Incredible Hercules #121

Written by Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente
Art by Clayton Henry
32 pages, color
Published by Marvel Comics

I do like it when what sounds like a daft idea turns out to be utter brilliance. That’s the only way I think I can describe Marvel’s decision to take The Incredible Hulk and rename it The Incredible Hercules, starring the titular demi-god and his traveling companion, the boy ultra-genius Amadeus Cho. By all reports this should have been nothing short of a disaster, taking B- and C-grade characters and putting them in starring roles in a comic that used to be all about one of the company’s most recognizable faces. Instead, though, we’re getting what’s probably the funniest book at Marvel right now.

So let’s say you’re on the run for assisting the Hulk in his attempt to take over the entire world. You had to fight off the entire secret government agency SHIELD in order to gain your freedom, to say nothing of the god of war himself, Ares. And if that wasn’t bad enough, you were promptly plunged into a war between the gods of humanity and the Skrulls, all as part of a secret invasion of the planet. Logically? The next step is a vacation, of course. That’s what Amadeus Cho and Hercules had in mind; Amadeus getting to lay around on a coral atoll in the Pacific Ocean, while Hercules gets to lay around with Princess Namora of Lemuria. But when Amazons attack Hercules for the umpteenth time, could this be disaster for our heroes? And what’s this about Amadeus maybe getting to lay around with the queen of the Amazons herself? Hmmm, maybe this isn’t such a bad vacation after all, right?

Pak and Van Lente’s writing on The Incredible Hercules is, in a nutshell, a great mixture of humor and adventure. On the surface, you can look at the turn of events of this issue and it’s a pretty typical superhero story: hero and sidekick go on vacation, and are attacked by villains who have ulterior motives for the main characters. And then, just when things seem to be under control, a new problem reveals itself. In The Incredible Hercules, though, this comic has a continual undercurrent of a tongue-in-cheek nature. The vacation consists of Hercules and Namora practicing "the Atlantean crab hold" while Amadeus feels like a third wheel. When Amazons attack, Hercules’s comment is, "Ah, it’s just Amazons." Later on, after hearing that he might have to sleep with the Amazon Queen, Amadeus’s response is to sniff his armpits and fix his hair. And Amadeus’s protestations that he and Hercules are just friends is hysterical, with comments like, "I’ve read those internet postings too…" The playful, almost silly nature runs throughout the entire comic. When Hercules and Namora splash into the water, it’s with sound-effects of "pish" and "posh" and I can’t even begin to imagine how an exploding rocket goes, "sproy-bloom!" but I like it.

Clayton Henry takes over the art of The Incredible Hercules with this issue, and he’s a smart addition to the creative team. His art is crisp and clear, and there’s a a nice smooth flow to the characters as they move across the page. He’s able to handle the fight scenes really easily, and he’s good with both existing and new character designs coming to life. Henry also has got a good sense of comedic timing. I love Namora’s annoyed expression when Hercules flirts with her even after they’ve been attacked and dumped into the water. Hopefully Henry will be a permanent addition to The Incredible Hercules, because while past artists Khoi Pham and Rafa Sandoval were both good, I feel like Henry fully gets what Pak and Van Lente are trying to accomplish here.

Don’t let the B- and C-list character nature of The Incredible Hercules scare you off; this is one amazingly funny and exciting book. Who knew Greek demi-gods and teenage super-geniuses could make such a great buddy book? And, now that The Incredible Hercules is free of post-World War Hulk stories and Secret Invasion tie-ins, it’s even more accessible than ever. Take a look, you’ll be pleased with the end result.

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