Over the centuries, the religions of the ancient world have featured numerous gods, monsters and heroes, many of which have faded into obscurity. However, a select few are as popular today as they were in ancient times. One of the most enduring mythological figures of the ancient world is Hercules whose exploits are known to people the world over and are still read about today.
In the Marvel Universe, mythological heroes regularly rub elbows with costumed super heroes, and Hercules' exploits in the modern day Marvel Universe are just as grand and infamous of any of his adventures in the ancient world, especially recently. In 2008, writers Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente kicked off the ongoing "Incredible Hercules" series, a buddy book that saw the Olympian God and his sidekick, teen genius Amadeus Cho, travel across the world and dimensions while engaging in adventures, hijinks and the occasional world-saving. In the recently concluded "Chaos War," Herc and Cho did more than save the world: they saved all of creation before walking off into the sunset.
But none of this means Pak and Van Lente are done with Hercules. This April, the writing duo is joined by artist Neil Edwards for the launch of a new ongoing "Herc" series, which finds the now mortal title character patrolling the streets of -- Brooklyn? CBR News spoke with Pak and Van Lente about the series.
When "Chaos War" began, Hercules had been transformed into the "All-Father," the most powerful god in the Marvel Universe. At the end of the series, he expended all of his remaining power to restore the Multiverse, which had been wiped out out of existence. His restorative act also brought back to life most of his relatives in the Olympian pantheon of gods, including his father, Zeus.
Upon his resurrection, Zeus recreated the Olympian's traditional base of power, Mount Olympus, as an island off the coast of Montauk, New York. "Zeus has long been irritated by the prevalence of the Asgardians in the Marvel Universe," Fred Van Lente told CBR News. "So if Thor stuck Asgard in Broxton, Oklahoma, Zeus is going to do him one better and park Olympus outside New York City. "
Greg Pak added, "Zeus is making a big statement here and he makes an even bigger statement right on the Incredible Hulk's face in 'Incredible Hulks' #622, in stores now. Zeus is back. He's bigger than ever and he's here to shake things up a little bit. So you're looking at a brand new status quo for Zeus and the rest of the Olympians."
It may be a new status quo, but it might mean a return of old rivalries for Hercules since Zeus' wife Hera, who previously held a violent grudge against Herc, is back among the living as well. "You'd think Hera would be somewhat grateful for Herc restoring her to life. Don't forget, though, that Herc is married to Hera's daughter Hebe," Van Lente said. "So any sort of marital strife that Herc and Hebe end up having is not going to sit to well with Hera. That may be a bit of foreshadowing there."
Pak added, "You also get a taste of what's up with Hera in the current 'God Smash' arc of 'Incredible Hulks,' which wraps up in issue #622. Hera plays a pretty significant role there. And there's also a tip of the hat regarding a possible enemy for Hercules later on down the line. So inquiring minds want to know what's going on in 'Incredible Hulks' #622? Well, pick it up."
Thre are, however, a few Olympians who have not made their return from oblivion. "Chaos War" #5 showed that his brother Ares, the God of War, was the only Olympian still down in Hades Underworld. "It's worth noting that there might be a gulf between the decisions Hercules the All-Father made versus what Hercules the mortal remembers or understands," Pak said. "There just might be some drama that plays out regarding that."
