Keen Abstract Hercules in 1960s Marvel comics

Tony Keen

‘In our midst …an immortal!’ Hercules in 1960s Marvel comics

The Greek mythological demi-god Heracles, better known by his Roman name of Hercules, has been described as the original superhero. It is not, therefore, surprising that he has featured in such comics almost from their inception. Hercules was one of the mythological figures who gives the original Captain Marvel his powers, he is important to the origin story of Wonder Woman, and in 1940 two heroes called Hercules began appearing in their own strips in anthology comics (though only one of these was the actual demi-god).

This chapter, however, looks at a later comics’ recreation of the character, that of Marvel Comics in the 1960s. Hercules first appeared briefly in Avengers #10 (November 1964), battling the eponymous super-team. That appearance was later explained away, and the ‘real’ Hercules, heavily influenced by the Steve Reeves movie portrayal of the character, made his debut in Journey into Mystery Annual #1 (October 1965), drawn, and largely created, by Marvel legend Jack Kirby. Here he faced off against the Norse god Thor, star of that comic. He returned in The Mighty Thor #126 (March 1966), and spent much of the summer of that year as a supporting character for Thor. Then in 1967, looking even more like Steve Reeves and very much depicted as ‘buff man-candy’ (thanks at least in part to artist Don Heck), he joined the Avengers.

This chapter examines the use of Hercules in these comics. Questions to be addressed include: the role of Hercules in the wider Marvel Universe, often as no more than a substitute Thor in the Avengers; the position of the Greek gods in that universe; the place of Hercules within Jack Kirby’s wider engagement with mythology; the influence of other depictions of Hercules (in particular Steve Reeves) on Marvel’s character; why Hercules has only rarely had a series of his own; and what general conclusions can be drawn from this portrayal for the way Hercules was received in 1960’s US popular culture.

Provisional content for The Modern Hercules (Volume 1)