Sunday, September 21, 2014
My Account  | Login
Nashua;59.0;http://forecast.weather.gov/images/wtf/small/nskc.png;2014-09-21 02:04:05
Sunday, July 27, 2014

Hercules gains exciting new legend

Andrew Smith

If you’ve seen a Hercules movie at the theater this year, you saw the wrong one.

That’s a pretty subjective call, especially since I don’t know you. But here are some facts to back it up. ...

Sign up to continue

Print subscriber?    Sign up for Full Access!

Please sign up for as low as 36 cents per day to continue viewing our website.

Digital subscribers receive

  • Unlimited access to all stories from nashuatelegraph.com on your computer, tablet or smart phone.
  • Access nashuatelegraph.com, view our digital edition or use our Full Access apps.
  • Get more information at nashuatelegraph.com/fullaccess
Sign up or Login

If you’ve seen a Hercules movie at the theater this year, you saw the wrong one.

That’s a pretty subjective call, especially since I don’t know you. But here are some facts to back it up.

“The Legend of Hercules,” which premiered Jan. 10, was a critical and financial failure. It cost an estimated $70 million to make, according to BoxOfficeMojo.com, but made less than $19 million.

Audiences gave it a paltry 35 percent at RottenTomatoes.com, while critics were even less happy, at 3 percent.

So don’t confuse it with “Hercules,” the new movie that premiered Friday.

For one thing, “Hercules” has actors you’ve actually heard of, such as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as Hercules and John Hurt as his employer, King Cotys of Thrace.

For another, the budget is a bit more generous, at $110 million, according to Forbes.com.

But mostly you should expect to like the new movie better than that other one because “Hercules” is based on a graphic novel that’s pretty entertaining.

“Hercules: The Thracian Wars” (Radical Comics, $14.95) tells the tale of a grittier son of Zeus than you usually see, with Hercules at a low point in his life, around 1200 B.C. – after the deaths of his family (by his own hands) and the Twelve Labors, but before his death (accidentally, at the hands of his next wife) and elevation to godhood.

Which is to say, it isn’t a story you’ve ever read before. Hercules is really in the dumps here, depressed and sunk to merc work, his family dead and Hera’s hatred for him – as he is the product of Zeus’ philandering – relentless.

As the story opens, he’s working as a sword-for-hire along with some other deity-doomed types, heading to barbarian Thrace to train the army of King Cotys.

Those companions are all authentic to the era because UK writer Scott Moore reads translations of ancient Greek poets for recreation (except one companion, who is invented for the tale).

You have Iolaus, Hercules’ nephew, who had a hand in the slaying of the Hydra. There’s Autolycus, whose father is Apollo, god of thieves, which makes him an excellent liar, cheat, pickpocket and con man. The oracle Amphiaraus has come along because, well, for the same reason he does anything: The gods told him to.

Moore isn’t above taking some liberties with these characters, either, although it might be that he has just read considerably more than I have.

For example, one companion is Atalanta, a woman who grew up feral, suckled by a she-bear as a baby, who became a fierce warrior. She swore an oath of virginity to Artemis, the goddess of the hunt, and refused to marry any man who couldn’t outrun her.

Because of a trick of Aphrodite, one man did, and they not only married, but had sex in one of Zeus’ temples, and so were turned into lions for their trouble.

Well, that’s one story, anyway. In another, Atalanta sailed with Jason and the Argonauts, and was prevented from returning the love of the hero Meleager because of a dire warning from an oracle about losing her virginity.

Many adventures ensued, but the bottom line for us here is that Atalanta always seems to have trouble in the bedroom department.

In “Thracian Wars,” however, she is not only prevented from loving men, but is completely disinterested – she’s a lesbian. But because of losing her virginity to the footrace guy, she believes she can no longer serve Artemis (for some reason) and is searching for death on the battlefield, where she can join her goddess on the Elysian Fields. (Suicide would take her to Hades, of course.)

So, is that part of the legend of Atalanta? My reading doesn’t go much further than Bullfinch or Edith Hamilton, so I didn’t think so. But Moore certainly knows the legends better than I, so maybe so. And having Meleager follow her around like a lovesick puppy kind of squares the circle.

Then there’s Tydeus. He pops up in some of the lore, although he doesn’t do much out of the ordinary. In “Thracian Wars,” however, he’s a berserker cannibal!

I’m guessing “Tydeus the berserker cannibal” probably isn’t found in any of the Greek myths, no matter how many ancient poems you read.

But so what? Most mythology is chockablock with stories that contradict themselves. Names and times are transposed, characters flip to opposite sides of wars in different tellings, heroes sometimes have demises that are essentially multiple choice.

So “Thracian Wars” is just another take on those myths – a few thousand years later, sure, but just as valid.

Valid, that is, if a good story is the result. And Moore doesn’t disappoint. Not only are his characters distinguishable by motivation, talents and behavior, but the time and place feel very real. And once Hercules and his gang hit Thrace, all kinds of shenanigans ensue.

Ready yourself for sex, murder, double-crosses, bloody mayhem and, of course, Herculean feats!

All of this is illustrated by Admira Wijaya, an Indonesian artist whose work – probably rendered on Photoshop or something like it – looks painted.

One of the things I like most about it is his restraint. In many of today’s comics, the colorists have so much fun with all of the possibilities of computer coloring that they go overboard. The result is pages that are muddy or scenes where you can’t tell who is stabbing whom, and so forth. Not with Wijaya – his palettes, whatever the weather or scenery, never interfere with the story and simply enhance the reading experience.

Not all of this makes it to the movie intact. The cast for “Hercules” listed at IMDb.com and elsewhere make no mention of two of Hercules’ comic-book companions, Meleager and Meneus. And mysteriously, we do see listings for Hercules’ father, Zeus, and Hercules’ dead wife, Megara, neither of whom appear in the graphic novel.

It appears Moore isn’t the only one who can take liberties with source material.

All of which is certain to make “Hercules” better than “The Legend of Hercules.” Of course, that’s a pretty low bar. Let’s hope The Rock & co. can take this story to the level of myth, where it belongs.

Captain Comics can be reached at capncomics@aol.com, comicsroundtable.com, on Facebook at Captain Comics Round Table or on Twitter at @CaptainComics. Used with permission.