Spoilers for this week's Hercules #1.
In today's Hercules #1, writer Dan Abnett and artist Luke Ross revealed a big secret: mythology is dying in the Marvel U. And that's bad news for a guy like Herc.
Dan Abnett has brought the classic hero back to his roots as a seasoned warrior, and the world’s first “superhero.” But with Herc leaving behind his party-hard attitude and embracing his mythological roots, he's got a rude awakening ahead of him.
In Hercules #1, Herc buckles down on being a hero, taking his centuries of experience and using them for the greater good. Along with his new, focused attitude, Hercules is utilizing a bag of tricks that includes his knowledge of magic, myth, and weaponry of all eras.
Newsarama spoke to Abnett about the developments of Hercules #1, including the climate of the mythological corner of the Marvel U, Herc’s souped up arsenal and new work ethic, and his relationship with fellow demigod (and much-maligned fellow one time Avenger) Gilgamesh.
Newsarama: Dan, let’s set the stage for Hercules #1. This is a slightly different Herc than we’ve seen in recent memory – more lean, mean, and focused. How did he come to this new status quo?
Dan Abnett: Hercules has always been a great character, but he’s often been played for light relief, or portrayed (to great effect) as a bit of a buffoon and a liability. He ought to be as weighty and serious a Marvel hero as Thor, but he’s more usually portrayed as the ‘anti-Thor’, playing down the nobility and great heroism and playing up the inherently ridiculous, ‘cod-Shakespeare’ angle. Featuring him in The Korvac Saga, I was struck with an idea to do a more heroic version of him, not because I had a problem with the way he has been traditionally seen in the Marvel Universe, but for the fun of a change. So I thought… he’s been around a long time. He’s a great hero, perhaps the world’s first superhero. He’s done great things. Where you and I might want a weekend off after working hard, maybe he wants a few decades off after being such a mighty hero for centuries.
What if his appearances in the MU over the years have been just that: Hercules kicking back, having fun, getting a bit rowdy and rambunctious, not taking life too seriously and enjoying his celebrity status? What if he wakes up one morning and realizes that people have forgotten what a huge hero he used to be? What happens when he decides to remind the world he’s not just a super-powered party animal who causes trouble every time he shows up?
Nrama: Hercules is essentially working as a “hero for hire,” something he’s done in the past with a whole team behind him. What’s his motivation between hiring out his services? Is this a new form of his fabled labors?
Abnett: In a way. He’s gone back to basics. He’s returned to his old, sober (literal and metaphorical), disciplined approach to being a working warrior and hero. This serious dedication to battling evil and helping people is what built his huge reputation in the first place.
Nrama: Herc’s got a markedly different outlook in Hercules #1. He’s a little less bombastic and jovial than we’ve seen him before. Is this a product of his new mission, or has something happened to cause a sea change?
Abnett: He’s tired of people thinking he’s a joke, and of being the darling of the gossip pages. I guess there’s an arrogance in that in itself: he misses the respect he knows or feels he’s due, and is thankfully humble enough to realize he has to earn it back. One good work at a time…
Nrama: Along with his more focused attitude, Herc’s got a whole new arsenal up his sleeve, and it seems like he’s got some unique insight into how to use them against mythical threats. What are some of the new weapons and tactics we can look for as Hercules continues?
Abnett: Herc is a warrior, and I figure he’s fought in wars down the ages, alongside professional soldiers of all eras and many cultures. He’s not stupid. He’s learned a lot. He’s learned military skills and the use of weapons. This interests him. Tactics interest him. Just because he’s amazingly strong, he can’t rely on his mace or club for everything. He’s not too proud to learn new warcraft from new generations, and put that learning to good use.
So we can see him using weapons from different eras, with huge proficiency, as circumstances demand, and not shying away from technology or the gadgets of the modern world. And he also uses his deep experience, built up over centuries, of both warcraft and the odder, more mystical aspects of the world, to invent new combos. In the first issue, he uses a simple modern gadget and applies it to a prehistorical magical problem to achieve his win. He’s moving with the times so he can remain a relevant hero, and that’s brilliantly summed up in images like the ones of him with a club or sword in one hand and a modern assault rifle in the other.
