Katherine Lu Hsu
Warriors, Murderers, Savages: Violence in Steve Moore’s Hercules: The Thracian Wars
This chapter examines the problematization of violence in Steve Moore and Admira Wijaya’s graphic novel, Hercules: The Thracian Wars (Radical Comics, 2008-2009). Hercules appears as early as the 1940s in American comic books, where his superhuman strength, warrior’s skills, and occasional clownishness make him a popular figure; in television’s Hercules: the Legendary Journeys and Disney’s Hercules, Hercules serves not only as a strongman, but also as a model of admirable moral qualities. In contrast, Moore’s graphic novel features a non-idealized, far more ambivalent Hercules. Through a close reading of narrative and visual material, this chapter analyzes how Moore’s tale interacts with inherited tradition and conveys a representation of Hercules that differs significantly from his previous incarnations in comics and other forms of popular culture.
Brutal violence infects every aspect of the world of The Thracian Wars. Moore’s Hercules is an outcast and mercenary, accompanied by a band of Greek mythological warriors, all misfits and each distinguished by some troubling character trait. The story, set in the Bronze Age, begins with their arrival 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 foreign setting would seem to invite a comparison between the Greek self and the Thracian other. Indeed, the story establishes several strongly binary oppositions mediated by violence, including civilized vs. barbarian, divine vs. mortal, and sane vs. mad. Yet Moore resists assigning one characteristic to one group and the opposite characteristic to another. Rather, Hercules and his companions constantly transgress the divide between the binary oppositions, as do the Thracian allies and enemies who surround them. This chapter also focuses on how Wijaya’s visual contribution—the use of line and colour, consistent visual tropes, the overlaying of panels to define foreground and background, the movement of the eye across the page—enhances and shapes the work’s narrative effect. 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.
Provisional content for The Modern Hercules (Volume 2)