At this point in his career, I was pretty sure I knew Erik Larsen. Not personally (we’ve never met) but I’ve read “Savage Dragon” off and on since it showed up some 19 years ago, and even now he’s still plugging away at it, with his oddball superhero soap opera.
But with that in mind, what I wasn’t expecting was “Herculian” #1, a collection of short stories by Larsen that opens with his own 24-hour comic. For those unfamiliar with a 24-hour comic, the idea is that you give yourself 24 hours to create, from scratch, a 24-page comic. (Trust me, it’s not as easy as it sounds.) The first half of “Herculian” is just that, 24 pages where two out-of-touch brothers (Buddy and Earl) meet up at a diner for lunch and the chance to talk… while across the street, the villain Punchin’ Judy fights the hero Herculian.
It’s a fun, down to earth story from Larsen; he uses the super-powered fight to mirror the conversation between Earl and Buddy, as Earl reacts badly to Buddy’s news that he’s getting married. It’s a familiar storytelling device, but Larsen doesn’t overuse it or drive it into the ground like a less seasoned creator might. In some ways it’s there to liven up the conversation (although I don’t think it needs it), give it a little variety so that it’s not just two guys chatting for 24 pages. And while Larsen’s style is a little rougher than normal (drawing a page an hour will do that to even the best artist), I like the body language displayed on his characters. There’s something about Earl’s posture and hand-gestures (especially the way he points at the waitress) that just reeks of a slimy nature, for instance, while Buddy comes across far better. It’s a fun comic in its own right, but being completed in 24 hours makes it that much more impressive.
The second half of “Herculian” is a bunch of gag strips, and they’re fun if slightly less memorable. “Cheeseburgerhead” will stand out for the general surreal nature of it (think of Ronald McDonaldland characters meeting Franz Kafka’s “Metamorphosis”), and I challenge someone to not laugh (and cringe) at “Mickey Maus.” Some of the others like “Don Drake” or “Dave’s Robot” feel like they’ve overstayed their welcome at a single page, though, but at least Larsen (almost like a stand-up comedian) doesn’t stop if one falters, but promptly gets swinging on the next gag comic.
“Herculian” is a different side of Larsen, one that you might not be used to. If he ever decides to end “Savage Dragon” (not that I think he will!), I’d love to see him keep playing with different genres and see just what else he can dig up. Until then, though, having some more one-offs like this down the line would be welcome. It’s nice to see his talents tackle some different subjects; for the most part, he succeeds.