Most heroes of the Marvel Universe have welcomed the coming of the "Heroic Age," but this is not an absolute. Teen Genius Amadeus Cho has been having a tough time with the new era, having assumed the new role of "Prince of Power" along with a great deal of new power and responsibilities. Amadeus now controls all the resources of the Olympus Group, a gigantic corporation created so the Olympian pantheon of gods can secretly interact with the people of Earth. That doesn't matter to him, however, because Amadeus has to carry out his new role without the help of best friend, Hercules.
Amadeus and Hercules' friendship began in 2008 when writers Fred Van Lente and Greg Pak launched "Incredible Hercules," an ongoing series which spun out of "World War Hulk" and maintained the numbering of the previous volume of the "Incredible Hulk." In "Assault on New Olympus," the final storyline of "Incredible Hercules," Amadeus learned that he was to be the new Prince of Power, a title held previously by Hercules, and also discovered there could not be two Princes of Power alive at the same time. Amadeus tried to protect his best friend, but despite his best efforts, Herc perished, or so Amadeus believed. In "Hercules: Fall of an Avenger," Herc's closest friends gathered to mourn the mythic hero, and Amadeus discovered that Hercules was not actually in the Olympian realm of the dead.
Pak, Van Lente, and artist Reilly Brown launched the four issue miniseries "Prince of Power" in May, detailing Cho's quest to find out what really happened to his best friend. It has already been revealed that the pair will reunite, and just in time as an old enemy is coming to Earth wielding almost infinite power. Herc, Amadeus and their allies will attempt to stop that enemy when the five issue "Chaos War" by Pak, Van Lente and artist Khoi Pham begins in October.
"Prince of Power" #1 saw Van Lente and Pak introduce a complication to Amadeus Cho's quest to bring Hercules back - Vali Halfling, known to longtime "Incredible Hulk" fans as Agamemnon, head of the secret high tech organization known as The Pantheon. Halfling's curse to spend all of eternity as a teenager has greatly affected his moral compass and his sanity, and Van Lente and Pak have been wanting to pit Halfling against Amadeus Cho for some time.
"When we initially started 'Incredible Hercules,' it was very vague as to whether or not it was going to be a continuing series or just this four issue arc that would end 'Incredible Hulk.' Once they renewed us and said that we were going to do a second arc, we wanted to use the Pantheon to retain some of the Incredible Hulkness of the book. Greg and I were fans of Peter David's run on the Hulk, and I assumed it would just be natural to include all these 'Incredible Hulk' elements in the series," Van Lente told CBR News. "Not to get too heavily into what that original storyline was, but it involved pieces of what became the Underworld arc of 'Incredible Hercules' - with the trial of Zeus and Pluto and all of that - and what eventually became 'Prince of Power.' But then, someone came to us and said, 'Why don't you do a 'Secret Invasion' tie-in?' So over that weekend I was like, 'The God Squad!' I brought that idea to Greg and he really liked it, so we ended up completely junking the Pantheon storyline.
"So I know in my initial interviews for 'Incredible Hercules' we talked about using the Pantheon, and I always planned to come back to that story because it seemed like they would be good enemies, particularly for Amadeus," Van Lente continued. "It was Greg's idea, though, and it was a great one, to sort of distill the Pantheon down to Vali or Agamemnon himself, just because it seemed great to have this smarmy kid as a foil for Amadeus since he's like Amadeus in the sense of being this cunning adolescent strategist. But unlike Amadeus, he's evil!"
In the second issue of "Prince of Power" Amadeus set out to foil Vali Halfling's scheme to become a full god and take over reality. His first stop on that mission was in Asgard, where Cho came face-to-face with another being saddened by the apparent passing of Hercules - The Mighty Thor. "I think that's something we explored quite a bit in the 'Hercules: Fall of An Avenger' miniseries," Van Lente remarked. "If Thor and Hercules were a buddy comedy, Thor would be getting married and would be this straight laced, white collar type, and Hercules is the out of control wacky friend who knocks him out of his state of bourgeois-ness. I think Hercules definitely exasperates Thor because, the Marvel Thor at least, is much more of a straight arrow type. So I think they compliment each other, as good friends often do, [through] their differences."
