By Dan Abnett, Luke Ross, and Guru-EFX
One of the main goals of the All-New, All-Different Marvel relaunch has been to better promote diversity in the Marvel Universe. To a major extent the Marvel comics have been heading this way for a while now with hit heroes like Ms. Marvel and Miles Morales finding major audiences while newer folks like Jane Foster Thor and Sam Wilson Captain America were already popping up in the time immediately prior to the relaunch. It’s a good movement overall and a major positive to see both DC and Marvel care so much about representation in their works. Unfortunately, Hercules seemed to be the major black mark on this push towards diversity when Marvel editor-in-chief Axel Alonso firmly and harshly stated that Hercules being a bisexual hero was decidedly non-canon and would not factor into his new series. Putting aside the fact that Hercules being bi in the main universe was made canon in Hercules: Fall of an Avenger the whole business was very ugly and resulted in a lot of Internet outcry and now that the actual comic is out it all seems increasingly bizarre and tedious given that Hercules is clearly being written as a bisexual man in this book.
The new series finds Hercules a little low on glory, living in an apartment building in one of New York’s predominantly Greek neighborhoods working as a blend between John Constantine and Shazam. On the one hand we see him become embroiled in community level affairs, solving mystic and monstrous problems that only threaten families and individuals on the street level of the neighborhood where he lives. However, it’s also established that Hercules is just a phone call away for dealing with massive sea monsters attacking New York harbor. It’s a neat blend that serves to highlight Hercules’ versatility as a character and plays on the idea of Hercules as someone who walks in two worlds. Marvel has never played this up as they might have, but Hercules is set apart from Thor by being a demigod; someone who is literally part man and part God, an emphasis that makes its way to the core level of this interpretation of the character. That’s where most of the Shazam influence comes through, the idea that he knows what it’s like to live as both a man and a God so he approaches the problems of the small and powerless with a greater sense of importance and value than Thor or Iron Man might. It’s a nice twist and fits well with trying to give Hercules a more unique place in the Marvel Universe. Like a lot of recent Marvel comics the more low-level range of stakes and visuals actually makes Hercules’ adventures infinitely more engaging. When every other hero is fighting some massive world-ending threat it can get a little tiring, so it’s a nice change that for once the monsters are just threatening one neighborhood or one person.
Another really neat emphasis for the book is that Hercules has taken to updating his arsenal and costume, now using a plethora of high-tech and modern weapons and gear to fight the monsters of old. This ties into an underlying theme about modernization and finding your place with changing times that feels decidedly meta given the elaborate hoops Abnett is jumping through to keep Hercules a unique character in the current Marvel Universe. This is where artist Luke Ross and Guru-EFX really earn their keep because they absolutely nail the blended visual aesthetic of Hercules as an ancient, sword and sandal style hero sporting futuristic laser guns and body armor. Neither element feels subsumed by the other, but perfectly balanced even despite Hercules’ hilariously copious amount of completely unused pouches. The artwork overall is pretty great, creating a New York that feels very much like the small but eventful corner of a much bigger and busier world around it, to say nothing of a diverse corner of the city. Ross imbues Hercules with a kind of physicality that’s all at once big and bombastic, but also soft and kind. There’s a quietness to his gestures and interactions that gives the character a lot more depth than you’d expect and it’s clear that the creative team knows their Hercules, both character and myth. Guru-EFX complements Ross’ artwork perfectly, giving the book a vibrant color scheme that never passes too far into garish so as to undercut the smaller scale of everything.
The best part of the comic though is Hercules’ live-in boyfriend Gilgamesh, hero of Sumer. Given the statements around Hercules, it’s probably more likely that Gil was intended to just be Hercules “friend” but their relationship doesn’t have that cadence at all and the fact that Marvel editorial has gone to such great lengths to insist there’s nothing between them just makes it seem more likely. Gilgamesh, or Gil for short, has been living with Hercules for over a month and we’re introduced to the two with Hercules roaming around their shared 2-room apartment nearly naked while cooking up some breakfast for the two of them. More than just the superficial elements, there’s an ending interchange between the two that feels far more intimate than any mere friendship. As mentioned, it’s possible that Dan Abnett didn’t intended these two to be read as a couple, but author intent in comics hasn’t really mattered since we all decided Hank Pym was a domestic abuser regardless of Jim Starlin’s protests. What’s more, the relationship actually adds a lot to the story, especially in terms of Hercules’ hero complex and the way he seems to want to save Gil. Adding the idea that the two are more than just friends serves to make that relationship so much more real and relatable in a great way. It’s the little details like that, the tiny pieces of reality scattered amid all the myth and heroics that make Hercules such a great comic.