That's right -- Hercules is now a mortal. The act of resurrecting his fellow gods and restoring the Multiverse didn't just drain Hercules of his "All-Father" powers, it also robbed him of his divinity. "We were very up front about the fact that 'Incredible Hercules' was a 'Hero's Journey' book. We directly referenced Joseph Campbell more than once during the course of the storyline. Some of the hallmarks of the 'Hero's Journey' are about death, rebirth, transformation and rediscovering your origins. Those stories are also about this kind of ascension," Pak said. "The apotheosis is a big part of the 'Hero's Journey,' and the original Hercules story is almost a prototype for all those 'Hero's Journey' tales. He's a hero who fights monsters and learns about the responsibilities of heroes and gods. He suffers horribly and then eventually ascends to godhood. That ascension is a big part of the original Hercules story
"Part of what we wanted to do with our Hercules story was to play that out in a slightly different way," Pak continued. "In 'Chaos War,' Hercules becomes the biggest god there is. He becomes the most powerful god the Marvel Universe has ever seen. So where do you go from there? At that point, Hercules' apotheosis is to ascend to mortality. He becomes mortal. That's also a big part of the sacrifice he makes at the end of this. So in a way, it's a fun twist on the ultimate ending of the typical 'Hero's Journey' story, while at the same time, it's totally true to Hercules' character. Herc has always been the most human of all the gods, both in the classic myths and in the Marvel mythos. We're giving him a chance to embrace that fully and see where that takes us. It's a fun opportunity."
When the new "Herc" series begins in April, the title character may be a mortal, but that doesn't mean he's not dangerous. "Hercules is human, but he's in top physical form," Pak stated. "If you punch him, he'll bruise. If you cut him, he'll bleed -- but you may not have the chance because the world has never seen a greater wrestler, a greater archer and greater wielder of stolen magical weapons than Hercules. So watch out wrong doers!"
As Pak hinted, when "Herc" begins, the former Greek Goliath will have access to an arsenal of powerful, magical weapons. "We plundered the myths of Greece for inspiration for Herc's mythical arsenal. He's got the shield of Perseus, that actually has the face of Medusa on it along with some other magical abilities," Van Lente revealed. "He's got the molecule-cutting sword of Peleus and the invisibility-granting helm of Hades. Plus, there might be some other surprises as well. Herc's a master of all these mythical weapons."
In the opening arc of "Herc," Pak and Van Lente don't just give their protagonist a magical arsenal, they also give him a mission. " Hercules is no longer a god, but he still has some of the responsibilities of a god in that he's hearing some prayers and is compelled to investigate," Pak explained. "He winds up on the mean streets of Brooklyn, of all places."
Van Lente added, "Those streets are being menaced by the Warhawks. They're old enemies from Herc's Avengers days. They're the worshipers of Herc's brother Ares, and one of their aims appears to be the resurrection of the war god. Herc has to do something about them since he'd like to keep Ares in Hades if at all possible."
The Warhawks won't be the only villains keeping Herc busy in his new series as Pak and Van Lente intend to pit their protagonist against some of the Marvel U's most fearsome street-level villains, like the new Hobgoblin, who pops up in issue #2. "I've been doing some co-writing with Dan Slott on 'Amazing Spider-Man.' That's where I was introduced to the new Hobgoblin. I think he's terrific. He's got a sword. Herc has got a sword. There's synergy there," Van Lente laughed. "You'll see Herc take on a lot of street-level villains that you would normally see fighting guys like the Punisher or Daredevil, because, frankly, Herc is now at their level. A lot of these guys are very monstrous, though, and a lot of them do harken back to Herc's mythical days. I think you could definitely describe the Hobgoblin as a monster-esque villain."
Pak and Van Lente's longterm plans also call for Herc to bump into street-level heroes as well. "We definitely want the series to stand on its own for the first arc, at least in terms of Herc interacting with other heroes," Van Lente said. "We are making plans, though, particularly as we move forward and interesting things start happening with the street-level heroes. Greg and I were at the recent creator summit and we heard some stuff where it was like, 'Oh! We're stealing that for Herc.'"
In "Herc," the title character will patrol the streets of Brooklyn without the aid of his former sidekick, Amadeus Cho. The two are still friends, but now that "Chaos War" is over, they're pursuing their own separate destinies. "Amadeus Cho fans will want to start picking up my 'Incredible Hulks' series, if you're not already reading it," Pak stated. "Amadeus plays a huge role in 'Incredible Hulks' starting with April's issue #626."
