GREEK WEEK Part I -Pak & Van Lente talk Hercules' Past

Mon, March 17th, 2008 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Dave Richards, Staff Writer

"The Incredible Hercules" #115 on sale this week

Last December, Marvel Comics' "The Incredible Hulk" was re-titled "The Incredible Hercules," and, with the same numbering, began a new era of stories by writers Greg Pak & Fred Van Lente and artist Khoi Pham.  The series' combination of elements from Greek myths with modern day concepts and characters such as S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Avengers has quickly made "The Incredible Herc" one of Marvel's most talked about books amongst fans and professionals alike.

With the first arc of "Incredible Hercules" wrapping this week, CBR News will be throughout the week be talking with the book's creators about Hercules and his title's future developments, including a highly touted tie-in with with Marvel's summer event "Secret Invasion."  We begin today with a talk with writers Pak and Van Lente about Hercules's past and how it's affected the Greek Goliath.

Hercules was born over 3,000 years ago when Zeus, the ruler of the Olympian Gods, impregnated the mortal woman Alcmena. When Zeus's wife, the goddess Hera, found out, she was outraged and began a vendetta against Hercules, attacking him in numerous ways throughout his life. Later, when Hercules died and was reborn as a god, he married Zeus and Hera's daughter, the goddess Hebe. The two are now estranged, but the marriage seemed to heal the rift between Hercules and Hera. Or did it?

"The characters of myth never quite resolve anything; they continue to live their life in endless cycles, with the same patterns repeating themselves over and over," Fred Van Lente told CBR News "To one extent, that's something we mortals have over the gods: The capacity to change."

Pages from "The Incredible Hercules" #115
"Or so we'd like to think," Greg Pak added.  "I'd actually posit the notion that we puny mortals *like* to think we can change, but our own monumental struggles to actually break free of our own destructive tendencies is what makes the classic stories of the eternally incorrigible gods so compelling to us."

That inability to change means Hera's grudge against Hercules is far from over, and Van Lente and Pak promise the Goddess will show just how much ill will she still has for Zeus's illegitimate son very soon in the pages of "Incredible Hercules."

As for the hero himself, Hercules's feelings towards his father's wife have been marked by violence and hatred. But his feelings for his father have been more complex. "They're extremely conflicted, especially now, since we're operating under the assumption that Zeus was killed by Amatsu-Mikaboshi [the Japanese god of evil] in the 'Ares' miniseries," Van Lente explained. "Of course, in 'Ares' #5, Ares tells Alexander that Zeus's body was never found, and we all know  in comics what that means."

After his life ended and Hercules attained godhood, he stayed away from the mortal realm until his father dispatched him on an assignment to Earth. "Zeus sends Herc down to Earth first in 1966's 'Journey into Mystery' #124 on a mission and says, 'It is there you must go -- after all these ages!' so it kind of sounds like he hasn't been back to visit much for me," Van Lente remarked. "Of course, Herc gets caught up in this crazy adventure where Pluto tricks him into damning himself under the guise of a movie producer and Thor has to bail him out--So we never find out what this 'mission' was that Zeus sent him on in the first place. Dude! Greg! 'Untold Tale' material!"

Once arriving in the modern world, Hercules began a long association with many different superhero groups. He's spent much time as a member of the Avengers but Herc has also been a member of The Champions of Los Angeles, The Defenders, Heroes for Hire, and most recently, during "World War Hulk," he was part of Amadeus Cho's team of Renegades. Of course, joining teams is nothing new for Herc; he first showed his affinity for groups during his adventures in the ancient world when he fought alongside Jason and the Argonauts. "Herc is in many ways a big show-off, so he loves having an audience," Van Lente remarked.

"

Pages from "The Incredible Hercules" #115
He's like the dude in the improv comedy group who lets other people do the hard work of setting up the scene and then comes in with the killer punch lines," Pak said. "Which is annoying, but more often than not, he actually *saves* the scene, so it's hard to hold a grudge."

Given his thousands of years of experience, one would think Hercules would have commanded some of the superhero teams he's joined, but the Prince of Power has always let someone else take charge. "He tends to be more confident when there's an official leader around who's not him," Van Lente explained. "But what happens when Herc is actually asked to *lead* a super hero team? We will find out."

Hercules is fond of adventuring with apprentices. In the ancient world, he was accompanied on many adventures by his nephew Iolaus, and he's currently traversing the present day world with boy genius Amadeus Cho. "Despite what you may have heard, in the Marvel Universe, at least, Herc takes on young guys as apprentices to school them in the ways of heroism and so they can tell him how great he is. Amadeus is a modern-day version of this, the only difference being that his heroism will probably come more from his brains than his brawn or skill at combat."

