Friday, April 18, 2014


Writer/Artist: Bob Layton
Letterer: Rick Parker | Colorist: Christie Scheele | Editor: Bob Budiansky
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

Something became clear to me as I began reading Bob Layton's second HERCULES mini-series. This is all one big "What If" story. I recall that Volume One began with narration stating that Hercules was returning to Olympus following his adventures with the Avengers. I simply took this to mean that he had recently left the Avengers in the continuity of the time, but apparently not. It actually meant that the story was starting after all of Hercules's adventures on Earth, at some undisclosed time in the future. Layton did not do a good job of explaining this.

However, Volume Two clears things up right off the bat as we join Hercules, 400 years later and still on his exile to learn humility. Narration indicates that Hercules spent some time on the brewery planet we last left him on, before returning to his travels across the universe with the Recorder.

This time around, Layton gets much more mileage out of the "possible future" concept. The first story was simply a series of loosely related misadventures starring Hercules and the Recorder. The formula begins much the same way here as well, with our heroes landing at a spaceport and getting involved with a Skrull named Skyppi (a name which prompts Hercules to respond, "Sorry I asked!"). But things take a turn in the second issues as, during a check-in on Olympus, Zeus goes mad and begins to murder his fellow gods. Only Apollo escapes.

While Zeus has been on the rampage, Hercules finds himself on a space station battling Red Wolf, the vengeful spirt of a long-dead civilization with a mission to wipe out all Skrulls -- including Skyppi, who now travels with Hercules. After making nice with Red Wolf and sending him on his way, Hercules finds that he has suddenly started aging, and departs for Olympus to find the reason.

This leads into my favorite of the four issues, as, en route home, Hercules and company are sidetracked to Titan, moon of Saturn, where dwell the Eternals. Mentor, leader of the Titans, tells Hercules that Apollo has arrived, mortally wounded. With his dying breath, Apollo warns Hercules to beware Zeus. Before our hero can move on, however, Titan is attacked by Schreck, the final follower of Thanos, who has liberated Captain Marvel's nega-bands from his tomb and now uses them against the Titans.

Any time a creator can work the Jim Starlin pantheon into their story, adding to Starlin's mythos respectfully without going against any of it, I'm pleased as punch. And that's exactly what Layton does here. We're treated to appearances by Mentor, his son Eros (a.k.a. Starfox), the Titan super-computer ISAAC, Captain Mar-Vell's gravesite, and flashback panels featuring Thanos, Mar-Vell himself, and Adam Warlock. And best of all, it's clear Layton is a great fan of Starlin's work, treating all of these aspects of his definitive canon with the awe and reverence it deserves.

After Hercules defeats Shreck, he finally reaches Olympus with the Recorder and Skyppi. This brings us to the finale of Layton's tale, as Hercules battles the mad Zeus one-on-one, until Zeus finally reveals to Hercules that everything which has happened in both mini-series has been a test. It seems that the time of the Olympian gods has come to an end, and by "killing" them, Zeus has moved them to a new plane of existence. Zeus himself departs as well, leaving Hercules in our realm to forge his destiny as the father of a new race.

The ending come completely out of left field and I'm not sure I buy it. Zeus was shown clearly killing the other gods and even causing them apparent pain as he did so. His sudden revelation reads more as a cop-out than a pre-plotted conclusion.

But the story is still entertaining, and Layton's art continues to impress. I like the way he's structured both of these mini-series, as several unrelated events with only a bare-bones plot to thread them through. These read more like eight issues of an ongoing HERCULES series than two four-issue limited runs. And after reading this approach, I think I would've enjoyed seeing monthly Hercules adventures by Layton. As I said last time, he really gets the character.

I will say, though, that there we as not enough drinking and carousing in this series. We got a bit of it in the first issue, but nothing beyond that. I suppose it makes sense considering that Layton has made a point of showing that Hercules's exile had matured him somewhat -- but those elements are, in my opinion, kind of integral to Herc's story. Hopefully we'll see that sort of lighter material return in the graphic novel FULL CIRCLE, which is up next.

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