The Incredible Hercules: Assault on New Olympus
written by Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente
illustrated by Rodney Buchemi
The Incredible Hercules is a book that is usually praised for generally operating independently from Marvel Comics’ heavy, universe-altering plots; for being fun to read because it doesn’t take itself too seriously; and for its incomparable use of onomatopoetic sound effects (with exclamations like “TITANOSMAK!” emerging from battles between gods, and “AMAZZOOON!” emitted from Amazonian explosions). When you read about Hercules, you really don’t need to worry about which big-shot heroes are fighting which or what Norman Osborn is up to, which is nice. Herc’s a big, noble, kinda dumb guy, and that’s all you really need to know.
This isn’t to say that Hercules doesn’t have its own complex continuity, as there are a lot of gods running around on Earth, and they’re all related in one way or another, or in love, or are constantly manipulating the power structure of their pantheon—and a lot of them look the same, too. If you want to read Hercules, step back a few books and start from there. This book is a conclusion of sorts anyhow, and you don’t want to be starting from the end.
Amadeus Cho and Hercules are the ideal odd couple: id and superego, god and man, tall and short, brawn and brains—and the authors have a great time writing this dynamic into the book, making astute and meaningful observations about where these two opposites meet, as well as the necessary places where they diverge, to each others’ benefit. It’s standard buddy comedy stuff, but it’s a lot of fun to read in the context of the Marvel Universe. They also write a good Spider-Man. The rest of the book is thick with gods and goddesses who really only spend their time within the Hercules books, but are also universally recognizable if you know anything about mythology. Even if what you know has been culled from comics’ version of Greek mythology, it’s enough to get by on. There’s a guy who forges impossibly powerful weapons, Zeus is kind of a jerk, and so on.
Is all of this better if you know what’s going on in the larger picture? Definitely. Casual references to big events and guest characters add to the narrative, but in an intimidating world where everything is interrelated, this is a good place to enter. Ultimately, it’s a pretty endearing story about a couple of unexpected friends.
Parents and teachers, you already know that mythology has a lot of sexy themes, and Marvel stays true to this idea. Of course, nothing is explicit, but innuendo and bare skin definitely play a role. Aside from that, a few decapitations and an image of a murdered child (who is actually Zeus, but a disturbing image nonetheless), it’s typical Marvel goodness.