It's been a long strange trip for the Olympian god Hercules and his sidekick, teenage super genius Amadeus Cho. The duo forged a friendship during the chaos of Marvel Comics' 2007 "World War Hulk" storyline. In the aftermath of that storyline, Herc and Cho graduated to their own series, "The Incredible Hercules" written by Fred Van Lente and Greg Pak, which chronicled the duo's action packed, powerful, poignant and often hilarious adventures across the Marvel Universe. Herc's sister, the goddess of Wisdom and Warfare, Athena, was often on hand to offer Herc and Amadeus guidance, but she played an especially significant role in the series' second and final arcs. In "Sacred Invasion," Van Lente and Pak suggested that Athena may have had a hand in orchestrating the events that lead to Amatsu-Mikaboshi, the Japanese god of Chaos and Darkness gaining control over an army of deities that were enslaved by the gods of the alien Skrull Empire. In "Assault on New Olympus," the series' final arc, Athena banished her brother to another dimension because she believed it was best for the Universe.
Herc's banishment led many to believe that he was dead. In the two issue miniseries "Hercules: Fall of an Avenger," Pak and Van Lente showed Amadeus and Herc's other friends gather to mourn the god before continuing Amadeus' adventures in "Prince of Power," a four issue miniseries chronicling the teen genius' discovery that Herc was still alive and his struggle to bring him back to this dimension. Amadeus was successful in his quest just as their old foe Amatsu-Mikaboshi, the Chaos King, finished marching across the galaxy towards Earth. During his journey, Mikaboshi grew his slave god army by killing or enslaving any alien deities that crossed his path.
In October, Mikaboshi arrived on Earth and Pak and Van Lente kicked off "Chaos War" the final chapter of their "Incredible Hercules" saga. Herc, Amadeus and their allies in the new God Squad - Sersi, Daimon Hellstrom, the Silver Surfer, Galactus, Venus and Thor - must prevent Mikaboshi from obliterating all of reality, except himself. In "Chaos War" #3, in stores now, the war took a turn for the worse as the Chaos King wiped out all the heavens, hells and underworlds of the Marvel Universe. Can Herc, Amadeus and their allies turn the tide of the war? And what sort of action awaits "Chaos War" readers? For the answers to these questions and more, CBR News spoke with Pak and Van Lente.
In order to bring Hercules back to this dimension, Amadeus was forced to perform a ritual that transformed his friend into a "Sky Father" - a god with incredible reality-altering powers and even greater greater responsibilities like his father Zeus or the former Asgardian king, Odin. Herc was given no chance to adjust to his new existence and so far has spent all his time either battling Mikaboshi or learning how to use his new powers.
"Hercules is definitely rising to the occasion, but at the same time he's got a ways to go. He's definitely more confident in wielding this tremendous power that he's been gifted with. That's partly because he's facing this insanely huge threat," Greg Pak told CBR News. "He's also still screwing things up, though, as you've seen if you've read the book. He definitely has a ways to go to fulfill what the Sky Father responsibility of power is all about. Whether he's willing to go that full distance remains to be seen. That's a huge element of issues #4 and #5."
One of Hercules' biggest mistakes came at the end of "Chaos War" #1 when he lead the mortal heroes of Earth into a trap set by the Chaos King, causing them all to fall into a waking coma. In "Chaos War" #2, Herc tried to recover from this by assembling a new God Squad. At the beginning of "Chaos War" #3, Herc and his new crew fought their first battle together as a team when they squared off against three Gods who were resurrected and enslaved by the Chaos King during his destruction of the Olympian Underworld; Herc's father Zeus, his step mother Hera and his brother Ares.
"This was an issue where we hit deeper into what those family relationships were all about," Pak said. "Everybody knows about the antagonism between Hercules and Ares and Hercules and Hera. And Zeus wasn't exactly father of the year material either."
The other member of Herc's family that played a prominent role in "Chaos War" #3 was his sister, Athena. On the final page of the issue, Athena declared herself the Chaos King's greatest servant claiming that all Mikaboshi had accomplished so far was thanks in part to her wisdom. Longtime "Incredible Hercules" fans know that this statement, along with many of Athena's other proclamations, might not be exactly true. "Athena is Herc's big sister and she's the classic big sister in that she thinks she knows what's best for you at all times. So she done lots of heinous stuff including, at least to the world, appearing to kill Hercules," Fred Van Lente remarked. "When it comes to her final end game, you're right to not necessarily take anything she says at face value because—well, she lies a lot. [Laughs] She thinks it's all to our benefit but who watches the watchmen?Who's checking her to make sure she's actually doing the right thing?"
Pak added,"Athena is the classic playing the player type of character so you never quite know how many steps she's ahead of everybody. At the same time she's been running this game for quite a while and this could be the final revelation of what she's actually been doing. If this were a year ago, I might say, 'Oh don't worry about it.' Given where we are though in our story line I would say you might want to start worrying."
