Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Road Trip with Hercules

cover by Jack Kirby

I guess those days are over---the days when anthology books that was used to try out new characters were a thing. Anthology books like this were--I imagine--impulse buys and comics are simply too expensive to quality now. If you are going to buy a comic, it's going to be one that regularly features a character you enjoy.

Marvel Premiere had started with two issues featuring Adam Warlock, then had actually settled down for a 12-issue run with Dr. Strange, then another 11 with Iron Fist. But when Iron Fist teamed up with Luke Cage to form Heroes for Hire, the book began to feature different characters or groups for one or two issue runs. This began in issue #26 (November 1975), which featured Hercules and sported a wonderful Jack Kirby cover. The writer is Bill Mantlo and the interior art is by George Tuska.

Herc shows up in his own story for two reasons. First, it was the 10th anniversary of his Marvel Universe premiere in Thor Annual #1. Second, he was currently a member of the Champions, so this story was an opportunity to plug that book.

Hercules had met the other Champions on a college campus where he was appearing as a lecturer. I love that, by the way. It makes so much sense in a universe where the Greek myths are a part of real history to ask an immoral demi-god to give talks on the subject.

So he and his agent, Richard Fenster, are driving to a lecture gig. Hercules stops to help put out a forest fire. 

What caused the fire? The usual sort of thing: Typhon, one of the Greek Titans, and the witch Cylla had just busted out of Hades--a side effect of which was to set the forest ablaze. Another side effect was Typhon's battle axe getting painfully wielded to his hand, so he can't let it go.

In a comic book universe, that really is the usual sort of thing.

Typhon had appeared in Avengers #49 & 50 a few years earlier and had been condemned to Hades after the Avengers (which included Hercules at the time) defeated him. Now he's out for revenge. Cylla also wants to do away with Herc, because he had once declined to her amorous advances.

Typhon attacks and trashes poor Fenster's car. The Titan and the god begin to pound away at each other. Cylla slants the battle towards Typhon by magically trapping Hercules' legs in quicksand. But no good agent lets his most lucrative client get killed--Fenster whacks Cylla from behind, allowing Herc to free himself.

The fight continues apace. I've always enjoyed Tuska's art without ever being a really huge fan of it, but he does a particularly fine job here in giving the fight a sense of real power. 

Hercules comes out on top, of course. There's a wonderful bit in which Fenster then wonders if they can get Typhon to join them on the lecture circuit, but Zeus ruins this idea by zapping the Titan and the witch both back to Hades. 

It's all great fun--a one-and-done single issue story that does its job in giving us our money's worth in entertainment. As mentioned above, one of the reasons for featuring Hercules in a solo story was purely commercial--a ploy to boost sales of The Champions by showcasing one of their members. But that's okay. The story was good and you weren't required to buy The Champions if you didn't want to do so. If you saw Hercules on the cover and had an extra quarter in your pocket, then you had all you needed.

The days of impulse buys for comics are largely over. And that's too bad. The world need every opportunity it can get to watch Hercules fight Typhon.

Next week, two of the finest Silver/Bronze Age artists team up and take us to the Old West.

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