Given the character’s B-list status, the controversy over his hetero-normatizing and competition from Marvel’s other lighthearted comics, “Hercules” #1 did have a little something to prove. Dan Abnett and Luke Ross manage to make their character’s case at many points in the issue, with dialogue that showcases his bold forthrightness and art that emphasizes his ludicrous, luminous physique. However, some unevenness and clunky transitions keep “Hercules” #1 from feeling as polished and sure as it needed to.
For all that this book embraces its mythological roots, Abnett gives Hercules some very 2015 problems: he’s got an over-packed schedule (two monster-slayings in one day), struggles maintaining his personal brand and an unemployed friend squatting on his couch. The creative team also integrates the character’s history cleverly, having him fight both a sea monster straight out of Greek myth and a more formless, hungry-looking villain from far before that. All-in-all, the bustling plot accomplishes what a first issue needs to: it establishes Hercules’ voice, introduces his world and includes both a one-and-done fight and a threat of larger conflicts to come.
However, the transitions between scenes and subplots are not very graceful. The issue hops around without warning or foreshadowing, and even some of the dialogue doesn’t read like flowing conversation. Occasionally, there’s something nice about the way the transitions’ abruptness mirrors Hercules’ own fast, blunt decision-making, but — most of the time — they read a little clumsily. I’d love to see these smoothed out in future issues.
That said, Abnett gives Hercules a strong voice and personality. In this book, Hercules shows a refreshingly straightforward determination that hints at both his innate heroism and the sort of overconfidence that caused him image problems in the first place. Hercules’ friend Gilgamesh is less winning. There’s a chuckle or two in seeing an ancient hero lie on the couch while his eggs go cold, but that sort of joke is one-note, and his lack of dimension got old quickly.
Luke Ross does solid work in portraying Hercules and his world. My only real problem with the art was its spottiness. At points, the shadowing is too heavy for my taste, obscuring characters’ faces and overwhelming the panel with chunks of black; at other points, the characters’ faces lack definition or detail, looking rushed. While I would have liked to see those panels cleaned up, Ross does undeniably well where it counts most. Herc’s detailed, chiseled body looks at once utterly ridiculous and entirely integrated into the modern world. Apparently only fully at home when bare-chested, Hercules is either seen in full-on Fabio locks or in a man bun. In addition, the full-page “Have at thee!” scene provides old-school rock-’em-sock-’em excitement, as Hercules carries both a massive gun and an ancient spear into battle.
As far as colors, Guru-eFX’s colors are bright and effortless when portraying Hercules himself. His use of full-on canary yellow makes Hercules look like a classic superhero — truly, the first of them all. At the beginning of the book, though, Sophia and the apartment look much dingier than that. Perhaps this effect is intentional, meant to highlight Herc’s relative sunniness, but it did make me unclear about the tone of the book.
“Hercules” #1 is solid first issue that almost makes the argument for its character as a title headliner. I came away from it understanding the potential of the character, but not 100% sure this series will capitalize on that.