In the "Prince of Power" miniseries, Amadeus Cho accepted his destiny to become Athena's champion on Earth, the Prince of Power. The blessing of his patron is what allowed him to stay awake when all the other human heroes on Earth have been cast into a waking coma, so Amadeus has served as part of the new God Squad and is the only living mortal to bear witness to the Chaos King's assault on reality. "Don't forget Athena, and this could be yet another of her crazy lies, prophesied that Amadeus would be the greatest hero of the Heroic Age by saving the world at its darkest hour. And as of issue #3, things are pretty dark," Van Lente said. "I think the weight of that responsibility is definitely going to play out over the conclusion of the series. We're definitely down to brass tacks, here. Throughout the entire 'Incredible Hercules' saga, Herc has been showing Amadeus how to be a better hero, and now Amadeus has to be that better hero or we're all doomed."
When "Incredible Hercules" began, it was unclear whether Amadeus would end up becoming a hero or villain. Now, years later, Amadeus has proven his courage on a number of occasions and a prophecy has declared that he will become a great hero. However, that doesn't mean that Amadeus isn't ultimately destined for the dark path of villainy. "In the 'Prince of Power' miniseries, Thor did compare him to Loki," Van Lente stated. "And at one time Loki appeared to be one of Asgard's staunchest heroes who then went over to the dark side and it still remains to be seen if Amadeus will do that."
At the end of "Chaos War" #3, the Chaos King assaulted and consumed several pantheons of Earth Gods along with their home dimensions, transforming him into a gigantic being of tremendous power. Herc and his God Squad we're unable to stop the Chaos King's assault, but they were able to use the confusion caused by his transformation to make a strategic retreat. "I believe on that last page you see [Mikaboshi] basically consume the pantheons he attacked. So his next target is indeed Earth. He is at a moment of befuddlement right there at the very end," Pak explained. "Because even for an entity as primal as the Chaos King, it's been a while since he himself has experienced this totality of chaos and darkness. In this moment of triumph, he's slightly befuddled. He's just trying to orient himself and figure out, 'Oh hey! Where's that thing I have to eat now?'"
Van Lente added, "The description of him in the script was basically that of an anti-Eternity with this dead universe inside him. I thought our penciler Khoi Pham, our colorist Sunny Gho, and our inker, Tom Palmer just knocked that out of the park."
The Chaos King's consumption of the many heavens, hells, gods and demons sets the stage for the action in the remaining issues of the series as well as it's various tie-in books. "The final battle is coming to Earth. Be prepared. The destruction of all existence finally gets it's hooks into the existence that you and I are surrounded by on a daily basis," Pak revealed. "Almost every tie-in spins out of the events in 'Chaos War' #3. At the end of this issue, the God Squad is shattered and divided, so we start to follow different people on their different adventures. If you're not reading the tie-ins, don't worry. You can just read the 'Chaos War' miniseries and get a complete, full story, with plenty of impact. The tie-ins, though, are pretty darn tremendous. They delve even deeper into certain angles of the story and certain characters, so they are highly recommended."
"The various Chaos War tie-in books include both one-shots and miniseries. "The 'Chaos War: Thor' by J.M. DeMatteis is amazing. Marc Sumerak's 'Chaos War:God Squad' tie-in is terrific. Dan Panosian did some amazing art work for that one-shot. It's really fun to see those characters interact on their own as a team. Then, obviously as a result of the underworlds being destroyed, we have my 'Dead Avengers' book with Tom Grummett drawing," Van Lente stated. "Then we have Weezie Simonson doing the 'X-Men' book with Chris Claremont. And of course, you don't want to miss Brandon Montclare and Mike Kaluta's brain blowing 'Chaos King' one-shot."
Pak added, "Mike Oeming and Stephen Segovia's "Chaos War: Ares" one-shot is terrific. Plus, if you're a fan of the 'Prince of Power' artist Reilly Brown and fan favorite writer Jim McCann, they're doing an 'Alpha Flight' one-shot. We just got the pages on that and it's gorgeous."
The "Chaos War" tie-in that Pak is probably the most excited about is the story he penned for "Incredible Hulks" #618-620. "Hulk fans have no fear! This is another essential story in the 'Incredible Hulks' storyline as well. The book is not taking a detour. All the themes that we've been building up continue. There is no dead space here," the writer revealed. "It brings back Banner's greatest enemy of all time. This crazy set up in 'Chaos War' that brings people back from the dead was a perfect opportunity to deal with some unfinished business that's been percolating for a long time in the Hulk Universe. It's big, big stuff; titanic battles and huge emotional repercussions. So do not miss it, my friends. The story is also the return of Paul Pelletier to the book. If you liked what he was doing during 'Fall of the Hulks' and 'World War Hulks,' you definitely don't want to miss it."
