 to her laser-like focus in Panel 3. Brown gets to have a bit more fun later on in the issue with various creatures and some action, but he does a nice job on this page, too, showing the family dynamics at work among Herc, Athena, and Zeus.

As Marvel does those recaps, this page faces Page 2, so it's not like we can't see what's coming. I assume Pak and van Lente felt they didn't need to "grab" readers too much because we can see the harpies attacking on the facing page, but this is still a decent first page, as it gives us plenty of information and some of the interactions between characters. You can do a lot worse for a first page!

I'm still accepting readers' choices for first pages so I can run them in the month of October. I like the ones I've received so far, but I still need more of them. Come on, people, it's not that hard! E-mail me at gregorymburgas@gmail.com and let me know which comic you'd like to see!

Next: One of my favorite comics from the last few years, but one of the oddest issues of that particular title! What will the first page look like? Perhaps you can find some answers in the archives!

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