Friday, April 25, 2014


Story and Art: Bob Layton
Letters: John Workman | Colors: George Roussos | Design: Ed Magalong
Editor: Gregory Wright | Executive Editor: Mark Gruenwald
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Layton's graphic novel picks up a thread from his first limited series, years before. Thirty years after his trip to the planet Wilamean in HERCULES (vol. 1) #2, Hercules is drawn back to that world when its emperor, Arimathes, demands audience with him. It turns out Arimathes is Hercules's son by Layana Sweetwater, the young con-artist our hero had encountered on that world three decades before. Layana, angry at Hercules for spoiling her plans and abandoning her, has poisoned Arimathes against his father, and turned him into an arrogant, unjust leader. Hercules eventually duels with his son, teaching him humility in the process, and Armathes finally sides with Hercules against Layana.

Hercules is joined as always by his loyal Recorder robot, and by Skyppi the Skrull. He also befriends a member of Arimathes's armed forces, Fortnite, and a beautiful starship thief named Lucynda Thrust. Hercules is surprisingly chaste throughout the story, which leaves little time for romance, but a mutual attraction between him and Lucynda is teased.

The story moves along at a fast pace and it has its moments, but it does not seem to have the heart of Layton's past Herculean outings. Hercules wins over his son far too easily, overcoming thirty years of programming in the course of one brief fight. Admittedly narration states that they spend days conversing afterward, but the initial battle seems pretty much to convince Arimathes right away of his father's nobility.

I find it admirable that Layton bothered to go back and create consequences for one of Hercules's countless casual dalliances, and the story itself, spanning the course of thirty years, is something which would never work in everyday Marvel continuity -- but those become relatively trivial components when the story itself doesn't live up to the promise of its premise.

Also, I was disappointed wit the coloring. I mean it's fine and all, but the majority of Marvel graphic novels I've ever seen contain beautiful, lush, watercoloer-esque colors. This just looks like any old comic book. John Workman's letters are quite nice, though, and Layton's visuals are as impressive as ever. In particular I like some of the spaceship designs he showcases during a scene win which Arimathes's forces leave their planet to invade the neighboring Omacron star system.

The FULL CIRCLE collection also includes a few shorter stories from Layton's Hercules canon. The first, "The Bet", published prior to the events of "Full Circle", is a forgettable comedy vignette. Andy Yanchus on colors and Jack Morelli on letters join Layton, as always, on story and art, to bring us a five-page tale of a woman picking a fight with Hercules after making a bet that she can clear a bar in seconds without yelling "fire." The brawl does indeed send the bar's patrons packing, after which the woman collects her winnings and reveals herself as Skyppi in disguise.

As I said, it's forgettable. It reads like someone offered Layton a chance to tell a short Hercules story, but Layton didn't have anything particularly worthwhile to say in such a brief page count.

The story that follows "Full Circle", however, is a bit more substantial, being a three-part serial from MARVEL COMICS PRESENTS in 1990.

Story & Art: Bob Layton
Letters: John Workman | Colors: Brad Vancata
Assistant Editor: Kelly Corvese | Editor: Terry Kavanagh
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Picking up some time after "Full Circle", we find Arimathes still the ruler of Wilamean, with his father by his side. The two have become even closer, working together to police their homeworld. As the story's title suggests, Layana plays an important role here, escaping her imprisonment by drugging Skyppi and forcing him to become her son. In a way this serves as a coda to "Full Circle", with Layana sending a band of mercenaries to kill Hercules. But Arimathes takes the brunt of their attack instead and nearly perishes. In the end, Layana gives up her vendetta against Hercules after seeing her son at death's door.

The impact of this final scene is considerably blunted, however, by the doctors' assurance to Hercules that Arimathes will make a full recovery and even, thanks to surgical reconstruction, have his physical scars repaired as well. Layton tries to downplay this happy ending by giving Hercules a thought balloon wondering if Arimathes will ever be fully healed on the inside, but it's not enough, and it only makes the story seems weirder, as if Layton is unsure how far to go with this ending. First Arimathes is injured and disfigured, then Layton backpedals from that, but does a double-backpedal with Hercules's thoughts. It all makes for a confusing and fractured message.

Artistically, however, this may be Layton's strongest outing yet. The characters' poses and movements all seem very natural, and the facial expressions are occasionally almost John Byrne-ish in nature, which I consider to be a huge compliment. The colors by Brad Vancata, who I previously praised for an issue of EXCALIBUR in one of my Captain Britain reviews, are outstanding as well.

So overall, I find "Full Circle" and its ancillary material to be inferior to Layton's earlier Hercules work. Indeed, the quality drops incrementally from one story to the next. The first mini-series was great fun, the second less so, and "Full Circle" the least entertaining of all. Will two decades away from the character lead to an increase in Layton's story quality with "Twilight of a God"? We'll find out next week.

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