The Incredible Hercules: Love and War
– By Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente (Writers), Clayton Henry & Salva Espin (Artists), et al; Marvel Comics; 2009
Marvel’s Amazons don’t merely attack. They rip, rend, smash, bash, eliminate, annihilate and just plain violate any man, woman, or god that dares get in their way. Led by Princess Artume, daughter of the Amazon queen Hippolyta, these Amazons aren’t gonna wimp out when it’s their turn in the ring — or in the boudoir!
Amazons are unleashed as Hercules and sidekick Amadeus Cho find themselves unwittingly wound up in Artume’s insidious plot, one that eventually draws in plenty of other Marvel heroes and gods from the pantheon! Love and War is a story full of action and unbridled humor, with Herc just the way you like — no, love — him. Charming, dumb, and getting away with it!
This is the third volume of The Incredible Hercules, which I was fortunate enough to find at Fan Expo a few months ago along with the Secret Invasion tie-in. Love and War collects issues #121-125, which were released from September 2008 to January 2009.
Though not explicit in the plot, the story takes place during the “Dark Reign” banner of Marvel Comics, where the seat of power shifted in favour of Norman Osborn. Despite the stakes in this story, however, none of this is involved here.
For the more playful, action-packed romps that Incredible Hercules stories have been, which I’ve come to expect, this was the weakest thus far. The plotline is straightforward — Princess Artume usurps her mother and leads the Amazons on a campaign to rewrite reality to that of a more totalitarian, female-centric society, battling Hercules and Atlanteans along the way. Despite this I found it a little more puzzling to follow, character motivations a little unclear and apparently established during a miniseries from several years before (Ares: God of War is referenced).
Hercules is the lovable brawler he always is. His dialogue is bombastically written, in a way that you would be compelled to shout if you read it aloud. Clashing with Namor this is hilariously doubled down, even if the two don’t stop bickering. His frolicking with Namora is amusing as well, to two making a formidable team. Her casual relations with him balance well with his short-lived passions.
Someone who was especially odd for me was Delphyne Gorgon, General and handmaiden to Artume, who for no clear reason develops feelings for Amadeus — enough to betray her leader and sabotage their whole campaign. It left me second-guessing whether or not the characters had met before, but I’m fairly certain they hadn’t. Delphyne is important to the resolution of the story, but her involvement is rooted in their relationship, which didn’t feel natural at all. It was underdeveloped and shoehorned in.
Amadeus, for his part, requires junk food in order to sustain his intellect. I don’t recall this being an active concern before now, but nevertheless this inclusion as a plot device left him largely useless. This was unfortunate, since I like how well his focus on intellect plays off of Hercules’ brawn.
Pak and Lente continue to use flashbacks to classical mythology that I really enjoy seeing recreated. This time around we see parts of the Apples of the Hesperides and Hercules retrieving the girdle of Hippolyta. They’re condensed, but digestible adaptations that tell a lot in the brief time they’re featured.
The art is colourful and well polished, though occasionally having the overly statuesque look that I’m not always fond of. For all the brawling that goes on the action is drawn nicely, never seeming too busy despite the amount of people in the fray. I also enjoy the effect of using a bronze tint when depicting a scene from the classical past. These scenes are set apart nicely, relying as much on visuals to communicate this as narration.
While the Amazons use their feminine wiles to seduce Amadeus to their own ends in a way that makes sense, their visual presentation was odd and inconsistent. Revealing armour is one thing, which I don’t have a problem with per se, but some of them are dressed in nonsensical clothing. Delphyne is dressed in a top with fishnet sleeves and a plaid skirt most of the time. Others are garbed in bikini tops and short-shorts, or other revealing civilian outfits you wouldn’t expect an organization of warrior women going into battle to be wearing. I understand giving them a more modern look, instead of being dressed as classical Amazons, but why not a more militarized garb? Why beach wear, tube tops, and plaid skirts? Not that I really need to ask.
The back of the book features some of variant covers for the issues within, including a Marvel Apes variant and a Marvel Zombies variant.
Gender politics is a bit of an elephant in the room with the story, and while there are small things I take issue with on both sides of the table, I think the story is light enough that nothing too egregious is done.
Love and War was still a fun book; it just didn’t feel as well thought out as the first two volumes did. The deeper I got into the plot the less interested I became, especially with the focus on Amadeus’ relationship with Delphyne. Hercules is written consistently, however, which makes up for some of the shortcomings of the story, especially with him teaming with Namora, which mixes things up a little. It’s still worth picking up if you’ve enjoyed the series so far, but it is a dip in quality.