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Koning Abstract The Incredible Hercules

Hugo Koning

The Incredible Hercules: Prince of Power

No modern-day phenomenon comes closer to Greek mythology than the hero-packed universe of American comics. Little wonder, then, that ‘the incredible’ Hercules is the star of his own popular Marvel series, meeting and beating most of the monsters familiar from ancient legend - and several new ones, too. This chapter explores some of the most interesting similarities between the Greek hero and his comic incarnation, focusing on the way the ancient icon is brought up to date in a modern context and a modern medium, demonstrating that the process of actualisation, which requires a sound knowledge of tradition and a great measure of creativity on the part of authors and artists alike, is executed with both intelligence and (generic) self-consciousness.

This being established, the chapter turns to the difficult question, in both ancient and modern times, of Hercules’ divinity. Whereas Hercules successfully fights his mortal self in the Underworld #131, he nonetheless truly dies some episodes later (or so it seems). The ambiguous status of Hercules as a god or a man can be constructed as a meta-comment not only on the difficulty of bringing ancient gods to life again, but also on the ever-growing ‘worship’ of our comic (and movie) heroes, who become more and more like gods.