Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

11 March 2011

Incredible Hercules, v. 2: Secret Invasion

Collects: Incredible Hercules #116-20 (2008)

Released: February 2009 (Marvel)

Format: 128 pages / color / $14.99 / ISBN: 9780785128298

What is this?: The gods of the Hu-mans take on the gods of the Skrulls when the Skrulls invade Earth.

The culprits: Writers Greg Pak and Fred van Lente and penciler Rafa Sandoval

I’m not sure why I feel as I do about Incredible Hercules: Secret Invasion: I’m JUST not convinced that it’s a good book.

Like with the previous volume of Incredible Hercules, I want to like Secret Invasion. Writers Greg Pak and Fred van Lente have their protagonists down by now. Boy genius Amadeus Cho and god idiot Hercules make an amusing team, with Hercules getting the best lines this time. Hercules comes into his own this issue, boiling situations down to their simplest form and coming up with pithy analysis: “I punch stuff, and it falls down!” he says at one point. “That’s the only ‘strategy’ I’ve ever needed!”

Incredible Hercules: Secret Invasion coverOf course, that strategy raises an interesting point: Hercules is put in charge of the band of gods that assault the Skrull gods, just as the Skrull invasion begins in earnest on Earth. Why does Athena choose Hercules to lead the rather paltry expedition? It’s never made clear. Perhaps it’s to teach Hercules a lesson, which could be made clear in later volumes of the Incredible Hercules series. But it feels like Herc got the job because he’s the title character. Ajak, an Eternal, points out Hercules’s many flaws as the final battle begins, and he would have made a much better choice. Two other members of the “God Squad” might have been better leaders, but neither the evil Mikaboshi nor the God-Eater could be trusted.

I was happy to see the other member of the team, Snowbird. A longtime member of Alpha Flight, Snowbird doesn’t get many guest appearances these days. But fans of Alpha Flight will be happy to see how she deals the murderer of Alpha Flight, and she does come across as the only member of the God Squad other than Mikaboshi who has a plan other than punching. (Ajak complains about Hercules, but his plan boils down to “use energy beams until it falls down”). The relationship between Snowbird and Hercules takes a surprising and not welcome turn, but the reactions of both heroes is satisfying enough for me to grant them some leeway. Although I must ask: can any female resist Hercules’s masculine wiles? I’m going out on a limb and saying only Athena. And Hera.

I don’t feel like giving any leeway to the phrase “God Squad,” though. It feels too knowing. I’m glad Hercules stopped Cho from using “Godmobile” more than once, though. On the other hand, Cho names his pup “Kirby,” ostensibly a shortening of “Kerberos,” the name of the three-headed dog of Hades. The name makes sense, but does the Marvel Universe need yet another tribute to Jack Kirby? (I know some — many? — readers will say “yes,” which should teach me to ask rhetorical questions.)

For some reason, Cho got on my nerves in Secret Invasion. The cutesy names are just part of it; Cho is completely out of his depth in a world of gods and is often wrong, but he rarely admits it. He never loses his attitude, which is fine — even endearing — when he’s right, but when he’s doing nothing, it’s unlikeable. His most valuable contribution to the expedition, to use his words, is to “do nothing,” which is bizarre; Hercules is a bad leader, so why can’t Cho help him with that?

Perhaps part of the problem is that this is part of the Secret Invasion crossover. There’s nothing Cho can do to sniff out Skrulls, after all. But in a larger sense, the crossover seems to highjack Cho and Hercules’s plotline. It seems random that the Skrull gods would need to be fought — we’ve never seen Earth’s deities battle alien pantheons in other large crossover events, have we? — and stranger that Cho would need to be along. But that does seem to be the best way to tie Hercules and his cast into the crossover, so away they go! Evidently, attendance in this crossover was mandatory. Oh, how I wish Hercules could have gotten out of it with a letter from Asclepius.

The only saving grace I saw in the Secret Invasion crossover is that it allowed the writers to show why Hercules might be reluctant to have a young sidekick. While Hercules was part of the Argo’s journey for the Golden Fleece, his young friend Hylas was kidnapped by a nymph, which caused Hercules to go on a rampage and forget about the quest he was on. Van Lente and Pak keep the mythological references that I enjoyed in Against the World, although they are not integrated into the structure of Secret Invasion as they were previously.

The art by Rafa Sandoval gives me a headache. Not so much for Sandoval’s contributions, really, but because colorist Martegod Gracia gives the book a green-gray tint — Skrull tone, I suppose. It murks up Sandoval’s work, which is unhelpful, and it’s an unpleasant tint to begin with. I like Sandoval’s work during the first three issues, which are mainly talking heads and a few small-scale fights. Unfortunately, the large fights, with the five gods battling against the gods enslaved by the Skrull pantheon, are hard to parse. The coloring really did not help here, as it frequently made it difficult to decipher the details necessary to make out what was going on.

I feel my rating is a little harsh. There really isn’t that much to dislike about this book, but I feel it’s a step back from Against the World. The psychological darkness is dialed back, the fluidity of the plot is sacrificed for a crossover, and the characters include two evil gods and a snarky child. The colors are unattractive, the logic is odd, and I’m sick of Skrulls, who do little in the entire crossover and nothing here.

Rating: Marvel symbol Marvel symbol Half Marvel symbol (2.5 of 5)

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