Thursday, August 27, 2009

Incredible Hercules #132

Everywhere he goes, Hercules seems to provide his own special brand of trouble. This issue, for instance, he's merely driving along the interstate with the youthful, mind-wiped mortal body of Zeus in the passenger seat – innocuous enough, right – when a slew of harpies descend on their hummer and turn it into a convertible. Not ten minutes later, our hero's agreed to don the winged helmet, thigh-high boots and famed hammer of Thor himself, filling in for the god of thunder in opposition of a mysterious threat in the land of the Dark Elves. Life moves at the casual pace of roughly a mile a minute for this guy.

Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente have made Hercules one of Marvel's most entertaining characters lately. Since taking over the ongoing narrative of The Incredible Hulk nearly two years ago, the Lion of Olympus has led us on a wild, raucous ride straddling the blurred line between Marvel's superheroes and the gods themselves. When opposition rears its head, Hercules doesn't take the time to ponder an appropriate response, or even plan at all. The man doesn't give that much of a damn… besides, why waste time with such nonsense when there's a perfectly good brawl brewing just around the corner?

This month's installment is a bit different, in that many of its best moments come from Herc's unexpected solo adventures in babysitting. Burdened with the task of looking after the blissfully confrontational ten-year-old avatar of Zeus, Hercules approaches the situation the only way he knows how: head-on, chin-up, guns blazing. Although Herc and Amadeus Cho have sadly gone their separate ways for the time being, the young Zeus may prove to be an even better sidekick in the short run. Pak and Van Lente might just be having more fun writing this series than Hercules is within it. They've thrown caution to the wind and completely embraced both the character and the often-hilarious results of his thoughtless leaps into action. I never know what kind of revelation might be hiding behind the next page, and I haven't yet been disappointed by what I find there.

Reilly Brown's artwork has a smooth, animated quality to it that furthers the light, jovial tone of the story. He nails the headstrong personalities of Hercules and Zeus, and never misses an opportunity to contrast the Olympians' unique choices in attire and interior decorating with the modern world they're occupying. Although his paneling habitually slips from time to time, particularly on pages with a lot of story to tell, Brown is usually able to strike a nice balance between cleanliness and detail. His best work is in the wide range of facial expressions and body language he brings to the page, especially when Herc and Zeus really start to tear into each other, and the sheer outlandishness of much of the issue's scenery also isn't lost on him. Perhaps most importantly, though, his work is a strong realization of the crazed enthusiasm intended by Pak and Van Lente's storytelling.

Incredible Hercules is a fine marriage between writer(s) and artist. The youthful exuberance of its storytelling is refreshing, full of surprises and constantly engaging, and the accompanying artwork only serves to enhance that experience. This is far from the most stern-faced, dramatic series you'll ever read, but it wouldn't be nearly as successful if it were. Buy it, it's one of the few titles out there that knows exactly where it wants to be and actually arrives at that destination.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 8.5

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