In 1983, Pat Benatar famously sang about love as a battlefield. In the Marvel Universe, there's probably no bigger veteran of both carnal and martial battlefields than the Olympian God, Hercules. In this month's "Incredible Hercules" #121, which kicks off a new story arc titled "Love and War," the titular god and his teenage sidekick Amadeus Cho become embroiled in a plot that that tests their physical, mental and emotional endurances. CBR News spoke with writers Greg Pak and artist Fred Van Lente about the storyline as well as some of the fallout from "Sacred Invasion," the series previous arc.
"Sacred Invasion," the tie-in to Marvel's event Secret Invasion, found Hercules and Amadeus doing their part to fight against the Skrulls attacking Earth. Amadeus accompanied The God Squad, a team of deities lead by Hercules, in an assault on the home dimension of the Skrull Gods. The God Squad was victorious, slaying both of the Skrull gods. But the Squad suffered casualties as well. Mikaboshi, a Japanese god of Evil, was left behind in the Skrull gods' home dimension. The penultimate page of "Incredible Hercules" #120 showed Mikaboshi addressing the ranks of the gods the Skrull deities had captured and enslaved.
"Obviously, a malicious force like Mikaboshi commanding such a vast army of slave gods does not bode well for Earth's pantheons," Fred Van Lente told CBR News.
"Sacred Invasion" ended with Hercules, Amadeus and God Squad member Snowbird escaping the dimension of the Skrull gods. Hercules and Snowbird shared an intimate romantic moment during "Sacred Invasion," but when "Incredible Hercules" #121 begins, the two have gone their separate ways, the events of the Sacred/Secret Invasion having been over for a time."There's a possibility that we might see a story later on down the line that fills in that little gap of time between #120 and #121," Greg Pak said. "Keep on reading, my friends, keep on reading!"
Hercules and Amadeus decide it's time for a vacation. When "Incredible Hercules" #121 begins, Herc is hoping to make their holiday extra enjoyable by reuniting with Namora, his comrade from the Renegades, the short lived super team that operated during World War Hulk. "Namora is continuing her dalliance with Herc, which we first got hints of during World War Hulk, in 'Incredible Hulk' #111," Van Lente explained. "Whether or not this is just a fling or something more serious for either, or both, of them is something that remains to be seen."
Namora's cousin Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner, also plays a role in "Love and War." "Namor has learned from his oracles that a mysterious fate has befallen the patron god of Atlantis, Poseidon, also known as Neptune," Van Lente said. "Whether or not this has anything to do with the current mechanizations of the Earthbound Olympians, however, remains to seen. But all signs point to 'yes.'"
Namor's hot-headed nature means he's bound to cause some problems for Hercules and Amadeus during "Love and War," but what's going to really make the duo's life difficult during the arc is the reemergence of Hercules's old foes, the Amazons. "Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, and the featured character in Hercules' Ninth Labor, has been an off-again, on-again villain in the Marvel U since the story arc in 'Thor' that first introduced Hercules by Stan [Lee] and Jack [Kirby]," Van Lente said. "She battled the Champions along with Ares and Pluto in the first arc of that series, and fought Franklin Richards and friends in Chris Claremont's run on 'Fantastic Four.'
"As the solicit says, though, these aren't your mama's Amazons -- or at least not Amazons you're used to seeing in comics," Van Lente continued. "To a certain extent this storyline brings Amazons back more to their warlike routes in myth--and if you want to read some good-natured tweaking of comicdom's most famous Amazon in that, well, we won't stop you...."
To make matters worse for Hercules and Cho, the Amazons are strongly connected to Ares, the God of War and Hercules's vengeance hungry half-brother, who also appears in "Love and War." "It's worth noting that Hippolyta is, in fact, Ares' daughter," Pak said.
"Love and War" sees Hercules, Amadeus, the Amazons, Namor, Namora and other Atlanteans mixing together in highly volatile ways. "The divisions in the various factions of Earthbound Olympians reveal fissions in various parts of the gods' society, including the Amazons," Van Lente said. "Hippolyta's daughter, Artume, is ambitious and wants to see the Amazons become the world's most feared warriors yet again. And she sees the road to glory running through the ruins of Atlantis, though maybe not in the way you think.
"Artume, of course, is Etruscan for the goddess of the hunt. Which would be Diana -- SATIRE!!!" Van Lente continued. "And, of course, we will continue the mythbacks 'Incredible Hercules' has become known for. Fortunately, there are so many tales of Herc's ancient glories, we've barely scratched the surface in nine issues and one special."
"True to its name, 'Love and War' will entangle our heroes in adventures both armed and amorous," added Greg Pak. "Hercules, of course, has over three thousand years of infamous romantic liaisons to his name. But does that mean he has any more idea of what love is all about than his sixteen-year-old sidekick? And if Amadeus gets a girlfriend, what's going to happen to the band, man?!?"
In 2007's "Sub-Mariner: Revolution," most of Atlantis was destroyed and the majority of its people were dispersed around the globe by Namor. In "Love and War," the Amazons declare war on what's left of the undersea kingdom. "It's just like the mythological Amazons to kick a guy when he's down, you know? They show no mercy, those gals," Van Lente remarked. "The central locales in this story arc include Lemuria --one of the few homo mermanus cities still intact after the events of Sub-Mariner's last mini -- the bottom of the Atlantic; Midtown Manhattan; Triton Station, an Atlantean 'air station;' the strait of Gibraltar; Washington D.C.; the Amazonian capital of Themiscyra; and a mysterious little town called Hippolytopolis. Oh -- did I mention the events of this arc take place across space, time and reality? It's a wild ride."
The first "Incredible Hercules" arc was penciled by current "Mighty Avengers" artist Khoi Pham. Artist Rafa Sandoval than took over the book and brought to life issue #116 as well as the entirety of the "Sacred Invasion" arc. "Love and War," the series' third arc, sees the arrival of new artist Clayton Henry. "I won't go so far as to say we're pulling a 'Sandman' here with each arc drawn definitively by a different artist, but that's the way it's shaping up so far," Van Lente said. "It doesn't really bother me. It gives each arc its own self-contained look, and keeps the title on schedule. But as far as I'm concerned, Clayton is doing a terrific job and can stay as long as he likes."
"I met Clayton a few years back at a comic book convention and have wanted to work with him ever since," Greg Pak said. "And if you've taken a peek at any of the preview pages, you'll know this is a story he was tapped by the gods themselves to draw. I'm loving every page and every panel he's sending in -- he totally gets the humor, the have-at-theeness, and the hot-hot-hotness which is 'Incredible Hercules.'"
It's been hinted that the Marvel Universe will undergo some big changes once Secret Invasion wraps up. The "Love and War" arc of "Incredible Hercules" seeds what those changes are and what they mean for Hercules, Amadeus Cho, and Athena, Hercules's sister who occasionally travels with them. The arc also introduces a major new player in the Greek Goliath's world. "The overarching villain of 'Incredible Hercules' gets introduced in the 'Love & War' arc," Van Lente said. "He or she is a classic Herc foe from myth."
Pak elaborated on the larger tapestry developing in the fan-favorite title. "We've been having a ton of fun packing lots of boffo laffs and action into this book each month, and we've been hugely gratified by the tremendous fan response to the individual issues and story arcs. But it's worth noting that we're layering in a massive overall story here that's going to pay off in a massive way over the next year or so. Every individual issue drops a few hints about that big story --and 'Love and War' in particular -- is setting up some pretty huge elements. So don't you dare miss a single issue, true believers!"