In July, Radical Comics and writer Steve Moore will once again expand upon Hercules' legendary labors in the five-issue miniseries "Hercules: The Knives of Kush." Moore's previous adventure of Zeus' half-mortal son, "The Thracian Wars," will be released in a collected edition in June and is currently in development with Peter Berg and Film 44 to be adapted into a motion picture.
Known for his immaculate attention to historical detail, Moore's take on Hercules has wiped away much of the character's familiar popular culture image in favor of Bronze Age weapons, dress and conflicts. CBR News caught up with Moore to talk about the new series, which takes Hercules and his men to Egypt, and will see our heroes subject to foreign gods.
"The Knives of Kush" finds Hercules and his men embroiled in a distant civil war. After being attacked by pirates, the crew find themselves in an Egypt at war with itself and, though they attempt to establish both their loyalty and their credentials by saving a royal caravan from marauders, there remains a bit of suspicion about Hercules and company because they are foreign.
"Hercules and his band have arrived in Egypt looking for legitimate mercenary work, but the pirate attack has left them stranded in strange territory," Moore told CBR. "So when they see a party of nobles being attacked by what appear to be masked bandits, they decide to fight the attackers, if only to prove that they're not bandits themselves; and that gives them a contact with the legitimate government (at least in that part of the country)."
As to what that ruler, the pharaoh Seti II, has to gain by employing the rugged Greeks, Moore explained, "He's beset by spies in his own palace and doesn't know who to trust, so hiring a group of newly-arrived outsiders to check up on those closest to him makes good sense. And Hercules and his group can fight pretty well, too, of course ..."
In the previous series, "Thracian Wars," Hercules and his crew were referred to as "barbarians" by the Thracian nobility, even as the Greeks viewed Thrace as the more primitive society. Here, though, "It's definitely the Egyptians, with their ancient civilization, who regard the Greeks as barbarians; and in relative terms, they are," Moore said.
Like "The Thracian Wars" series, "The Knives of Kush" is wholly original to comics and not based on an existing legend of Hercules. "It's based on a group of characters who were all mythologically contemporary and could have met," Moore explained. "And when we find out what happened to Amphiaraus and Tydeus from the first series, that's actually based on the Greek legend of 'The Seven Against Thebes.' But apart from that I'm basically writing original stories that add new adventures to the original legends."
Taking Hercules and crew to Egypt opens up a lot of visual possibilities, including a completely new array of architecture and costume. "We have highly decorated Egyptian palaces, extremely indecorous slums, catacombs of the dead, and so on, along with a number of decorative ladies who are actually wearing rather more than they would really have done, but apparently we have to keep the distributors happy," Moore said. "And I'm pleased to say that the new art team of Cris Bolsin (pencils) and Doug Sirois (colors) really seem to have taken to all this and provided some terrific, detailed visuals.
"As for the story, well, Egypt always had a reputation as the land of magic and mystery, as well as being a very ancient, sophisticated and charmingly corrupt society. So here Hercules and his Greeks are very much the upstarts in a strange land where only Autolycus seems to know what's going on, as he's been to Egypt before. It's meant that where the emphasis in the first series was very much on the brutality of war, with this story we switch more to palace intrigue, secret cults and sorcery. I'm allowing a few more fantasy elements into this series. So this story isn't quite so dark as the first one was, it's more a sort of H. Rider Haggard ripping historical adventure yarn."
Part of Steve Moore's reasoning for allowing in more fantasy elements stems from the setting of Egypt itself. "Egypt was a deeply religious society, and in ancient times religion and magic were very much intertwined; they were both ways of approaching and working with the gods, with a somewhat different emphasis," the writer said. "So I'm exploiting that religious and magical background. We have priests who are continually invoking the gods, a necromancer who actually obtains information about distant events through the medium of a mummy, and Khadis, the magician who heads the Knives of Kush cult, is able to magically control the weather.
"I'm still largely de-emphasizing the gods -- they don't have any walk-on appearances. But if I tried to do a story set in ancient Egypt that didn't give a heavy emphasis to priests and magicians, it would give a false impression of the place."
Working with characters, events and places from Greek and now Egyptian antiquity necessarily involves a degree of research, especially with the exacting care for historical detail that Moore puts into his scripts. "I've always had a strong interest in ancient history, particularly the Greek and Chinese worlds, so writing the first series and establishing the characters of Hercules and his companions was relatively easy," the writer revealed. "Egypt I knew far less about, so that needed more basic research; but just doing that research gave me lots of ideas for the story. I knew that the Hercules stories were set shortly before the Trojan War, which is traditionally dated at 1184BC, so that gave me a working date for Hercules of about 1200BC.
"So, having decided I wanted to take the characters to Egypt, I just looked at what was going on in that country at that time, and I found that Seti II was fighting a civil war with his brother Amenmessu, he had three wives, a chancellor called Bay, and so on. So that presented me with a situation and a set of characters to start with, and I wove my story into the material that was already in the historical record, though Khadis and the Knives of Kush are completely my own invention.
"After that, I had to do a fair amount of research on Egyptian costume, arms and armour, architecture and so on, and I provided the artists with a lot of visual references as well," the writer continued. "So although it's a fantasy story, it takes place in a reasonably authentic setting, and I haven't done anything that violates the historical record too much, like having the wrong person win the civil war. I think essentially I've tried to treat the story as if I was writing a historical novel, with the same sort of attention to detail. It's just that it happens to be in comic book format."