Since the other members of the God Squad will be busy on their own mission in the "Chaos War: God Squad" one-shot, the action in December's "Chaos War" #4 will focus on Hercules, Amadeus Cho and a surprise guest star. "This is the return of Dark Phoenix to the Marvel Universe," Pak joked. "Just kidding! There's a massive moment of truth coming during the course of this storyline. It involves one of Marvel's most powerful abstract entities who we have not seen for a while. She, I'll go ahead and use the proper pronoun here, plays a huge role. And it's not to be missed, my friend."
Van Lente added, "Yes, there's a big crazy, fun Amadeus team-up that happens during the course of this issue. The moment of despair is upon our characters, and this is the battle against it. Things look their direst and now the question is whether or not Amadeus and Hercules are going to be able to pull it together against what may be, literally, insurmountable odds."
In "Chaos War" #5, the series' final issue, many of the characters from the various tie-ins will become involved. "You'll also see Dark Phoenix," Van Lente laughed. "No, that's a joke too. She's not in the fifth issue, either. The issue is the pay off to everything. It's not just the payoff to the tie-ins and the main series, but it's also the payoff to the entire 'Incredible Hercules' saga that we started at the end of 'World War Hulk' when we first took over the Hulk's book. It's been quite a dream."
"Chaos War" is a gigantic event about the cosmic and mythological structure of the Marvel Universe, and as such, the fallout from the storyline will have a major impact on a number of elements in the Marvel U. "There are some pretty big things that will be revealed and there will be some genuine repercussions for the Marvel Universe," Pak hinted. "There are at least three places where you're going to see lasting effects from 'Chaos War.' We can't yet exactly announce where, though."
Van Lente added, "One is a sort of major, across the board Marvel Universe change. I don't think it's ruining anything to reveal that the epilogue of 'Chaos War' will show up in a book that has the same initials as the 'Incredible Hercules.'"
Pak and Van Lente have told some pretty big stories featuring Hercules and Amadeus Cho, but they never attempted anything with the scope and scale of "Chaos War." The duo have found the experience of crafting such an epic and grand tale to be immensely enjoyable. "I keep comparing this to a big budget action movie on a superhero scale. It's one thing to see earthquakes, towering infernos and comets hitting the earth. It's another thing to have a dreamworld destroyed," Van Lente remarked. "That's the kind of stuff that makes superhero comics unique. It's this mishmash of genres. You can do this really nutty stuff that even Hollywood can't do convincingly, but you keep it grounded with these characters that we recognize and care about."
"There's nothing else like it. You can have literal gods walking the Earth alongside these cosmically powered sci-fi creatures and regular humans beings. It's incredibly stimulating to the imagination, and at the same time, because it's Marvel, it has this human center," Pak explained. "Marvel always has the average person's P.O.V. somewhere in these stories. It's an incredibly fun playground to work in because we have an art team that we know can do anything. And they go above and beyond the call of duty."
Recently, on his Twitter account Van Lente posted that January's "Chaos War" #5 brings to a close the eighth and final volume of the pair's "Incredible Hercules" story. "That tweet meant that the 'Incredible Hercules' as a book that is about Hercules and Amadeus getting into wacky adventures together with Athena guiding them is over. Whether or not that leads to other things with some combination of these characters or something that me and Greg happen to be writing together is a totally other thing," Van Lente explained. "My point in tweeting that was simply, 'Chaos War' #5 is the conclusion to all of the story lines we set into motion with 'Incredible Hulk' #112 - except the one we weren't able to tie up because of things that were out of our control."
When Pak and Van Lente kicked off "Incredible Hercules" in 2007, they both knew they were starting a series about a character who had never had an ongoing before, and they were doing it in a market that was not conducive to such a proposition. Realistically, they never expected to be able to tell the entirety of their story and the duo are immensely grateful to everyone who made that possible.
"It's been very wonderful. We'd both like to thank Marvel for supporting us this whole time and putting a whole lot of effort into marketing the book and getting the word out there. Plus, we just had such a wonderfully enthusiastic fan base," Van Lente said. "I can't tell you how many times I've had somebody come up to me at a con or a store signing and just literally hand me the entire run of the series and ask me to sign it. That just really makes me feel good to know that somebody chose to lug that many comics around with them."
Pak added, "It's been insanely gratifying. Fans, retailers, reviewers and everybody that's supported the book have just been tremendous and it's been a total unmitigated blast every step of the way. Everybody at Marvel who's worked on or with the book has just been amazing. Hercules is a legendary figure, but he hasn't had the highest profile in the Marvel Universe in recent years. So no one thought a Hercules book would be able to last three or four years. Our success is all because of you guys! Thank you, dear readers."