The supporting cast of "Herc" will be made up of mostly new characters that the former god encounters while fighting crime in Brooklyn. Pak and Van Lente see the borough and it's residents as an important part of the new series. "Jeph Loeb once pointed out that it's solid gold every time you have normal people looking up and reacting to the world of super heroes. Things like Mister Fantastic stretching overhead, or the Silver Surfer zooming down the streets of Manhattan. The appearance of these super heroes is just mind blowing, and then when you have these contrasts with everyday life, it becomes really powerful," Pak explained. "This is a way of playing with that. Even though Hercules is a mortal in this series, he's also seven feet tall. He's walking into this street-level world, where he'll be a huge presence. And if and when you see the gods themselves, it's going to be mind blowing. Setting it in everyday Brooklyn is a great way to draw those contrasts and let the power of these characters and this storyline really shine"
Van Lente added, "I live in Brooklyn. It's awesome to make observations about the place you live everyday and put them into a comic. We definitely hope to bring this borough to life in a really important way. This is a different take on Herc. Once you see Neil Edwards' amazing pages, you will immediately see how this is different from 'Incredible Hercules.' The two word description we've been using to describe this series is, 'Urban Conan.' It's very gritty. Real is probably the wrong word, but it's got a much more realistic take on Herc in modern times than you've ever seen before. We're definitely treating the Olympians much more like the way we think of gods in our own world, as being rather enigmatic, nigh-invisible and working in very mysterious ways.
"In terms of tone, this isn't exactly a 'fun' book. I hesitate to use the word fun for a book about a guy with a sword running around Brooklyn attacking criminals," Van Lente continued, laughing. "He's literally getting medieval on people's asses. So while he's definitely going after people who deserve it, he's a regular guy who doesn't have any super powers. He's got to use weapons and there are consequences to that kind of violence even in the Marvel Universe. So the tone is very different. There's grim violence, jokes, and sex. We're the complete package."
As Van Lente said, "Herc" may be a more grim and violent title than it's "Incredible" predecessor, but it's not exactly going to be a bleak and humorless series. "I think that even though this is a new starting point, and a very different status quo for Herc fans, readers of 'Incredible Hercules' will be happy to know that the kind of trademark crazy hijinks you've come to appreciate if not outright love from me and Fred will continue. Fans know that if Fred and I are involved, there is a chance for some quirky humor and some fun stuff."
Pak and Van Lente realize "Herc" came about partly because of the dedicated readers of "Incredible Hercules," and for that they're eternally grateful. Keeping that in mind, the two plan to make sure the new book will have plenty to offer longtime fans, but they also want to make sure "Herc" is completely new reader friendly and accessible. "You do not need to have read a single word of anything Greg and I have done to enjoy 'Herc,'" Van Lente stated. "I don't believe we reference 'Chaos War' or 'Incredible Hercules' in the entire first issue. So you can come in totally fresh and be right with everybody else."
Pak added, "I'm definitely making a special effort with a lot of the books I'm doing right now, to write them that way. They're entirely new reader friendly. If you got friends who are really interested in comics but they don't know where to jump on, 'Herc' is a great book to toss in their laps and say, 'Go for it.' At the same time, if you've been following these stories, there will be many rewards along the way to longtime readers. So they definitely don't want to miss this, either."
"Herc" begins in April with a two issue arc that introduces readers to the title characters' new status quo, one he'll have to get comfortable with very quickl because in the second arc of "Herc," Pak and Van Lente are throwing their protagonist head first into the chaos of the upcoming "Fear Itself" event. "In our 'Fear Itself' tie-in, the worshipers of Ares, lead by a Herc villain we haven't seen since 'Dark Reign,' seize control of the fear that's swirling around Brooklyn and basically takes over the borough. You've seen all the various 'Fear Itself' tag lines like, 'Do you fear tomorrow?' or, 'Do you fear what you may become?' Our tag line is, 'Do you fear civilization's collapse?' Suddenly, Herc's skills as an Urban Conan style barbarian become exceedingly useful in this new environment," Van Lente summarized, to which Pak added, singing, "Warri-ors, come out to plaaay-ay!"