burning out on superhero comics again

A few months ago, I dove back into monthly comics after a 25 year break. Mostly I was jumping into Marvel’s Secret War event. I’ve not been disappointed. It’s been fun to see a world I know too well ripped to pieces and put back together far more eccentrically. However, fatigue set in. It’s not quite event fatigue. I’m just remembering the limitations of superhero comics, part of that being my own twisted expectations. I know these characters and power sets. No matter how writers and artists breathe fresh life into these decades old rituals, they remain rituals. Deviating from the story too much, even when the multiverse has been annihilated, still feels off. As for Battleworld, I see it all ending. It too will be wiped away for a new status quo not that different from old 616… which leads to my failing, that because nothing that happens in Battleworld seems as if it will have any lasting effect, that none of the stories that take place there matter.

That’s my fault. A story is a story. If it’s told well, it matters. It’s about the story. However, canon has always been central to superhero comics. The characters exist outside of the intent of their original creators. The ability of the reader to graft from disparate stories told through the decades what is essential to the characters is part of the allure of superhero comics. Head canon is fun! It’s like Lego though. If it doesn’t fit a certain kit well, the story will relegated to the dustbin of memory, no matter how interesting it was.

Image and Dark Horse comics are the ones I’m looking forward to each month. Back in the ’80s, I obsessed on comics like Nexus, Grendel, and the Elementals, ignoring many of the “important” comics from Marvel and DC that would be a lot more valuable to collectors. The real fun is where writers and artists break loose to tell whatever story suits their fancy, without a thought to corporate property, licensing, ect. The cycle is repeating and I didn’t think it would happen so fast.

The Incredible Hercules

Originally, there was to be a quick post blurbing all of the comics that i’ve been reading recently. Some of the quick assessments spilled over into a few paragraphs, much to my embarrassment.

Because of my nerdy, fanboyish obsession with Greek mythology as a child, i never cared for the Marvel interpretation. It seemed like a cheap, insincere homage, and besides…. his name is Herakles, not Hercules. (Romanization irked my childhood self for reasons that i still cannot rationalize.) The comic Planet Hulk tickled my fancy, in that sword and sandals rebellion flavor. When the story came to Earth and became Planet Hulk, it surprised me that the only fun thing about it was Hercules wading into the fray to defend his friend. Then i remembered that one of my favorite bits about Civil War was Hercules stubbornly sticking with Captain America, because Steve Rogers is his friend and he trusts him. This naive loyalty was oddly charming in superhero comics, in which so many characters are jaded cynics. So when Hercules pops up to do a repeat performance of allying himself to a lost cause on the principle of friendship, i was happy to see it.

It took me by surprise when it took a turn into the mythological Hercules empathizing with the Hulk’s slain pregnant wife, as the story made sense. When World War Hulk concluded, and the Incredible Hercules cranked up, i stuck with it, as suddenly the hard-drinking brawling Olympian made sense to me in the Marvel Universe. Pak kept delivering great interpretations of classical mythology, with relevant parallels from the happenings in the comic to the actual myths, with big doses of humor and a little pathos. Hercules flashing back to the slaughter of his family made him so much more than a muscled buffoon, but it was when he was arrested by SHIELD, then confronted by his brother Ares, now a member of the Avengers that Herc said, “This isn’t going to be about your stupid birds again, is it?”

The Stymphalian birds. Awesome.

From there, more myths are drawn in, sometimes contradicting each other, which is addressed in the storytelling. It never gets bogged down in the past though, as it doesn’t hesitate to have something as silly as Herc and Ares slugging it out on top of a SHIELD helicarrier, swatting each other with missiles. To be honest, i don’t recall much about Marvel’s Hercules prior to this, aside from him having a rivalry with Thor. Maybe the old stories had references to stuff like Kyknos too, but i kinda doubt it.

It’s not just about the easy familiarity with Greek mythology. Pak has this comic wrapped more into Marvel continuity than any other title that i can think of running right now. In the past seven issues, the story has tied into Civil War, World War Hulk, the Initiative, the Secret Invasion, the Eternals, and the original Champions. Compare this to the turgid storytelling going on in Thor, and it’s obvious that one pay homage to tradition yet keep the story lively and fun. There even seems to be a minor dig at JMS’s Thor in the new Godsquad issue of Herc, too absorbed in their own dramas to save the world.

Please forgive the sloppiness and lack of originality. I’m not sure if i have ever bothered to post about superhero comics on the blog before, and i’m not as comfortable posting everything that pops into my head like i did, oh… say nine years ago. There are so many specialist bloggers that have arisen over the years that a casual generalist like myself feels silly posting about anything in public anymore. It’s just that i have little better to do at the moment.