Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Hercules: The Thracian Wars #2

Radical Comics' Hercules is a much more hard-edged, gritty take on the character than you might expect. Where Marvel or DC's renditions focus on taking the noble essences of the character and applying them to a smiling, strutting, superheroic face, Radical's story is more of a period piece with a firm concentration on the mythical warrior's dark side. After completing his legendary twelve tasks, this Hercules felt scorned by both the heavens and Earth alike, quickly learning that he could only find solace in bloody conflict. Joining up with six like-minded souls, Herc became a warrior for hire… but now that he's been asked to train an entire army to fight in his own legendary ways, the length of his fall from grace is quickly becoming apparent.

I like this fresh take on the character, who I suppose I've always felt has been something of a joke in mainstream comics. Where his Marvel cousin is fighting alongside the Avengers in an ongoing struggle to keep the world safe, this Herc is guiltlessly slaughtering thousands of men, women and children under the haze of an all-out war. He wastes no time in establishing himself as one not to be trifled with, and his grim outlook on life is almost enough to distract readers from the fact that he's wearing a freaking lion for a hat. Even that goofy bit of personalization isn't really that tough to swallow, I guess, when you consider the timeframe of this tale (some time in the middle ages) and his Marvel counterpart's penchant for wearing sandals and a skirt in modern times. When chain mail was still in fashion and you could walk through town bearing a sword without drawing attention to yourself, flaunting the king of the jungle on your head was probably a pretty bold statement.

While writer Steve Moore borrows heavily from Frank Miller's 300 in setting this story's tone, its content is original enough to confine such conspicuous similarities to the back of the reader's mind, if anywhere. Though his dialog is excessively lengthy and in serious need of an editor's touch, Moore keeps the plot moving at a decent clip, which gives the impression that there's more substance here than there really is. He manages to cram three issues' worth of story into a single book, and that means this is slow, but plot-rich, reading. I felt overwhelmed by the amount of new characters with confusing names that were thrust at me in this issue, especially since about half of them seemed to be inherently dispensable. Combined with huge amounts of shoddy dialog, that does take a toll on the reader.

Admira Wijaya's accompanying artwork is generally sound, but benefits greatly from the painterly colors provided by Imaginary Friends Studios and Sixth Creation. Wijaya is asked to do so much with so little space that I doubt anyone could've truly succeeded in his position, but he still manages to make a fairly good, if unremarkable, showing. When the skies open up late in the issue and flood the battlefield with rain, the coloring really takes center stage and gives the book its only truly impressive visual showcase, while the actual layouts remain largely dull and unmotivated.

There was a lot to like about Hercules: The Thracian Wars, but a lot to dislike, as well. Its penchant for flashbacks would've made for a nice aside or two, if it didn't hand them out like candy at every turn. Without so many dialog boxes muddying it up, the artwork may have been able to stand tall on its own. And, as a ten issue series, the story may have been able to let up long enough to give its readers a chance to stop and breathe between panels. As is, this is too much story for this small of a package. If you're looking for a lot of bang for your buck, this will definitely deliver, but if your tastes are more for a cohesive, legible bit of entertainment, you may be disappointed. It's worth a flip through, but could have easily merited a higher score with some selective edits.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 4

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