Katherine Lu Hsu
Warriors, Murderers, Savages: Violence in Steve Moore’s Hercules: The Thracian Wars
This chapter examines the problematization of heroic violence in Steve Moore and Admira Wijaya’s graphic novel, Hercules: The Thracian Wars (Radical Comics, 2008-2009). Although Hercules is presented as the son of Zeus and is distinguished by his extraordinary strength and skill in battle, he is also an unstable figure of violence, prone to fits of madness, surrounded by misfits; a common mercenary. Around this deeply ambivalent Hercules, Moore and Wijaya weave a deeply ambivalent story, in which traditional binary oppositions are established, but then constantly transgressed by Hercules, his allies, and his enemies. This chapter argues that the mini-series’ treatment of violence serves to confound the dichotomies of civilized and barbarian, sane and insane, order and chaos. Brutal violence infects every aspect of the world of The Thracian Wars, which is set in the Bronze Age. The story begins with the arrival of Hercules and his band of mercenaries in Thrace at the palace of King Cotys, who hires them to train his fighters with the goal of uniting Thrace’s disparate tribes. The Greeks lead Cotys’ men on a savage military campaign against Rhesus, the leader of the Thracians who resists Cotys’ ambitions and who acts as a foil to Hercules himself.
Moreover, through the manipulation of colour, framing, perspective, and time, Wijaya’s art pulls the reader out of the role of a neutral observer into that of a mental participant in the
violence. We ‘complete’ acts of brutal violence in our imagination over and over again, both by filling in gaps during the action, and also by envisioning the violent acts preceding or subsequent to the images on the page. Through this complex engagement with violence, the mini-series’ text and images not only resist simplistic oppositions of good vs. evil, but also challenge the audience to consider their own participation in acts of brutality by means of their viewership. Ultimately, the series frustrates the expectation fulfilled by many other superhero narratives, that the central figure(s) follow the hero’s journey as defined by Joseph Campbell. Instead, Moore and Wijaya reveal the moral ambiguity of violence and, in the limitations of the hero, the limitations of heroism itself.