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

25 March 2011

Incredible Hercules, v. 5: The Mighty Thorcules

Collects: Incredible Hercules #132-7 (2009)

Released: April 2010 (Marvel)

Format: 152 pages / color / $14.99 / ISBN: 9780785136774

What is this?: For the good of Asgard, Hercules is asked to impersonate the Mighty Thor; Amadeus Cho, seventh-smartest person on the planet, investigates the mystery of the town of Excello.

The culprits: Writers Greg Pak and Fred van Lente and art by Reilly Brown and Rodney Buchemi

When I started reading Incredible Hercules, Incredible Hercules, v. 5: The Mighty Thorcules was what I was expecting.

Mighty Thorcules is, first and foremost, funny. At times, it’s hilarious, as when Hercules mocks the origin story of Thor or gives Thor a purple nurple (complete with the sound effect “NURP” in purple letters) during their fight. But it also continues the story of boy genius Amadeus Cho, confronting the architects of his woes, coming to grips with his parents’ deaths, and trying to get answers about where his sister is. However, writers Greg Pak and Fred van Lente manage to leaven Cho’s emotional adventure with humor, and there is a serious side to Hercules’s impersonation of Thor.

Incredible Hercules, v. 5: The Mighty Thorcules coverThe issues in Mighty Thorcules alternate between Hercules’s masquerade in Svartalfheim and Cho’s investigations in the soap-company town of Excello, Utah. Hercules’s story is far more enjoyable and lighthearted; with his father Zeus (reverted to a pre-teen appearance and without his memory) in tow and without the wise advice of Cho or Athena, Hercules moves through the plot with his usual straightforward, stupid, lusty verve. He shrugs off his father’s insults as best he can, despite how obvious it is that Zeus prefers the god Hercules impersonates. Zeus’s amnesia and disgust at Hercules’s “ingenious” plans — such as his answering the challenge of three-dimensional chess by simply knocking the board over, rather than actually trying to figure out the answer — allows the boy-god to serve as a comic foil for the Lion of Olympus.

I missed volumes 3 and 4 of Incredible Hercules, but it’s easy to understand the dramatic elements to this humorous story — Hercules’s battle for parental approval. Cho’s story suffers, however, from the lacuna; his quest is interrupted in my mind, and his character development is more dramatically affected. His final confrontation with Dupree and his coming to grips with his parents’ death are sapped of some of their emotional impact because I’ve missed some of the stories. Still, Pak and van Lente can’t be blamed for that, and I had no trouble following the story. The writers can only be concerned with the coherence of each individual story and the emotional impact of total story they have written.

To bring Cho’s story to a head, then, Pak and van Lente have to write the mental confrontation of Cho and Pythagoras Dupree, the six-smartest person in the world, in a way that isn’t dull, and they succeed. They also give artist Rodney Buchemi the opportunity to draw something more interesting than talking heads. Using a role-playing game as a way of expressing the confrontation between Cho and Dupree in the middle of Cho’s story was an excellent idea as well.

(One word about the Mastermind Excello RPG: I could not figure out what the mechanics are for dice rolls. Are you supposed to roll high? Low? Given the artwork, it could be a callback to the charming but confusing mechanics of 1st edition D&D, where the desirable outcome varied depending on the type of roll.)

Whoever is putting in the sound effects for the battle between Hercules and Thor — most likely either van Lente and Pak or letterer Simon Bowland — obviously was having a lot of fun. Besides the purple “NURP” when Herc gives Thor a double tittie twister, Thor’s boot to Herc’s groin is labeled with the sound “NUHHKRACK,” and his follow-up wedgie is labeled “HWWWWEDGIE.” Other sound effects include “SHOKKAKAAAAAN” (thunder); “WHATTAMANNNN,” “THORRRRULZ,” and “BACKATCHA” (Thor’s punches); and “SUKKKAPUNCH,” “GODDATHUNDAAA,” and “GOTCHAGAAAIN” (Hercules’s). The battle is ended when Zeus dispatches Malekith’s minion with a resounding “MALEKRUNCH.”

Each storyline has its own artist. Herc’s story is penciled by Reilly Brown, and I have to say I love his art. Brown is great with comedy; his characters are expressive, with the humorous story allowing each character broad reactions to the situation. His style is clean and extremely attractive — I’ll admit, it’s exactly the comic art style I have a great fondness for. His fight scenes are clear, and the battle between Thor and Hercules is outstanding: he manages to balance the humor with the power the two combatants throw at one another. Buchemi is also very good, and his style, although obviously different from Brown’s, goes well with his fellow artist’s. Buchemi gets the better design challenges, with the bifurcated nature of Dr. Japanazi and his servants and the Boltzmann brains, and he makes them very memorable. The RPG materials he draws also look like old RPGS (mostly by aping 1st edition D&D, as I mentioned), and there are occasional nice details I didn’t pick up on the first time I read Mighty Thorcules (the “0” and “1” on the different halves of Dr. Japanazi’s skull, the dead member of the Junior Genius Brigade from the RPG adventure lying outside Dupree’s real lair). I didn’t like his work as well as Brown’s, however; his art seems less consistent than Brown’s, and when he draws Cho and Dupree as young children, they look roughly the same (other than glasses and a slight difference in hairstyle) despite their different ethnicities.

Mighty Thorcules is an outstanding book, and not only is it worth reading, it was worth reading the first two volumes of Incredible Hercules to get to it. (And now I’m going to have to track down Love and War and Dark Reign; I’m eager to read v. 6, Assault on New Olympus, which was set up in Thorcules by promising a scuffle between Spider-Man and Hercules over Herc’s ex-wife, Hebe.) Mighty Thorcules is even a great value — six issues for $14.99 is a good deal at Marvel these days.

I find it hard to recommend Mighty Thorcules enough.

Rating: Marvel symbol Marvel symbol Marvel symbol Marvel symbol Half Marvel symbol (4.5 of 5)

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