Thor and Amadeus literally collided at the beginning of "Prince of Power" #2 due to Thor's belief that Amadeus had stolen sacred Asgardian artifacts. By the end of the issue, Amadeus clarified the situation and convinced Thor that they should work together to take down Halfling, the real thief. Nonetheless, Thor and the new Prince of Power's partnership is an uneasy one. "As the series progresses, you'll learn some more about Thor's overall perception of Amadeus. He sees the flaws in Amadeus more readily than Hercules did," Van Lente stated. "At the end of issue #2, Amadeus definitely persuaded him to help in his quest. How long that lasts, though, remains to be seen. [Unlike Hercules], Thor is not going to be amused at Amadeus' various antics and his rashness. So we'll see if this partnership can end with anything but Amadeus' skull getting crushed like [a] grape, because Thor is a bigger picture type of person, while Amadeus only focuses on his immediate goal."
The second half of "Prince of Power" kicks off in July, and the final two issues will feature action sequences involving two different pantheons of gods in addition to Cho's ex-girlfriend, the snake haired Amazonian, Delphyne Gorgon. "You get the Egyptian pantheon, the Hindu pantheon, and a huge story arc involving Delphyne and her relationship with the Goddess Athena [now rules the Olympian Gods]," Van Lente revealed. "So there will be more mind blowing legendary adventures as well as one of the most hilarious scenes in 'Incredible Hercules'/'Prince of Power' history. You will know it when you see it. I can be proud of it because it's a group effort. I'm not just patting myself on the back. This is everybody from the inker on down and it came out very nicely."
"Prince of Power" ties up all of its plot threads in August in order to set the stage for October's "Chaos War." "Basically, if you count the 'Fall of An Avenger' miniseries, 'Prince of Power' is issues #144-148 of 'Incredible Hercules.' Like any continuing series, when you have a story arc end, scenes specific to that arc are concluded but there's always enough dangling stuff going on that sets up the next arc," Van Lente explained. "There's definitely a sense of closure for all the major story lines from 'Prince of Power,' but obviously it moves into 'Chaos War' #1."
Amadeus will be reunited with his best friend as "Chaos War" begins, but Hercules might not be the same God Amadeus remembers. He'll be a changed deity with a new title appropriate to the current era of the Marvel Universe, the God of Heroes. "This is a Hercules you will have never seen before, and that has to do with the manner in which he's brought back," Van Lente said. "The other way to look at it is when Steve Rogers came back Bucky didn't suddenly stop being Captain America anymore. Likewise, Amadeus Cho is the Prince of Power and will continue to be the Prince of Power. So, to a certain extent, Hercules has been promoted above his Prince of Power status, so hence the God of Heroes appellation. You'll want to read 'Prince of Power' #4 and 'Chaos War' #1 to fully understand what that means."
During the "Secret Invasion" tie-in arc, "Sacred Invasion," Herc was placed in charge of the God Squad, a divine team of heroes tasked with defeating the gods of the invading Skrull Empire and their army of slave deities recruited from alien cultures the Skrulls previously conquered. Herc leads a new incarnation of the God Squad in "Chaos War" composed of Thor, Sersi of the Eternals, Venus from the Agents of Atlas, the planet devourer Galactus and his herald, the Silver Surfer.
"Galactus is sort of a reserve member of the God Squad. He's definitely there, though, and the Surfer is his herald and speaks for him," Van Lente explained. "They're brought together by a common threat and they don't necessarily all get along, particularly because there is a member of the new God Squad that has been left off the revealed roster. All of the God Squad members are divine, or at least partially divine, but one of them is rather, shall I say, diabolical. He shows up in 'Chaos War' #2."
The contentious relationship amongst the members of the new God Squad isn't simply due to their mystery member; many of them simply have an issue with taking orders from Hercules. "Thor obviously is Hercules' equal in many ways. Sersi definitely has a mind of her own and is very strong willed, independent and some might even say flighty," Van Lente said. "And the Surfer doesn't really answer to anybody except Galactus. He's definitely one of the major wild cards involved."