Nrama: Hercules #1 almost has elements of a buddy comedy, with the down-on-his-luck Gilgamesh crashing on Herc’s couch. Will we see more of Hercules’ demigod peers lurking around in future issues? Is this the beginning of a redemption for Gilgamesh, who hasn’t exactly been a popular character before?
Abnett: Yes, and yes, with any luck. Herc is reinventing himself, and trying to restore his reputation. Part of his remit will be to protect the world from ‘mythological’ threats (an area in which he has great experience) and also to protect the fading mythological traces of the deep past from the encroachments of the modern world. He is part of that tradition, so he sympathizes. He’s going to run into many old friends, or figures from the ancient past. Gil is a great foil. They are very alike, but Gilgamesh hasn’t adjusted to the demands of the modern world. Herc is looking out for his old friend, giving him a place to crash, hoping that if he can get himself back on his feet, he can support Gil and get Gil back in the hero game too.
Nrama: There’s a conscious effort to show Herc adjusting to the trappings of modern life in Hercules #1, from his new costume and weapons, to the pointed difference in his modern and archaic speech patterns. Is Hercules trying to distance himself from his roots? Has he simply evolved?
Abnett: He’s evolved. He understands he’s living in a different age. The speech contrast is a deliberate thing. He speaks ‘normally’, but sometimes, when it’s necessary, slips into his older ‘bombastic’ archaic style, which I am presenting as if he is speaking an ancient, mythological language. Some of the creatures he encounters only speak ‘the old way’. And it’s not just Greek mythology he deals with. Hercules, as Herakles, is an embodiment of really ancient, prehistoric warrior myths, traditions that predate written language and civilization. The Greek Herakles or the Roman Hercules are just incarnations of him in different eras, as he was known and celebrated in those times. Outside the MU, the cycle of “Hercules” legends probably throw back to incredibly ancient hero stories, the original versions of which we have lost. I’m playing with that legacy.
Nrama: You chose to focus on a smaller scale story in Hercules #1, with Herc helping out a pair of young boys. But even that confrontation seemed to have big implications, with the apparition that appeared in the middle of his fight. Is Herc’s down-to-earth new life going to spiral back into the mythical realm?
Abnett: Yes, perhaps inevitably. Just as Herc is waking up to, and adjusting to, the demands of the modern, 21st Century world, so is the rest of “mythology”, or what elements of it have survived and endured. The “Old Ways” are under threat, at the edge of extinction, and a champion who understands and sympathizes with the vestiges of ancient times is desperately needed.
Nrama: Luke Ross’s art really casts Hercules as a larger-than-life presence in a kind of mundane setting, and he also manages to give the mythological elements of the story a very ominous feel. What makes him such an ideal partner for striking the balance between Herc’s human side, and his divine origins?
Abnett: For precisely those reasons. Luke captures the ‘bigness’ of Herc , his power and his legendary standing, but we wanted to set that in a very recognizable and real world, very contemporary, and Luke excels at that. I think that’s where the real fun of this book lies. We’re trying to make the real world real, and trying to make the mythological elements unconventional: not bright and garish and bold, not lightning bolts and togas, but grounded and authentic. I think Luke is doing a fantastic job of making the mythological seem properly real and pretty damn scary.
Nrama: One interesting development in Hercules #1 is that Herc seems to have something of a sixth sense when it comes to magic and myth. Is that something innate, or is it the product of the wisdom he’s gained over thousands of years? Will we see Herc developing more new skills like that as Hercules goes on?
Abnett: He’s been around it, and fighting it, for a long time. He knows the smell of it, the taste. He’s not a magic user, but he doesn’t underestimate what he’s up against and he’s got the experience to fight it. He may have learned a few other new tricks along the way too.
Nrama: What can fans expect from Hercules #2 and beyond?
Abnett: We’re going to learn more about the way the mythological sits, co-exists and secretly operates in the corners of the modern world, and also come face to face with a truly terrifying danger that is at once both new and old. Plus Hercules, being a hero, in spectacular style.
And Newsarama has a first look at Hercules #2, which you can view in this album.