Best Shots Extra - CABLE #17, INCREDIBLE HERCULES #132

BSE: CABLE #17, INCREDIBLE HERCULES #132

The Incredible Hercules #132

Written by Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente

Art by Reilly Brown and Nelson DeCastro

Colors by Guillem Mari

Lettering by Simon Bowland

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

Clothes make the man -- but when you're filling in for the God of Thunder, is a new set of threads enough? With bringing a new artist into the fold and starting a brand new arc, The Incredible Hercules #132 is a low-key introduction to "The Replacement Thor."

First and foremost, one of the highlights of this issue has to be Herc's annotated origin of Thor on the recap page. No recap page at Marvel is anywhere near as good as this series', especially after they snipe at Marvel's Silver Age: "What does he notice first? The cape? The winged helmet? That he can walk?" Herc writes. "No, of course not. Let's read the side of this mallet."

Pak and Van Lente then drop us into Herc's new status quo, complete with his new sidekick -- the de-aged, amnesiac Zeus. Of course, even if you wipe his memory, Zeus still is a bit of an arrogant letch: when Athena leaves to ward off some harpies, the boy replies, "too bad. For you fill out that breastplate most pleasingly." Ew. The interchange between Herc and Zeus is a decent substitute after Amadeus Cho broke ties with the Greek Gladiator last issue -- you can tell Herc wants nothing more than to replace his sidekick, but even as a ten-year-old, Zeus is still as imperious and demanding as he ever was.

That said, Amadeus always injected a little bit of the real world into this series as the resident fish out of water -- and while Zeus' thunder-casting abilities become necessary for Hercules to put on his charade as the Norse God of Thunder, occasionally Pak and Van Lente's world building comes a little too fast and furious: in the span of 22 pages, we get Athena, Zeus, harpies, trolls, Balder the Brave, Alflyse the Dark Elf, and goblins... it's ambitious, but it can be overwhelming, especially for a new reader. Still, Pak and Van Lente manage to leaven things a bit by focusing on Herc and Zeus, especially when they bond over -- what else? -- an evil elvin villainess who also happens to be really, really hot.

(Also, there's a reference to Hercules' Civil War secret identity -- Victor Tegler, I.T. consultant -- and I beg Pak and Van Lente to use it again. In their hands, I couldn't see it being anything other than comedy gold.)

On the art side, Reilly Brown (not to be confused with those other Reillys over in Amazing Spider-Man) is a nice fit for this book, lending a smoothness to his lines that sets up for the lighter tone of this book. His composition is also impeccable -- one splash in particular that really looks great is Zeus, standing on the flaming wreckage of a car, as he looms over a pack of goblins with a thunderbolt in hand. Some of his details also come off nicely, such as Herc's sneer when Zeus mentions Amadeus Cho, and his opening shot of Zeus really pulls more than its own weight in making the arrogant little snot a likeable character.

Now this issue isn't quite perfect. Pak and Van Lente's trademark humor -- the thing that really keeps this series as enjoyable as it is -- isn't in full force here (even with sound effects like "KRAKAHUMMMMAA," when Herc throws a Hummer at a troll), and while Brown certainly sets up a smoother, more cartoony tone than some of his predecessors, he hasn't quite milked the facial expressions to their full comic potential. And colorwise, Guillem Mari feels a little washed out, and I can't help but think that it's holding back Brown's pencils from their full potential -- everything looks decent, but nothing really pops off the page.

All in all, if you've been looking forward to "The Replacement Thor," Pak and Van Lente establish a good introduction to our hero's new status quo, both in terms of supporting cast and new identity, so to speak. If you're new to Marvel's theological lineup, it may be a little overwhelming, even with a decent amount of explanation. While it doesn't look at first glance as strong as arcs like "Sacred Invasion" or "Love and War," I think if Pak and Van Lente can focus on their world they've so speedily built in this issue, The Incredible Hercules could be a series to watch out for.

Cable #17

Written by Duane Swierczynski

Art by Paul Gulacy

Colors by Thomas Mason

Lettering by VC's Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

Forget Utopia -- you want some humanity in your X-Men? Read Cable.

Let me back up a second: I've looked at this series before, and despite the impressive high concept -- Cable running through time, protecting the last mutant baby from his time-traveling counterpart, Bishop -- wasn't too thrilled by the execution. Ariel Olivetti's muscled anatomy wasn't my cup of tea, and tie-ins with X-Force didn't really do much to hook my attention.

But this? Not only does Paul Gulacy really energize this series with his moody pencils, but Swierczynski puts together a really heartfelt character piece that gives Cable, Hope, and even narrator Emil a chance to shine. As someone who didn't even read the first issue of this two-parter, I have to say that the conclusion of "Wanderlost" is more than enough for even casual readers to really sink their teeth into.

A recap page really explains everything you need to know as you hit this issue: Cable and Hope were separated during a time jump, leaving the red-haired mutant child alone on a dying Earth to fend for herself. In this issue, you see how Hope has managed -- with the help of a boy named Emil, she has stayed off the grid, waiting patiently for her savior to arrive. Even on the first page, you can see how that little white lie has twisted his life: "The truth, strangely, feels like a betrayal." But Swierczynski is painting a portrait of young love, one that Emil won't spurn, even to save his people -- a twist that brings Bishop to the fold very smartly.

Yet this isn't just a love story set in a dying future -- this is also war. Swierczynski gives readers a really fantastic introduction to Cable, as he pulls himself back from the edge of techno-organic assimilation. "His telekinetic ability is but a faint spark in a vast, cold dead sea. But he concentrates on that spark," Swierczynski writes. "He refuses to surrender to the dead cold. As long as the spark lives, there is hope." Cable's introduction to Earth's freedom fighters is certainly abbreviated, but it speaks volumes about Cable as a character: he's a born military leader, who can fight in the trenches better than anyone you'll ever met. It all comes down to a reunion that doesn't play out like anything you would expect -- and rings all the more true for its heartbreak and sadness. "It's like I blink and you've grown up," Cable says. Spoken like a true parent.

But what about Paul Gulacy? Marvel, if you're reading -- bring him back as soon as you can. Gulacy is a master of using shadows and light to establish the tone of a scene: characters like Cable and Bishop really stand out from the pack as formidable adversaries, especially the sinister-looking nuclear device strapped to the stump on Bishop's arm. Yet the daylight scenes with Emil and Hope are really tender with teenage love and kindness -- these are really the formative years of Hope's life, and Gulacy works wonders to make readers root for both of them. Of course, Gulacy can also handle action chores with gusto, especially a shot of Cable firing a mean-looking rifle at hordes of guards. The color work by Thomas Mason is really beautiful, as well, giving Gulacy's pencils a real sense of weight not dissimilar from Laura Martin in Astonishing X-Men.

Cable shows exactly what kind of magic you can find when you have a top-tier artist working hand-in-hand with a smart, dedicated writer. While it's an unfortunate truth that a book like this probably won't reach the sorts of sales of Wolverine or X-Force, this is a book that deserves every bit of acclaim you can toss at it. It's a well-crafted tale of love, war, betrayal, all painted on a canvas of vintage sci-fi hopelessness. It may be about mutants and cyborgs and storms cleansing the Earth -- but through it all, Swierczynski and Gulacy make this a tale about humanity. The least you can do is pick it up.

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