Monday, February 7, 2011

GIANT-SIZE REVIEW - Incredible Hercules: Love and War TPB

Herc "relaxing" with Namora following
the epic events of Sacred Invasion
Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente (FVL) crafted a wholly unique beast with their run on Incredible Hercules.  It's a series that has ridiculous sound effects, inventive ways of utilizing Greek mythology, and wide variety of artists that perfectly fit the series' comedic light-hearted tone.  Love and War is no different in any of those respects.

I think it's only fitting that the site's inaugural review be on the trade it get its onomatopoeic title from.  So, let's dive into this particular volume and see what's what.

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     The story starts off innocuously enough with Herc and boy wonder Cho catching some much needed downtime at an island getaway.  There Herc rendezvous with Namora and the two spend some "quality" time together while Cho laments his lack of a love life to Athena.  Pretty soon, the action begins as Amazons swarm on Herc and Namora's location, attacking indiscriminately and abducting Amadeus.  Herc, as per his usual worry-free demeanor, doesn't seem to be too worried about him as he seems to think this just means they'll have their way with him and it will be good for the boy.  I will make a note here of how fierce the Amazons are both written and drawn.  They are ruthless, relentless and utterly devoted to trying to claw their way back to military prominence.  They are intelligent

Enter Artume and her Amazons
  As usual, Herc's not quite right and while the Amazons do look for paramours, they usually go black widow on their mates and kill them after mating.  Well, so much for Cho's chance at "relaxing."  Of course, there is more to the Amazons plot than merely trying to sex young Amadeus, as Herc and Namora stumble into a former Atlantean cultural embassy that has been commandeered by Amazons for the purpose of coercing Poseidon (Yes, the Poseidon) into giving them the next clue to finding an ancient Atlantean artifact, the Omphalos, that has the power to reshape the world into whatever image the holder wishes.  It turns out the Amazons only wanted Cho for his insanely large... brain.  Yes, Cho, weak to the Amazons' leader Artume's feminine wiles, gives the warrior women their final clue to find the artifact and the chase is on.  As Athena and Hercules race the Amazons to the Omphalos to try and save reality along with Cho, one of Artume's lieutenants, Delphyne (a half-gorgon hybrid) takes pity on young Cho and the two end up falling for each other.  The relationship gets off to a funny, yet awkward start as Cho is just so happy to have a girlfriend while Delphyne does her best to mask to her affection from her fellow Amazons.  Moving forward, Artume and the Amazons eventually win out and as Artume clutches the Omphalos, the world turns white (Yes, that's a House of M reference and a crappy one at that) and transforms into a paradise only an Amazon would love.

      At this point I feel obligated to talk about the art.  Clayton Henry (Current Spider-girl artist) and Salvador Espin  (Generation Hope, Exiles) tag team for this arc with Henry drawing the first 4 issues and Espin picking up the arc once the world goes white.  It's not a huge departure in style to change between the two, but the difference is noticeable.  Henry's art is very clean with strong linework that has an excellent sense of motion and action to it.  He puts a great amount of detail and expression into his work as well, matching the series' lighthearted, rollicking tone very well.  It just bursts off the page.  The only caveat with his art is that he sometimes gives some of his characters extremely large foreheads.  It's bit of an odd quirk, but one that hardly  disrupts your immersion in the story.

Henry's Cho getting his swerve on
Espin's Cho losing the swerve

     In contrast, Espin brings a much more cartoonish and surreal sensibility to his work.  Faces are exaggerated and the character models are decidedly looser in composition.  The shading also differs markedly between the two as Henry draws everything in a soft light while Espin's art comes off as nearly cel-shaded. The shift in art works in this instance as Espin's art is exclusively regulated to the alternate reality portion of the tale.  Both styles are appreciably enjoyable, but the shift is a bit jarring at first.

Herc and Cho cope with rejection the
best way they know how (click to
read text)
   Moving on, Artume's vision of what the world should be like is a strange and twisted autocracy ruled by the superwoman elite.  She rules through fear, not of her, but of perceived threats from this reality's Namora, Hercules and their respective "Atlantofascists" and "Y-men" groups.  Unfortunately, the writing begins to stumble at this part of the story as Pak/FVL ask the reader to take this alternate reality far too seriously.  The tonal shift from the fun romp as Herc and company chased the the Amazons all over the world to this self-serious alternate reality world where mankind is in dire straits as the Amazon-led governments seeks to weed out the Y chromosome due to "inherent genetic inferiority."  It also demotes the main villain of the arc, Artume, from feisty, scheming seductress to someone who gets off on being important and "needed."  She could have made a perfect world where there are no threats to her power, but instead she creates this incredibly tenuous hold on power that allows her to trust nobody and turn on allies so that the general public can turn to her for security.  Eventually, the day is saved and Athena restores the world to what it should be while Cho and Herc both learn the shortcomings of Eros as their short-lived girlfriends move on to greater responsibilities (Namora to Agents of Atlas and Delphyne to lead the now leaderless Amazons).

   It truly is a shame that the alternate reality sequence weighs down the back end of the narrative.  Pak and FVL had a perfect opportunity to create superhuman, humorous version of Y: the Last Man, but drop the ball with their gender-segregated dystopia.  The resolution is a satisfying one, and overall the story is a very fun, very good read.  It just could have been great.  Overall, I give Pak, Van Lente, Henry, and Espin's Love and War an...

P.S.  I really love this book's ridiculous sound effects.
Just in case you were unclear as to what a
"ridiculous sound effect" might be.

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