It's a good time to be Hercules.
Three ongoing stories across three publishers at the same time. First - Marvel's version is headlining The Incredible Hercules, taking over the Hulk's former series; at Radical, his mythical origin story is being told in its own series, and at Dynamite, Hercules is part of the Savage Tales lineup of stories being told in the anthology series.
Dynamite's Hercules is being written by Doug Murray, with art by Fabaino Neves. We spoke with Murray about his version of the mythical hero.
Newsarama: Doug, this seems to be a very popular time for Hercules – at Marvel, he’s headlining a book for the first time in twenty years or so, new publisher Radical is retelling his mythical story, and you are telling his tales in Savage Tales. From your vantage point, why’s Hercules a) still so popular today, and b) still so popular right now?
Doug Murray: Classic characters are called that for a reason--they are archetypes--men and women who have the powers and abilities that we admire and covet. Stories of people with those abilities will always be popular because they allow us to, if not gain those powers, at least see them in action. Hercules is a very special sort of archetype--he's an almost-God--with a flaw. He did terrible things, not only to those around him, but to those who loved and trusted him the most. Even though he was mad when he did those things, the possibility of it happening again is always with him, haunting him, making him more human--and more accessible to us.
NRAMA: As those who’ve picked up Savage Tales know, you’re re-telling the mythical tales of Hercules. What sources are you pulling from for these stories? And just to be historically accurate – this is the Romanized version of Heracles we’re talking about, correct?
DM: Most of the stories of Hercules/Heracles, whether Greek or the Romanized version, come from the same sources. Bullfinch did the most popular and readable translations of the mythical stories. I'm relying on his version for many of the bold strokes of the stories although, of course, I'm making them larger and more edgy for a modern audience.
NRAMA: That said, you’re also creating “new” mythical adventures – previously untold stories of tasks, etc. To do that, what elements must be in there to make them a “Hercules” story, one that fits side by side with his other labors, etc?
DM: To do new adventures, you have to consider a couple of things--1) that Hercules often uses his Gods-Given strength against those who gave it to him and 2)that Hercules, although filled with self-doubt, doesn't verbalize that doubt--he cannot, his culture demands that men be strong (and silent). It is his doubt, held within, that controls much of what he actually does--and does not do.
NRAMA: As you’ve been writing him, you’ve surely learned more about the man of legend and myth. Who is Hercules to you? Specifically here, at the start of his adventure period?
DM: I see Hercules as a man who hasn't yet found his place. Born the Son of Zeus, Hercules is neither God nor Man. In his early years he attempts to fit in as a mere mortal, obeying the will of men who are weaker and, on occasion, more foolish then he is. Later, as he travels more and learns more of both the world and himself, he picks better companions--and quests that are more worthy of his strengths and abilities.
NRAMA: What’s the breadth you’re looking to encompass with your stories? That is, will we be seeing all twelve labors, and then move on to the Argonauts, will you be jumping around in his life, or will you focus the bulk of your story on the 12 labors?
DM: I'm not sure how to answer this. I would like to do the 12 labors, because I think there's more to them then we've seen in the past--they're referred to many times but seldom shown--and there has to be more to them than just the surface stories in the myths. After completing the Labors, Hercules changes to some extent, grows both emotionally and intellectually--his involvement with the Argonauts shows that--that would be fun to go into as well. His life after the Argonauts is not spoken of in the myths--it might be fun to look into the tales of an older, wiser Hercules.
NRAMA: Historically, how “accurate” will you stay to the original material? He was a pretty randy guy, the adventures of who could shoot Savage Tales up into the R or beyond rating…not to mention Plutarch’s claim that he had countless male lovers…
DM: As I'm not sure how accurate the original material is to start with, I feel pretty free to re-interpret things to some extent. Still, girls are great--and they really do have a place in Savage Tales (I mean, look at Red Sonja!), so there's got to be some of that--just not enough to make the stories unreadable to our audience. As for the male lovers--that was a real part of life in ancient Greece. Spartans indulged with each other while in the field, and there are tales of 'Sacred Bands' of male lovers fighting in both Greece and Persia, so it's something to look at--after discussion with the editors, of course.
NRAMA: For you, what creative itch does telling the tales of Hercules scratch?
DM: Hercules is the original super-hero. Superman takes many of his powers from Hercules--and they are both, in their own way, aliens. That makes Hercules interesting in the same way--and unlike Superman, Hercules has multiple weaknesses--he is not the All-American boy--he's a man tortured by what he has done--and trying to live with the guilt and doubt in engenders in him.
NRAMA: Fair enough. Where are things heading in the next few issues?
DM: The next story deals with Hercules first real moment of truth--when he has two paths laid out before him. The path to a life of ease and comfort, and the path to a life of constant challenge and strife. He has to choose between them--and that choice will shape his life--forever.
NRAMA: Finally Doug, put on your scholarly cap for a moment – myths have long been used as entertaining ways to tell us eternal truths and lessons – what does Hercules tell us? Or are his tales just a ripping god yarn to tell around the campfire?
DM: The tales of Hercules are cautionary stories. They tell us that even the strongest and most virile man in the world is not his own master. That events and actions, whether his own of those of others, change the lives of those around him--sometimes for the better, sometimes not. Super-heroes often have huge battles and leave cities in ruins--if Hercules does that, he has to live in those ruins--and face the people whose homes he has destroyed. He has to be responsible--in all the meanings of that word.
Savage Tales #8 is currently in stores. Hercules story will continue in #9 and onward.