Editor's Note: Hercules: Fall of an Avenger arrives in stores tomorrow, March 17.
I've been kind of down on Incredible Hercules since the end of the Amazons arc, and try as I might, I just haven't been able to get back into the series. I've kept up though, and was almost won back by the Amadeus solo chapters over the past nine months, but I just felt like the humor had overpowered the character work that really made that first year or so shine. Hercules became more of a joke than he was at first, it seemed to me.
Especially when he started dressing like Thor and bedding Elf Queens. It was fun and entertaining, but it felt like fluff. Once we finally started focusing on the threat of Hera, and the even subtler threat of Athena, things started looking up again.
And now Hercules is dead, betrayed by Athena, and his friends and allies have gathered at the Parthenon in Athens to celebrate his memory. It's still a little too campy and silly at times for me, but it's a nice that we're not bogged down by sad recollections and emo posing.
Instead, Pak and Van Lente provide a very entertaining--and at times, touching--tribute to the history of Hercules, complete with footnotes signaling where the adventures the heroes share were first published. There's a lot of good stuff here, even if we do still have moments where characterization and plot are given over to just telling a joke.
And that's really what keeps me from fully engaging with the story, just like it's done for the past year or so. I guess I'm just taking it too seriously, and I know that the women's tribute to Hercules in this issue is supposed to be funny, but I thought it fell flat. Again, it was just so silly. And ultimately, that's what most of Pak and Van Lente's run has become for me. Just silly fluff, to be read and forgotten. Disposable.
The back-up feature by Tobin, on the other hand, shows a very nice balance between humor and sadness, as Venus and Namora travel around the world settling Hercules' financial affairs. There are plenty of jokes, but there are also many moments where the characters feel real. They feel and think and act like real people would in these situations and never are sacrificed to the almighty joke.
There's actual character development going on as these two characters spend time together. It's not as goofy or funny as the main story, but it's better crafted from start to finish.
Visually, both stories are quite nice, as Ariel Olivetti provides what might be his best work yet and Brown and Paz provide a slightly rough-around-the-edges take on Venus and Namora. The two stories couldn't look more different from one another, but both are excellent pieces of work. Olivetti has reined in his urge to grotesquely over-muscle everyone on the page, providing a very nice variety of body types and excellent facial expressions. His visual storytelling is getting better and better, although the lack of backgrounds continues to bug me a little.
Yes, it allows the reader to really focus on the expressions and the body language, which is a good thing. But it still seems like the work is practically unfinished, waiting for the scenery and sets to be filled in later.
Brown and Paz fully ground each panel in their story in the settings, whether those settings are a board room, a city street, or a small apartment. And then, when the scenes need to open and provide some breathing room, sparser backgrounds are suited to the situation.
They also provide very meaty versions of both Venus and Namora. These women look powerful and realistic. Neither is a wispy, frail-looking thing, instead having thick legs and strong arms. They look like heroes. They have weight and really feel like part of their environments, rather than decorations or cheese-cake. But don't get me wrong. They look good.
All in all, this is another mixed bag. I really want to like Pak and Van Lente's story as much as I used to (and as much as I like their other work), but it all just feels so inconsequential that it's hard to justify continuing to spend money on it. On the other hand, the Agents of Atlas back-up provides a little more depth of emotion and characterization, pulling the overall rating up. Thanks to Venus and Namora, I'm giving this one four bullets.
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