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Incredible Hercules: Dark Reign

Review

Incredible Hercules: Dark Reign

Incredible Hercules is possibly my favorite series on the stands right now (it has to contend with Brian Michael Bendis’s Ultimate Spider-Man…not an easy feat, even for the Lion of Olympus). The mix between modern-day superheroics and ancient myth sounds like a daunting task, but cowriters Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente mix the two wonderfully, like ice cream on a hot summer day.

In this volume—the fourth overall—we are treated to two prologues before being thrust into the main story: The first is a tale of a young Hercules and his journey from impetuous brat to…well, still an impetuous brat, but one who finds out that he’s actually part god. The second features Herc’s sidekick, Amadeus Cho—the seventh smartest person on Earth—and his journey to find his wolf cub, Kerebos (aka Kirby). While both tales are enjoyable and well-written, they take what I love about the comic and split it up: One is a tale from the days of old; the other is one from today. When the two time periods intertwine, the comic is superb; left on their own, it’s a tad underwhelming.
 
But the main tale—the titular Dark Reign segment of the book—is good fun, and it features our band of heroes (Hercules, Cho, and Herc’s sister, Athena) going toe-to-toe with the Olympus Group, headed by Hera, who’s been ruling the gods since Zeus’ demise (see Michael Avon Oeming’s Ares miniseries). Hera despises the bastard spawn of her late husband and, in true supervillain fashion, will do what it takes to destroy them…even if it means partnering with the psychotic Norman Osborn.
 
This partnership puts Herc & Co. in a tight spot, forcing them to find a way to counter Hera’s newfound power. But the only one who could ever match her was Zeus, who now resides in the depths of Hades. Looks like the gang is going on a road trip.
 
The entrance to Hades—and I thought this was a stroke of genius—is located in an Atlantic City casino, filled with fallen heroes and villains who haven’t yet moved on. Instead, they play the slots, waiting to hit it big so they can be resurrected (a biting commentary on the comic industry’s “revolving door of death” for many of its characters).
 
When the group finally makes it to the bowels of hell, they find that “uncle” Pluto has been anticipating their arrival. He doesn’t plan on making Zeus’ retrieval easy on the group (of course not), and instead he has a little trial planned. Not a trial of strength or cunning but one of law—or at least his twisted version of law. He has prepared a jury of 501 to decide the fate of Zeus: “Titans and giants, lives forfeited in his wars…innocents struck by his lightening and drowned in his storms…and babes whose throats were cut on his altars.” Zeus has more of an uphill battle than poor old Sisyphus.
 
As Zeus’s fate is decided—with the most unexpected of outcomes—the heroes get what they need to counter Hera’s forces, but Amadeus, haunted by a vision of his parents in the afterlife, realizes he must depart and find his sister, who he thought perished along his mother and father. The volume ends with the group split in half and the reader left wondering how they’ll all come back together.
 
Pak and Van Lente’s writing on this title, as always, is taut, fun, and imaginative. Whether it’s Hercules, like a frat boy, heckling Amadeus for being a nerd or Pluto’s amusement over a mortal stabbing him through the chest (“You really don’t know who I am, do you?”), the team knows how to entertain their readership without sinking to the lowest common denominator. But they’re not just a couple of jesters; the team is able to craft a dazzling plot issue after issue. They’ll truly go down as one of the medium’s greatest writing duos.
 
But unfortunately, this reviewer must offer up a complaint, one dealing with the inconsistent artwork. Not inconsistent in quality but in the sense that the volume has four different artists over the course of seven issues. Rodney Buchemi, Dietrich Smith, Ryan Stegman, and Takeshi Miyazawa all do admirable jobs on their respective sections of the book (and they all work on a different “chapter” of the volume, so the inconsistency at least isn’t random). But one of the biggest problems plaguing the title—one that I feel is hurting it in terms of sales—is the fact that it has yet to find a permanent art team in the two years that it has been published. While none of the artists who’ve graced the title could be considered subpar in the least, there’s a simple pleasure with seeing an artist grow and evolve with the characters, a pleasure this title has been missing.
 
But regardless of a few downfalls, this volume continues the precedent set by the previous three installments (Against the WorldSacred Invasion, and Love & War) of inspired storytelling and fully realized characters that makes this book truly live up to the title of “incredible.”

Reviewed by Stephen Giordano on October 7, 2009

Incredible Hercules: Dark Reign
by Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente

  • Publication Date: January 6, 2010
  • Genres: Graphic Novel, Mythology
  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Marvel
  • ISBN-10: 0785135375
  • ISBN-13: 9780785135371