Hercules: The Thracian Wars #1-2 (Radical Comics)

herc-header.jpgNew publisher Radical Comics enters the fray with this brutal retelling of a classic Greek myth.

 

 

22-28 pgs, full color; $1.00 (#1), $2.99 (#2)

(W: Steve Moore; A: Admira Wijaya)

 

At the very least, page one grabs your attention. After all who doesn’t want to see crows eating entrails for an opener? Thus, on such a cheery note, we begin the dark and bloody series Hercules: The Thracian Wars from new publisher Radical Comics. (Yes, I winced at the name too.)

I feel compelled to warn readers that this comic series is not a campy, watered-down Hercules comic in any way. If the first thing you think of when you hear the name "Hercules" is Disney, please go and read some well-translated ancient Greek myths and epic poetry now. This comic hearkens back to the original Greek epic poems and tragedies, which are full of blood and strife and raw humanity. All credit goes to British writer Steve Moore, known for Tom Strong’s Terrific Tales and the Dr. Who series.

The cover to Hercules #1. Click for a larger image.The story begins with an introspective monologue by Iolaus, Hercules’ nephew. Iolaus and Meneus are journeying ahead of a small caravan into "barbarian" Thrace. They front the legendary Hercules, who has been summoned by King Cotys for reasons as yet unknown. Amphiaraus, a seer and additional member of Hercules’ party, claims Cotys’ abode is to be the starting point for a war, but the others doubt him. There are eight Greeks who are received by Cotys: Hercules, Iolaus, Meneus, Autolycus, Amphiaraus, Tydeus, Meleager and Atalanta, the sole woman of the group. Suffice to say, the Greeks are ill-welcomed, and readers will see exactly why this group truly are the warriors they claim to be. It turns out that Cotys wants Hercules to turn his Thracian forces into superior fighters, because he intends to "unify" Thrace, currently a loose association of antagonistic tribes. Cue the montage. Cotys’ campaign, once it finally gets underway, presents some moral twinges for the Greeks, who begin to wonder about their place in Cotys’ ranks. Not only that, but there seems to be some very underhanded dealings happening in the shadows. Could there be a traitor in their midst?

From the beginning the stage is set for moody dialogue and an overall tragic theme, and I sense a very unhappy ending in the works. The script ventures on the heavy side, and the questions posed by Iolaus would be right at home in a teenage Goth kid’s black duck-taped Journal of Death. But it wouldn’t be Greek without the tragedy, and Moore makes the text work within the context of the comic. Instead of rolling my eyes, I was drawn in to this groups’ soul-crushing yearning for a purpose; their longing for answers from fickle and jealous gods. You can tell that they’re just wandering aimlessly, wondering why they haven’t dropped dead yet, and really hoping that it happens soon. Battle, it seems, is their only recourse for being able to feel anything in life.

Moore and artist Admira Wijaya are not shy about showing all aspects of Hercules’ experiences, both on and off the battlefield. Again, the crows masking as coroners on page one should be a hint, but after a while I grew tired of the head-on puking shots, the bashed in heads, etc. etc. It should be noted that Moore is writing this comic with an eye on history, and also, I suspect, as though it were an epic tragedy brought to the twenty-first century. Therefore, anyone not familiar with social conditions of ancient Greece may be uncomfortable with this raw exposé of Greek culture. For instance, although it is true that the status of women and slaves in ancient Greece rendered them expendable and barely worthy of notice, this fact is bluntly dumped into the dialogue, which could make for a knee-jerk reaction from readers. There is also a heavy emphasis on sexual innuendo between all of the characters which, while also traditionally a big part of Greek literature, nonetheless seems rather crudely inserted.

The artwork of Hercules is brought to life by Admira Wijaya and the colorists of Imaginary Friends Studios. A testament to the wonders that good colorists can do, each panel is like a photo-realistic painting in its own right, and the dull color palate helps set the moodiness of the comic. I am reminded of the excellent job by Humberto Ramos in Revelations, or the touchable aesthetic of Runaways cover artist Jo Chen. Without the coloring however, I don’t know if I would be as impressed with Wijaya’s line art. As for the comic’s layout, I found the thought- and word-bubble placements to be out of sorts. They were not grossly misplaced within the comic, but were off-kilter enough to make me wonder for the first few pages exactly who the cranky monologue belonged to. Also, the panels are not consistent throughout each issue. Just as I get settled into reading the comic one page front at a time, it suddenly switches to a panoramic layout that stretched between two opened pages. While the layout swapping did not happen all the time, it happened enough to further jar my reading and confuse me. "Wait, who’s speaking now? Is it Cotys? Hercules? And why does this dialogue make no sense? Oh wait, the next logical line is way over on the next page…." (You get the idea.)

Despite my nitpicking, for a first comic from a new publisher I was fairly impressed with Hercules, and if the few issues mentioned above were fixed I’d likely enjoy it more. I respect the fact that Moore is not shy about putting it all out on the table for the readers, and will probably continue to read this five-issue series to prove that I can tough out this gritty campaign too. | Elizabeth Schweitzer

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