In Part I of GREEK WEEK, CBR News' in-depth look at Marvel Comics' "Incredible Hercules," we discussed Hercules's mythical and Marvel history with writers Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente. In Part II, Pak, Van Lente and assistant editor Nate Cosby spoke with us about the one-shot "Hulk vs. Hercules," an untold tale from the Greek Goliath's past. Yesterday, in Part III, we began looking at Hercules's future as we chatted with new "Incredible Hercules" series artist Rafa Sandoval. Today in Part IV, we continue to look ahead as Van Lente and Pak rejoin us to discuss the present and future storylines of "Incredible Hercules."
In the opening arc of "Incredible Hercules," which wrapped up with this month's issue #115, Herc's sister, Athena, warned him that the choices his friend, teenage genius Amadeus Cho, was about to make could turn the youth into a villain. When Cho's anger at S.H.I.E.L.D. lead him to implement a plan to destroy the spy agency, Herc saw his sister was right. The Greek Goliath was able to talk his young friend into abandoning his scheme at the last minute, but that doesn't mean Cho's struggle is over.
"When we're good, and when good friends help us, we're able to overcome our own personal demons. But actually slaying those demons can be another thing all together," Greg Pak told CBR News. "Only time will tell how much Amadeus -- and Herc himself -- have really learned and how they'll react when the next provocation or temptation comes down the line."
Herc also had to confront his brother Ares, the god of war, who was using his Mighty Avengers membership to make the Greek Goliath's life miserable. In a climatic confrontation in issue #115, Ares revealed the reason for his hatred and jealousy of Hercules. Ares could not understand why people would worship a flawed god like Hercules instead of him. Before Hercules K.O.'d Ares he explained to his brother the reason humanity loves Hercules is because they can identify more with a flawed god than a seemingly perfect one. Whether or not Herc's words had any affect on his brother remains to be seen.
"I think Ares and Hercules heard the real reasons why they can't stand each other, beyond, you know, 'You killed my birds.' Certainly, Herc heard and that's what motivated him to say what he did to Cho in the climax of the issue," Fred Van Lente explained. "So it's not totally out of the question that Ares came away from the encounter with some degree of wisdom as well. Of course, Ares strikes me as the sore loser type, so maybe not."
At the end of issue #115, Hercules arrived at the home of Athena, and future issues will see the Goddess of Wisdom joining her half brother on his journeys. "Athena was Herc's helper and patron during his adventures -- it was she who protected him as a child from Hera; she who gave him the idea on how to beat the Nemean Lion and the birds of Stymphalis [during his legendary 12 Labors]," Van Lente explained. "Most if not all the heroes in the ancient myths had one god or another as their personal patron, looking out for them -- It would make sense heroes would need that, considering how many scrapes they have to wriggle in and out of -- And, for Hercules, that goddess was Athena. We thought, to keep with our theme of ancient myths in modern times, Herc should re-acquire Athena to watch his divine back. Plus, she's a terrific character in her own right."
"I imagine she simply loves Herc for the great-hearted, fun-loving hero he is. And probably no one but Herc dares to tell dirty jokes around her," Pak said.
Athena's home is in Vermont, but issue #116 of "Incredible Hercules" finds the goddess, Herc and Cho in San Francisco. For the story of what the trio did on their cross country trip, readers will want to pick up the one-shot "Hulk vs. Hercules: When Titans Clash," which because of unusual scheduling circumstances actually hits stores the week after issue #116.
Once they arrive in San Francisco, our heroes find themselves in the area of the city where the renegade Dreaming Celestial stands in quiet judgment of Earth. It's there where Hercules attracts the attention of Ikaris and Thena, members of the ancient and powerful race known as the Eternals. Ikaris and Thena mistakenly believe Hercules is a missing Eternal known as the Forgotten One. Their confusion comes from the Forgotten One's time spent roaming the ancient world performing heroic deeds, which often lead to the Eternal being mistaken for Hercules.
Ikaris and Thena's presence in "Incredible Hercules" #116 means the issue may drop some hints that fans waiting for the new ongoing "Eternals" series --which starts in June-- won't want to miss. "We worked closely with the Knaufs, writers of that series, read their scripts, saw where they were going, stole some ideas from them, and to a certain extent #116 is a bridge from the Gaiman/Romita Jr. ['Eternals'] miniseries to the Knaufs' ongoing," Van Lente stated. "It lets you know what the Eternals have been up to since the mini--and what they'll be doing once the on-going starts up."
