Written by Fred Van Lente and Greg Pak
Art by Rodney Buchemi
Coloring by Guillem Mari, Guru, and Emily Warren
Lettering by Simon Bowland
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
It's goofy, but it's epic. It's a continuation from two issues ago, but it's a done-in-one chapter. It likely sailed over my head... and yet I really, really enjoyed it.
And maybe that duality is how Fred Van Lente and Greg Pak wanted it. Because despite not even having the title character in the book, Incredible Hercules #135 is easily the strongest single issue from that title I've seen all year.
Now, for those of you who were hoping to check in with Hercules -- or, as we saw last issue, Thorcules -- you'll have to wait a few more weeks. Still, it's not a disappointment: this issue follows Amadeus Cho, as he plays a Dungeons & Dragons-style game under the guise of Mastermind Excello, battling the tongue-in-cheek villain known as Doctor Japanazi, the Man with Two Evil Axis Brains! While my knowledge of dice-based RPGs is limited at best, Van Lente and Pak manage to make the sequence hum with equal amounts swashbuckling and goofy humor.
Additionally, the pacing in this book is particularly strong -- they know just when to cut back to young Amadeus, and when to return to his heroic alter ego. But what perhaps is most interesting to me is the fact that while it continues from a cliffhanger from Incredible Hercules #133, this issue actually does stand on its own more as a single issue. It's weird, because usually I hate a lack of proper exposition, but this book just charms its way past my better sense. Indeed, this book has a lot of ideas in 22 pages, and while they sometimes move a little too fast for readers, they give you just enough fist-pumping moments to skate to the end.
Artist Rodney Buchemi, meanwhile, is a fantastic fit for this book. The introduction seems appropriately epic, yet his depiction of the younger Amadeus -- as well as game master Pythagoras Dupree -- really allows for a wide breadth of tone to this book. Buchemi's action sequences also give Mastermind Excello a real shot of charisma, especially during an acrobatic dismount from a parachute drop. While sometimes I feel Buchemi's facial expressions could use a little fine-tuning from a comedy standpoint, he certainly plays Van Lente and Pak's gags to the hilt, whether it's seeing a gallery of Mastermind Excello's potential ax-related injuries in one strong panel, or seeing the Z-movie potential of a character called Doctor Japanazi. And the second-to-last page in the book... that's the sort of image that sticks with you.
Of course, there are a few things that could have been tweaked for easier accessibility -- namely, the discussion of the Boltzmann Brains, which I had to go back a few issues to try to suss out. (I'm not even sure I get it even now.) Van Lente and Pak do, however, work hard to get the ideas out there, and while occasionally I think things might be lost in translation, I can hardly fault a book like this for ambition. It's weird, that while the other story making its way through the series -- seeing Hercules and Thor do some cross-theology-dressing -- may be a more marketable idea, it's seeing Mastermind Excello in action that really brings the goods.