In this second volume of the Complete Collection of The Incredible Hercules — written by Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente, and featuring stellar, high energy illustrations from a heroic band of talented artists that includes Reilly Brown, Clayton Henry, Ryan Stegman, and many more — Amadeus Cho and Hercules continue their streak of getting into trouble all over the Marvel Universe. This time, their shenanigans lead them into conflict with the Amazons, Thor, Norman Osborn and his Dark Avengers, and plenty of other foes! Basically, wherever Hercules and Amadeus end up, people tend to get annoyed.
I’m a huge fan of Marvel’s Hercules, particularly this monumental run that saw Herc taking over the main Hulk title in the wake of World War Hulk. I greatly enjoyed my time revisiting this series when I reviewed the first Complete Collection volume a couple of years ago, and this was no different.
The humor and excitement bleeds into every single aspect of the book. The lettering throughout is phenomenal, particularly when it comes to the sound effects. The creative team clearly had fun coming up with these onomatopoeia, with jagged lettering spelling out such hilarious sounds as “SPROY BLOOM!” and “CRAKKAJAMMA!” When Amadeus and Herc are together, the dialogue is as snappy and fast-paced as the action, with the book taking on the vibe of the best buddy cop/road movies.
Unfortunately, Hercules is portrayed as a little one-note through some portions of the story. Of course, part of the appeal of this series is the dynamic between Herc and Amadeus. The kid is the brains of the operation, while Hercules wines, dines, and throws down with everything in sight. However, when the two are separated, it occasionally feels like Hercules’ personality kind of evaporates. Hercules is still funny and the action sequences are still a great deal of fun, but Herc’s nobility and sense of heroism isn’t quite as apparent when Amadeus isn’t around to play off of him — at least until some of the later portions of this run.
The thing that’s so fascinating about this series is how Hercules and Amadeus inform one another, making up for each other’s shortcomings and unknowingly providing one another with something to which they can aspire. Hercules is a hero who wants to become a better person, while Amadeus is a good person who wants to become a real hero.
I had a blast revisiting this storyline for the first time in a decade. With World War Hulk well in the rear view, these stories are where Pak and co. really hit their stride with the Incredible Hercules run. The alternate history sections of the book are a real highlight, showing a very different version of the Marvel Universe, one that’s run by the Amazons and female superheroes. This arc gives the creative team a chance to really flex their creative muscles, presenting a huge amount of world-building in a very short amount of time. The design choices here are fascinating, showing alternate versions of familiar landmarks and superheroes with architecture and clothing inspired by Ancient Greece.
This book is also filled to the brim with some truly out-there concepts that build off of years of comics and mythology. One of the highlights is when Herc and Amadeus visit one of the many gateways to the Underworld, which is presented here as a type of casino. The people trapped in purgatory are trying to make sure they have enough coin to pay the ferryman, while others are gambling on their own resurrections. In a darkly comedic (and quite chilling) moment, the deceased Wasp keeps pulling at a supernatural slot machine, reasoning that if someone like Bucky can be brought back to life, then her turn must be coming up.
Which brings me to the the ways in which the series often plays with the trappings of comic book storytelling. There’s a sense that even some of the event tie-ins are taking the piss out of the grim goings-on in the wider Marvel Universe. Even the recap pages are rendered in an interesting and slightly comedic fashion. Some of them are shown as epic poems that Amadeus has edited or spruced up with his own commentary, while some of them are normal recap pages that clown on some of the returning characters or bizarre crossover events that ran during this series.
As with the previous volume, there are some sections where it feels like the momentum of the series is impeded by one crossover tie-in or another. There’s also an issue in the middle that kind of re-introduces readers to Amadeus and Herc — which feels super weird to have in the middle of a massive collection starring the character. Of course, it’s here for the purposes of making this a complete collection. And these are relatively small gripes, as it’s still fun to see how the avuncular Hercules and the over-analytical Amadeus Cho react to some of the weirder developments and bigger events in the wider Marvel Universe.
Overall, fans of Amadeus Cho and the Prince of Power will find a lot to love here. Some of the storylines are a bit harder to follow when divorced from the all-encompassing crossovers that have dominated Marvel from time to time, but the series’ core elements of heroism and friendship shine through it all.
Also, at one point, Hercules shoves his fist down Venom’s throat and tosses the symbiotic around like a ragdoll, and that’s just great.
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