Added Pak, "It's also worth noting that Herc's the unofficial god of impulsive amiability, which means that if a kid or a puppy starts following him around, he's far more likely to say, 'all right, cool,' than, say, Pluto might be. And a kid *with* a puppy?  Forget about it."

Heroic adventures with teams and youthful sidekicks aren't the only things Hercules is known for. The Prince of Power has been involved in countless romantic relationships many of which have ended tragically. "When it comes to relationships, Herc's brain is not the organ he leads with, if you know what I mean," Van Lente remarked. "And he's also a passionate guy, so he feels each emotion, rage, love and shame -- quite keenly. I think he may be borderline bipolar! He also falls in love at the drop of the hat, so we will definitely be seeing a lot more of Herc's sexual side in coming arcs."

Pages from "The Incredible Hercules" #115
"Despite all the loves in his life, I wonder if Herc really knows much at all about love," Pak said. "He's definitely his father's son as far as marital fidelity goes.  Maybe part of that's a factor of his immortality -- he told a tragic story of watching a former love die over the years in one of the Bob Layton Herc in Space stories.  Of course, that story turned out to be a lie used to escape an entanglement with a new paramour.  I'm inclined to think that Herc's just a big lunkhead who's stuck perpetually in that devil-may-care, sow-your-wild-oats phase of life.  Whether there's a price to be paid for that remains to be seen (maybe sooner than later)."

Hercules has accomplished many things in his long life both good and bad, but when you're dealing with a being who's lived for thousands of years you've got to wonder just how much of his past does he even remember? How much of it does he remember *correctly?* Lately, it seems like Hercules is remembering a lot of the destruction and carnage he's caused during his time on Earth. Recent revelations in "Incredible Hercules" have shown that Herc's worst enemy is his temper, which causes him to fly into blind, destructive rages. His most famous adventures in the ancient world, "The Twelve Labors of Hercules," occurred because he was trying to atone for the murders of his wife and sons during such an episode.

"Herc's been pretty much under attack his entire life -- even as an infant in the cradle, he strangled the snakes that Hera sent to kill him. Reacting quickly to provocation has always been key to his survival," Pak said. "But that's clearly no excuse for killing his lyre instructor or any of the other many innocents who have fallen before him over the years.  When you actually look at the history, Herc's committed a thousand more atrocities than the Hulk. Which raises the interesting question of, just what it would take to push the fun-loving Herc we know and love back to the savage, uncontrollable Herc of ages past?"

Page from "The Incredible Hercules" #115
Surprisingly, Hercules was able to hold back his destructive temper when the Superhero Registration Act was passed during "Civil War."  The Prince of Power did choose to defy the act, though, and he sided with Captain America's anti-registration faction. Even now with the pro-registration side's victory in "Civil War" and Captain America's subsequent death, Hercules continues to operate in defiance of the act. "Herc comes from a totally different value system," Van Lente explained. "In his era, noblemen acted nobly (or were supposed to, in theory), and heroes were rewarded for their courage with praise and wealth. I'm pretty sure he finds the SHRA so offensive because it puts mortal petty bureaucrats over our modern equivalents of gods, the super heroes. He probably doesn't understand why Captain America, the greatest warrior (in his mind) this country ever spawned, *isn't* automatically President of the United States."

"In many ways, Herc is symbolically all about freedom," Pak added.  "He's one of the most famously encumbered of all heroes of myth, enjoined to undertake the Twelve Labors as penance for the deaths of his wife and sons. Yet he breaks the rules of men and gods, frees the dead from Hades and shatters the bonds of Prometheus.  A guy who defied Father Zeus himself to free the Firebringer isn't too likely to get too scared by the puny humans' Registration Act."

When you're a god who's lived for thousands of years, you get used to people dying and sometimes even coming back. Recently, two of Hercules's closest friends, Captain America and Thor, have perished and been seemingly resurrected.  The mantle of Captain America has been revived by Steve Rogers's old sidekick, but Thor really has come back from the grave. "Herc got to work out some of his emotions regarding Thor's disappearance when he famously smashed the clone Thor during 'Civil War,'" Pak stated. "Since then, he's been pretty much on the run non-stop.  But I imagine we'll eventually get a bit more reaction from him regarding the golden locked Asgardian.  One thing that's worth noting-- Herc and Thor have always been as much rivals as friends."

Hercules's long, sordid past as both a mythological figure and Marvel hero will continue to be a driving theme in the "Incredible Hercules." There will be many more flashbacks and readers might also see some flash forwards as well.  Pak said, "There's also the intriguing question of Herc's *future*, namely those awesome Bob Layton Herc in Space miniseries."

GREEK WEEK continues tomorrow as we talk to Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente and editors Mark Paniccia and Nate Cosby about the April one-shot "Hulk vs. Hercules: When Titans Clash."

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