Friday, April 11, 2014


Conceived and Executed by Bob Layton, Writer/Artist
Art Assist: Luke McDonnell | Embellishing Assist: Sam De La Rosa
Letterer: Rick Parker | Colorists: Christie Scheele with Bob Sharen
Editor: Mark Gruenwald | Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

Before reading this story, I was only familiar with Bob Layton's writing via a couple of his early X-FACTOR issues. And those issues were, to put it mildly... not good. So I was prepared to encounter something ranging from anywhere between bad and mediocre when I opened up HERCULES: PRINCE OF POWER. Imagine my surprise, then, to find this a very fun, highly enjoyable little adventure!

The story begins with Hercules returning to Olympus following his recent years on Earth. But upon his arrival, Hercules immediately begins partying too hard for the liking of his father, Zeus. Zeus exiles Hercules from Olympus, but rather than sending his son back to Earth, where he is a god among men, Zeus orders Hercules to travel the wider universe, among beings who are closer to his equals, to teach him some humility.

Hercules begins his travels aboard a magical chariot, and soon meets the Colonizers of Rigel, a race of aliens who explore the galaxies in search of knowledge and habitable worlds. The Colonizers befriend Hercules and ask him to bring one of their recorder robots along on his journeys, to get a record of his adventures. Hercules gladly agrees.

What follows is a series of light-hearted adventures, sending Hercules and the Recorder to various exotic planets. Hercules saves a city from the explosion of a crashed space-liner, he rescues a damsel in distress from a group of pirates, prevents an entire planet from being destroyed by a cult that worships Galactus, and then saves that same planet from becoming the world-eater's lunch.

All along the way, Layton turns in some impressive art. I noted in my IRON MAN reviews that he visibly grew as an artist during that run, but I still found his work as a penciler to be mostly uninspired. But he seems to have a lot of fun with Hercules, perfectly illustrating his exaggerated physique and occasionally zany facial expressions with great expertise. The various aliens Hercules encounters are all mostly well-conceived, as well, and the layouts are much better than what Layton usually turned in on IRON MAN.

Since this is a Hercules story, there are plenty of brawls and Herculean feats throughout our hero's misadventures, and of course Hercules gets to imbibe often and spend some quality time with a couple of lovely ladies -- including Galactus's herald, Nova, when she arrives ahead of her master on a planet to which Hercules has traveled to try their legendary alcohol.

The showdown with Galactus at the story's conclusion is an encounter I had heard of before, but I never knew the specifics -- "Hercules beats Galactus in a drinking contest," people would say. While that's not exactly true -- it's more like "Galactus lets Hercules think he got the better of him in something that's not quite a drinking contest" -- it's still a fun scene. Some may see it as out of character for Galactus, but I find it a terrific, over-the-top capper to this series, which never takes itself too seriously.

Also, Galactus removes his helmet during this final scene. I'm unsure if Layton was the first artist to depict the devourer of worlds without his headgear, but I recall that a few years later, when Ron Lim drew Galactus's bare head in an issue of SILVER SURFER, he used the same look. So, regardless of whether Layton designed this unmasked look, it's nice to see that there was artistic continuity at the time with regards to using it.

Anyway, as I said previously -- PRINCE OF POWER is a surprisingly fun read, and far exceeds expectations. If the rest of Layton's Hercules work is anything like this, I think I'm in for a treat.

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