If the new God Squad is to survive "Chaos War," they must band together to face a familiar and incredibly powerful foe, the Japanese god Amatsu-Mikaboshi. Mikaboshi was a member of the first God Squad and at the end of "Sacred Invasion" secretly assumed control of the Skrull army of slave gods. He then crowned himself Chaos King and has been leading his forces on a slow and destructive march towards Earth. In "Chaos War," he finally arrives.
"In the 'Ares' miniseries from several years ago, Mikaboshi single-handedly almost killed off all of the Olympian Gods, and since 'Sacred Invasion,' he's gorged himself on this army of slave gods. So now he's very close to being what he was beforehand, which was the Chaos and the Void that existed before existence," Van Lente elaborated. 'The Bible' talks about things being without form and void. Ovid in 'Metamorphoses' talks about that time as just Chaos. That's where the name Chaos King comes from. So Mikaboshi, the Chaos King, is a greater threat than Thanos, who simply wanted to kill everything in existence. He's a greater threat than Galactus, who wants to eat planets. Mikaboshi literally wants to annihilate all of existence and then become the only thing in the universe, which is what Amatsu-Mikaboshi is in Japanese mythology. He's what there was before there was anything.
"He's gathered together all the gods the Skrulls enslaved in 'Secret Invasion,' and now he's going to be adding to his ranks because he'll find some allies when he gets to Earth," Van Lente continued. "Yes, there are denizens on Earth that are crazy or evil enough to want to ally themselves with a being that wants to destroy all of reality."
Fortunately for them, the God Squad will also enlist the aid of some powerful allies, including Bruce Banner and his growing family of Hulks. "'Incredible Hulk' ties into 'Chaos War,' and the Hulks are going to be having their own problems with the Chaos King and some of those he recruited to his cause," Van Lente revealed. "Unfortunately for Bruce Banner, his friends and his family, there are going to be a lot of familiar faces that the Chaos King has recruited. Much smashing will ensue."
"Incredible Hulk" isn't the only "Chaos War" tie-in, however. Van Lente and Pak's divine epic isn't just a miniseries - it's an event with several tie-in books. Van Lente couldn't reveal what the tie-ins would be yet, but hinted that Marvel would be announcing all of them later this summer.
"Chaos War" is a story with a fixed cast, but the scope and scale of the storyline means that the entire Marvel Universe is available for supporting roles and cameo appearances. "We've got your X-Men! We've got your Fantastic Four! We've got your Avengers! We've got your Spider-Man!" Van Lente remarked. "We've got your Agents of Atlas! We've got your Eternals! We've got your cosmic beings! I don't care how big you think this is, it's bigger!"
Fans of Van Lente and Pak's work on "Incredible Hercules" know that, in many ways, the writers have been telling a long form story and "Chaos War" comprises the climatic chapter in their saga of gods, men and friendship. "This is the culmination of everything Greg and I put into motion with 'Sacred Invasion.' We went in one direction and then doubled back and did 'Sacred Invasion,' and because of [that arc], we sort of realized where the series would end up," Van Lente said. "You have prophecies that Amadeus Cho is going to be the greatest hero of the 'Heroic Age,' and this is his big test. Hercules has been struggling with what it means to be a god, so this is his big test. Delphyne Gorgon wants to kill Athena, and this is her big test. All the character arcs are all converging simultaneously in one ginormous package with the words 'Chaos War' on the front of it.
"I said it before and I'll say it again - I don't care how big you think this is, it's actually bigger! Greg and I are out to sort of redefine epic storytelling in the superhero genre. When looking at the scripts and discussing them with Greg, it's almost frightening how big this is [Laughs]. I'm actually a bit intimidated by it. I hope it will suitably blow the minds of the readers," Van Lente continued. "This really is a big budget summer blockbuster disaster movie, but in the superhero genre of the Marvel Universe. With disaster movies you think, 'Oh there's a tower and it's got an inferno in it!' or 'There's a big meteor headed straight for Earth.' This is the end of all existence! This is the subtraction of various aspects of reality. That doesn't just mean physical infrastructure like planets. It means pantheons! The afterlife! And various other abstract things that we take for granted as being part of reality. You can show those things being demolished in a superhero comic."