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Saturday, November 29, 2008

“Hercules: The Thracian Wars” Collection by Steve Moore & Admira Wijaya (Reviewed by Robert Thompson)

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ABOUT HERCULES: Fourteen hundred years ago, a tormented soul walked the Earth that was neither man nor god. Hercules, powerful son of Zeus, the king of gods, received nothing but suffering his entire life. After twelve arduous labors and the loss of his family, this dark, world-weary soul turned his back on the gods, finding his only solace in bloody battle.

Over the years he warmed to the company of six similar souls—Iolaus, Autolycus, Amphiaraus, Tydeus, Meleager, and Atalanta—their only bond being their love of fighting and the presence of death. These men and woman never question where, why, or whom they go to fight . . . only how much they will be paid.

Knowing this, King Cotys of the Odrysae hired these Greeks as mercenaries to train his men into a great army that would unite the warring tribes of Thrace. But there is more to Cotys’ motives than building a nation, and only Hercules and his companions stand in the way of a terrible plot against Greece and Olympus itself…

CLASSIFICATION: Far removed from the Hercules depicted in the popular TV show starring Kevin Sorbo or the 1997 animated Disney film, “Hercules: The Thracian Wars” portrays a much darker and grittier version of Hercules. Think 300 in all of its glorious violence, gore and raging testosterone with Greek mythology and historical fiction thrown in for added measure…

FORMAT/INFO: The “Hercules: The Thracian Wars” Hardcover, written by Steve Moore and illustrated by Admira Wijaya, is 144 pages long and contains the entire 5-issue miniseries. The graphic novel also includes character renderings and covers provided by
Jim Steranko, George Pratt, Arthur Suydam, John Bolton, Clint Langley, Stjepan Sejic, Greg Broadmore of WETA Workshop, Imaginary Friends Studios and more. The “Hercules: The Thracian Wars” Hardcover will be released to comic book stores on November 26, 2008 and made available on on December 3, 2008. “Hercules: The Thracian Wars” is published by Radical Comics and is being produced and developed for film adaptation by Spyglass Entertainment, Peter Berg’s (Hancock, The Kingdom) Film 44 and Radical Pictures. More Hercules comic book series are in the works.

ANALYSIS:Hercules: The Thracian Wars” is the second of Radical Comics two debut titles—Caliber: First Canon of Justice (Reviewed HERE) being the other—which were launched at the same time in May 2008, and of the two books, “Hercules” is easily the more rewarding experience…

For starters, the writing in “Hercules” is a major strength of the comic book, unlike “Caliber” where it was a deterrent. The key difference being that Steve Moore is a longtime comic book veteran while Sam Sarkar is new to the medium. The contrast in experience is strikingly apparent with how much smoother the narrative flows in “Hercules”, the stronger plotting and characterization, and the amount of depth the book possesses compared to “Caliber”. I was also really impressed with Steve’s knowledge of Greek mythology, his passion for the material, and the balance that he’s able to strike between the book’s darker moments and its wittier, more humorous ones. Even as strong as the writing is though, it’s not flawless as Steve has a tendency to use text when images alone would suffice, and there’s some cheesy dialogue in the book, particularly in the last chapter.

Regarding the story, “Hercules” straddles the line between “myth, legend, and historical accuracy”, and takes place sometime after Hercules’ legendary Twelve Labors and the Trojan War. What’s interesting about the book is its more realistic approach. For instance, even though Greek gods like Zeus, Hera, Hermes and others are often mentioned in the book, they themselves never actually appear. Meanwhile, Hercules’ famous exploits—defeating the Nemean Lion, the Stymphalian Birds, the Hydra, the Cretan Bull, Cerberus, etc—are related by others rather than the Greek hero himself, although Hercules does display great feats of strength throughout the story. Also keeping with the book’s more realistic angle is Hercules’ sexuality—takes both male and female lovers—and his ruthlessness, including his titanic rages or his willingness to kill even women and children. One of my favorites parts about the story were Hercules’ companions, some of whom I wasn’t very familiar with like the brain-eating maniac Tydeus and the Aetolian huntsman Meleager.

As far as the interior artwork, “Hercules” is not as breathtaking as “Caliber”—the covers are a different matter entirely—but Admira Wijaya and
Imaginary Friends Studios more than hold their own and do a good job of supplementing Steve’s writing. It should be noted though, that because “Hercules” is such a dark and violent book, the artwork can be a bit graphic and is not for the faint of heart or the easily offended.

Lastly, and most importantly, “Hercules” is a lot of fun to read. Granted, not everyone will like the book, but if you’re a fan of 300, Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Cimmerian, or Greek mythology, and you’re not afraid of a little blood, guts and compassionless violence, then “Hercules” is for you…

CONCLUSION: I admit that after reading “Caliber” I had my doubts about “Hercules”, but the graphic novel delivered, big-time. Unapologetically violent and gritty, while compellingly written and illustrated, “Hercules: The Thracian Wars” is testosterone-fueled excitement at its ferocious best…


Steve Moore first started working with comics in 1967 and has written 2000AD, Doctor Who and Warrior. A Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society, Steve is the author of “The Trigrams of Han”, a non-fiction book on the Chinese I Ching, and is also the co-author of a scholarly bibliography on the same subject. Returning to the comic book field in 2000, he wrote for 2000AD and America’s Best Comics, more recently adapting V For Vendetta into a novel. Steve is also credited with showing Alan Moore (no relation) how to write comic scripts.

Hailing from Jakarta, Indonesia,
Admira Wijaya is a talented line artist and colorist who has worked exclusively on many DC Licensing projects. He is also a Senior Artist with Imaginary Friends Studios whose clients include Electronic Arts, DC Comics, MTV and diverse properties like Warhammer, Street Fighter, F.E.A.R., Superman, Spiderman and many others.


Calibandar said...

Robert this is some amazing stuff. Both of these Radical comics looks absolutely astounding. I hope I can get these off Amazon.

Robert said...

Yeah, they're pretty cool :) I'm personally interested in City of Dust written by Steve Niles, and I'll probably also check out Freedom Formula.

But watch out for a title called Hotwire. It's created by Warren Ellis and Steve Pugh, and looks to have stunning artwork and a cool concept. That series debuts in February 2009...

Anonymous said...

Picked up the first issue of this and thought there were way too many characters and not that much depth. Will wait for the softcover. - Joseph

Robert said...

I didn't really have a problem with how many characters there were, but it does make a big difference when you read a comic book series all at once rather than as individual issues...

Stymphalain Bird said...

Of course we never returned to greese it meese up our feathers HE HE HE HE HE HE HE HE

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