Chaos War is Marvel's finest example of what a true "Heroic Age" means to comic books.
Let me say that again (in case any cover blurb people are listening): The new five-issue miniseries event, Chaos War, by Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente, is the finest example of what the "Heroic Age" means to the Marvel Universe and modern comics. If you had ever wondered what that blue banner on your books was talking about or what they meant by "Heroic Age," then do yourself a favor and go read Chaos War #1.
Within this incredibly crafted over-sized issue, you not only see the triumphant return of a classic '70s Marvel hero, but there is a Call to Action because the Universe As We Know It is threatened by divine figures, the ultimate authority figure. All the finest heroes are gathered like the best Whitman's Sampler, along with a key element to make your tale astonishing: the common man. Along with all these heroes and powerful forces is a young man with nothing stronger than the power of his own brain. One who gave up divinity to be who he is and stand next to the impossible.
Pak and Van Lente have worked very hard to get us to this point. They took a title from one of Marvel's less-touted events (World War Hulk was awesome, it's just not as relevant as say Civil War or even Secret Invasion, but this is a topic for another time) and fought back story to provide an entertaining read issue after issue. From where they started, Hercules and Amadeus Cho have done something phenomenal to comics: they have grown as characters. Between Incredible Hercules #113 and Chaos War #1, you can actually plot the character arcs that have not only made them better heroes, but better people as well. Their adventures have been told in short and snappy plot arcs, they have weathered through Big Events like Secret Invasion and Dark Reign, they have read up and incorporated older canon (like the Olympus Group and the Pantheon) and even more recent events (the Oeming Ares miniseries) and incorporated both into their own stories like the finest herbs and spices. Incredible Hercules has gone above and beyond the call of duty to present we comic fans the finest in fun storytelling and legendary adventure.
So why does the best book to honor the Heroic Age not even get a banner? Why does the Thunderbolts have it? We're not even supposed to know about the Secret Avengers and they got a Heroic Age banner! What gives?
(WARNING: maybe spoilers for Chaos War #1? I mean, everyone knows that there's a war, and it's against Chaos and our heroes are going to go and fight it, so ... it's a toss up. Go get yourself a copy of the book if you're not sure. In fact, get two. Just in case.)
For those of you who don't know, you get two stories for your $3.99 cover price: our call to adventure and some special developments to Hercules's history in a back-up feature. There is a checklist of all the books that are coming out for Chaos War and their order of release, and a friendly little reading list for the TPBs that tell the back story. There's even a back page of "letters" for the modern era: some questions from Twitter fielded by Amadeus Cho and the Chaos King (he answers in haiku). This book is not only extra-sized, but it really does kick off the whole event that Pak and Van Lente have worked for.
Hercules is returned to Earth, imbued with pure godly powers he cannot control just yet and gives a big warning to all the heroes that our doom is here. His call is so loud it shakes all the New York heroes out of their own titles and into this one. He's also so loud that a small group of New Yorkers shout back at him. "Why should we care?" they ask. They are offended he calls himself a God, they threaten to tweet about him! They do not see the call to adventure because they always get left with the cleanup bill. And they're right; Lord knows that Event Books are incredibly difficult on the Marvel citizen and if some dude in thigh-high leather sandals and a blanket shouted at me, I would not be all that inspired. But that's because I'm a person, and we live in a world of heroes on the comics page; surely the superheroic will rise to the occasion.
Nope. Almost soundly, the Avengers and even the X-Men kind of take one look and shrug their shoulders to say, "Meh." Hawkeye tells the Avengers that Hercules can't handle whatever it is he's shouting about (Hercules was a trusted member of the Avengers and Hawkeye has nothing to say about being a loose cannon). Archangel of the X-Men tells his team that he thinks Herc might be wrong about the threat (Warren Worthington is one of the reasons there's an Incredible Herc book to begin with, as he was part of Amadeus Cho's team to help the Hulk out in World War Hulk.) Namora calls Hercules a "dumb cat." That's just bitter ex talking. Iron Man, bless his Registration heart, wants to see some ID when a god-like being is resurrected and brings word of the first and final menace of the universe. Hercules returns to the world of the Heroic Age and hears jeers and boos. Anyone else would have shaken their heads sadly and walked away or shouted angrily and displayed their might to force reason down people's throats.
Hercules stands firm because he does not care what they think of him; he admits his mistakes and demands that everyone rise above them because the fate of the universe is MORE IMPORTANT than any past transgressions. And somewhere, Iron Man and Captain America are still fighting amongst themselves on the Avengers.
Hercules could be considered the God of Heroes in Greek Myth. Surely, he did a lot of heroic deeds and ascended to godhood at the time of his death. He, in many ways, embodies our modern Marvel heroes, both favorably and not so much. He's arrogant like Thor, drinks like Tony Stark sans recovery, he chafes under too much authority, which certainly describes the life of a vigilante. But no matter what, Hercules will rise to any and all cries to help those who need it. Wikipedia says, "While he was a champion and a great warrior, he was not above cheating and using any unfair trick to his advantage. However, he was renowned as having 'made the world safe for mankind' by destroying many dangerous monsters." That just about sums it up. The Marvel Heroes may be right, Hercules may be flighty or clumsy or not too bright (or... fine, a dumb cat), but the only thing that should matter in times of crisis is to defeat the crisis. I don't care if he's Kang, listen to his story then knock him three city blocks! (sorry, wrong book.)
Amadeus Cho is the new Rick Jones, and you might not think that's important either. Rick Jones and others like him have been the cornerstone of the Marvel Universe for some time, our man on the inside. Rick could have easily been discarded story-wise after Bruce Banner becomes the Incredible Hulk, but he stays in the story to give it a personal perspective and because even those without superpowers can make a difference. He's our Han Solo in a world of Jedi destiny. Now that the actual Rick Jones is a parody of himself in the Hulk books as A-Bomb, Amadeus Cho steps up nicely as the kid surrounded by adventure, science and myth. He is the only one to calm Hercules down from his shouting, get him to focus and bring this show on the road. He will be our moral center this evening, someone young and able to let go of the past in order to see the adventure in front of us.
Herc rallies the Marvel Heroes (somewhat forcibly) and gives a St. Crispin's Day speech to make this Event official: "You were born to foolishly reach beyond reason... to stand together in the impossible fight -- and turn back apocalypse once and for all!"
This is the Heroic Age, my friends. I know comic book prices suck, but they are going to get better. Storylines have been decompressed, mini-series have tangled you in tie-ins and, let's be honest with ourselves, sometimes the writing and the art haven't been top notch on our favorite work. Heck, the cover to Chaos War #1 is kind of dull in composition. The $3.99 price tag on a story that might not affect anything in the rest of the Marvel Universe is normally a deal breaker for Joe and Jane Q. Comic Reader. I fully admit to the foolishness of Marvel's past publishing mistakes.
But I say to you that, as not only a True Believer but as a comic book fan, you were born to foolishly reach out to the four-color heroics... to stand together to read the impossible fights -- and to thrill to adventure again and again!
Readers, we make the heroes. Please read Chaos War #1.