"Incredible Hercules" #116 marks the debut of new artist Rafa Sandoval, and Pak and Van Lente couldn't be happier with the work of their new collaborator. "Rafa brilliantly pencilled the 'World War Hulk Aftersmash' one-shot and the backup stories in the 'Warbound' mini for me," Pak remarked. "And he'd worked with Fred on 'Marvel Adventures Iron Man,' so we were both psyched to have him on board with 'Incredible Hercules.' I was particularly thrilled because I'd seen his wild character design work with the 'Warbound' backup stories -- I knew he'd go nuts with the mythological mayhem we'd be throwing his way in 'Hercules.'"
"[Outgoing artist] Khoi Pham is a tough act to follow, but so far Rafa is doing a kick-ass job," Van Lente added. "Particularly when you're being asked to draw as many damn gods as he is, and he hasn't complained once. Oops! Spoiler alert, heh heh heh."
Many of the gods Sandoval is drawing appear in "Sacred Invasion," the next of arc of "Incredible Hercules," which kicks off in May with issue #117 and ties into Marvel's summer event story "Secret Invasion." "Sacred Invasion" was born when Van Lente had a brainstorm about the gods worshipped by the Skrulls attacking Earth. "We knew that ['Secret Invasion' scribe Brian Michael Bendis] would be forefronting the religious motivations behind the Skrull invasion, making it analogous to some of our own real-world problems," Van Lente said. "I realized, since we did a book about a religious figure, we had an opportunity to flesh out the religion of the Skrulls, and, you know, have both sides beat each other up. Brian liked it and told us to run with it, and here we are."
"Sacred Invasion" is a four-part story line that takes place around the same time as May's "Secret Invasion" #2, and sends Hercules and some other immortals on a desperate mission. Van Lente explained, "Basically, Earth's gods see a threat to their own existence if the Skrulls succeed in conquering Earth and wiping out humanity. Whatever gods may truly be, if we go, they go, and they -- the gods -- have special forewarning of the alien invasion this time. So they assemble a force -- a 'God Squad,' Amadeus dubs them -- led by Hercules to take the fight directly to the realm of the Skrull pantheon. If the Earth gods defeat the Skrull gods, the reason for the invasion in the first place will be destroyed, Earth will be saved; there will be dancing in the streets, et cetera. But if the God Squad fails -- then all of Earth's gods will be enslaved by the Skrull pantheon, just like all the other gods of all the other countless worlds the Skrulls have conquered in millennia past."
"And things won't go very nicely for the puny humans, either," Pak added.
The God Squad's mission in "Sacred Invasion" is one of dire importance but that doesn't mean "Incredible Hercules" diverse and often humorous tone will chance significantly. "It's the same mix of loopy hijinks and dark mayhem. With maybe a touch more dark mayhem in the mix," Pak remarked. "Which is maybe no surprise, when you have a dude with the nickname 'God Eater' on the team."
Launching a new book like "Incredible Hercules" can be tough in today's market, but the series seems to have struck a chord with a good number of fans. "It's been pretty nuts. A lot of people seem to really, really like the book, which makes us really, really happy," Pak stated. "In particular, folks seem to dig the Amadeus/Herc relationship and the mix of mythology and modern day action."
"We ran a Name Amadeus's Pup contest [details at puppycho.com] in the back of issue #114," Van Lente said, "and I thought, 'Maybe a couple people will write in with some good ideas,' but we got deluged with emails! It was awesome! So it's great to know people are reading and enjoying the book."
With the first story arc of "Incredible Hercules" sending Herc and Amadeus on the run from S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Mighty Avengers and the second pitting them against the gods of a shape shifting alien empire, readers are wondering just where the series can go next. "What's that Tennyson phrase?" Pak said. "Spring, young man's fancy, thoughts of love? And gorgons, right?"
GREEK WEEK concludes tomorrow as we go in-depth with Fred Van Lente about the God Squad and their adversaries, the Skrull Gods.
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